Mom quickly let go of my hand as we walked through the door, delivering a warm hug and a sweet hello to each resident in the living room. I didn’t want to be there, but this was what my mother did. She loved visiting the elderly.
Many years before, when I was a kid, Mom often sent me across the street with a plate of supper for an elderly neighbor. I grew up watching her not only share delicious homemade suppers with these thankful neighbors, but also take the time to sit and visit with them – delivering not just food but friendship.
As I got older, I joined her as she visited elderly friends and family, even strangers – visits that were filled with laughter and fun stories. Mom wasted no time while she was there – sweeping the kitchen floor, checking the fridge for old food, washing any dishes left in the sink, and placing a warm, homemade apple cake on the countertop to be enjoyed later. She held hands and listened closely to stories, and it was as if an artist were repainting the portraits around us – adding a new sparkle to unhappy eyes and smiles to sorrowful faces.
Mom laughed one day as she told me that someone in town had started calling her van the “widow wagon”. In the small town were she and Dad lived, all the folks traveled 75 miles to the next town to see the doctor and shop for groceries. Mom regularly chauffeured older ladies for days filled with miscellaneous errands, appointments and lunch at the Golden Corral. The space in the “widow wagon” was filled with laughter and chatter, along with bags of groceries and filled prescriptions, as this band of women completed their journey before Mom deposited them at their homes.
Of course, Mom gave me great care along the way as well. When the doctor told me that I would have to stay in bed for the last two months of my third pregnancy, Mom moved in with us – cooking, cleaning, doing the laundry, and caring for our two little boys. I vividly remember her walking into my bedroom with a plate of freshly cut pineapple, strawberries, blackberries and green apples on top of a serving of cottage cheese and a glass of iced water. I felt so loved. We didn’t ask Mom to come; she didn’t ask how she could help; she knew what to do and simply showed up – like Mary Poppins landing on the porch, bag and umbrella in tow.
So, I shouldn’t have been surprised that day as she let go of my hand when we walked in. She loved this place. She was in her element and began immediately doing what she always had – warmly greeting each person. Mom didn’t remember the days of feeding neighbors, driving ladies to town, or visiting lonely friends and family. The sweet memories of visiting folks at the nursing home, however, must have been hidden in a corner, safe for now from that unwelcome stalker, Alzheimer’s. She had told me many years ago, “I love this place! When it’s time, please just bring me here!” And so, here we were, about eight years after that dreadful diagnosis.
As we stumbled down the rough and rocky road to goodbye, I realized Mom had taught us long ago how to do this. It was okay to have no idea what to say at times. It was most important just to be there – to laugh even if I had no idea what was funny, and to hold her hand and tell her she was beautiful. She loved it when I visited, even if I was someone she had never met before.
Mom had taught me what to do – how to show up and repaint the portraits all around us, adding a new sparkle to unhappy eyes and smiles to sorrowful faces.
Thanks for spending time here, Tracie
“It isn’t what we say or think that defines us, but what we do.” Jane Austen
Special Note: This is my story that was published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Mom Knows Best.
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