Wordless (and Wordy) Wednesday: Mama’s Visit

We sit out on the sundeck sipping coffee and talking, still in our robes though the sun is high in the sky. She just loves it out here. It’s rare to see Mama sitting in one place for so long; rarer still for her to let me wait on her. Even at 95, when we visit her in Arkansas she is usually in motion– slower now, of course, but still fussing around doing dishes, or laundry, or sectioning a grapefruit so she can track us down wherever we are in the house, hand each of us a bowl and spoon with the command to “Eat it– you need your fruit!” So I’m enjoying the fact that since we finally got her out of the house and all the way up here to Nashville to see us, she actually let me fix her breakfast this morning, and she ate the small bowl of steel-cut oatmeal that I doctored up with craisins, walnuts and fresh sliced peaches with relish. “Eat it,” I said with mock sternness. “You need your fiber!”

She looks tiny to me. Mom’s always been small and wiry (Madi’s built just like her), but she barely ate during those last weeks before Daddy died, and it shows. She still moves around with energy, but cautiously and deliberately now, explaining to me as she takes my arm that it’s not because she HAS to– “I’m not really this slow, I’m just being very careful about not falling,” she says, again and again.

She says a lot of things again and again these days. Her short term memory is pretty much shot, though she is still very lucid and, as she says, “with it.” It’s startling to realize how quickly she immediately forgets that she has just said something or asked something, and I’m always torn between faking it and answering her as though it were the first time or gently saying, “Mom, you just said that.” Nine times out of ten I fake it, because I am a weenie. She’s also deaf as a post. With her hearing aids in she can hear enough to carry on a conversation if she sits where she can see you speak, but if you are behind her or if there is much background noise going on in the room, it’s really difficult. It takes a while to figure that out though, because she fakes it, too.

Mom’s increasing physical frailty and limitations are the subject of countless phone calls between my siblings and I. We are walking that fine line of trying to respect Mom’s independence and right to make her own decisions concerning her own life AND dealing with the reality of her current living situation–a small, grieving, forgetful woman who can’t hear well, living all alone for the very first time. Mom raised 6 children, had her own mother living with her for 18 years, tended to her burgeoning crop of grandchildren and then saw to Daddy’s every need as he went through heart surgery, cancer surgery and radiation before he finally passed away in April. Her entire life has been spent taking care of people. It’s what she does, it’s how she defines herself– and now she’s not only lost her companion of 74 years, she’s lost her ‘job’, too. She’s kind of adrift right now, unsure of what to do with herself and more than a little scared. But WOE TO ANY OF US who might dare think of trying to tell her what to do! She’s little and old, but she’s feisty. “Do not treat me like a retarded child,” she has disdainfully and defiantly told us more than once. So we wait, and worry and whisper. And pray a lot.

But here on my sundeck, nestled among the cushions of the glider with her feet up, slowly rocking back and forth, she’s relaxed and engaged. She actually repeats herself a little less often than usual, and her stutter is less pronounced. There are no decisions to be made, no fears to face and no empty rooms where Daddy used to be. We talk about everything and nothing, just chatting aimlessly, enjoying the view of the flowers and the birdfeeders. She quotes the Bible to me, of course, and she also asks questions about Madi’s college plans and comments on how unbelievable it is to think that Charlotte will actually be in high school next year.

It’s tempting to picture a scenario where this could continue indefinitely– Mom, here, surrounded by this family, safe and cared for… But even as I allow myself to imagine it for a moment, I smile and shake my head. Who am I kidding?! Mom does NOT want to move in with me. She does not want to leave her familiar lifelong surroundings. This house would be very difficult for her to navigate, it has too many levels and staircases. We travel extensively, with all four of us gone on a regular basis. The everyday chaos of our active household would be disruptive and stressful, not serene and comforting. And so on and so forth, ad infinitum– there are a million valid reasons that plan would never work, beginning and ending with the fact that Mom quite simply wouldn’t agree to it. So, I shrug and let it go. I’d much rather just fully enjoy this moment with her, right here, right now.

There’s a slight breeze that blows a wisp of Mama’s snow white hair across her glasses, and she absentmindedly brushes it aside. Pip calculates the distance from the floor to the glider and makes the jump, turning around three times before settling in right smack-up against Mama’s leg and happily thumping his skinny flag of a tail as she pets him. The girls are awake now and drift out to join us, sleepy-eyed and yawning, draping themselves around the deck furniture and greeting their Nanno with a smile. I head back into the house to get another cup of coffee and bring a bowl of watermelon from last night’s dinner out to the table for us to snack on. From inside the kitchen I look out the big picture window and see Mom’s face suddenly light up with delight as she spies a brilliant green hummingbird sipping nectar from one of the flowers in a pot only a few feet away. “Look!” I hear her say to the girls. “Isn’t that the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen?”

And it is.

17 Responses

  1. bettyrwoodward

    Oh Tori, your Mother reminds me so much of my mother-in-law. Her memory is still good fortunately but she is 89 and always on the go even though she had a hip replacement last year. She also is always talking about the Bible etc.She want’s to outlive her husband but wants to die before she is blind as she has macular degeneration. My mother is only 88 and still very capable, still driving and leading Bible study groups and active in the church. Dad died 7 years ago but she seems to have had a new lease of life after nursing him for 30 years. We feel very blessed to have 3 of our parents still alive and fairly well.

  2. Phyllis S

    “And it is”

    Yes, it is! Enjoy every minute of it, yes she may go back “home” to Arkansas and yes, you feel the need to protect and guide her, and yes, yes, yes it is hard to let her make decisions you may not agree with, but it is right.

    Memories of yesterday, today and tomorrow are all we have, so relish each one.

  3. delightedabroad

    Your sundeck is definitely inviting!
    As I saw the picture showing your mom my first thought was ‘I want to hug her, make her happy’. And I guess Phyllis S is right: it is/will be hard to watch but that’s just more of a reason to cherish the time with her now.

  4. LindaB

    We are asking the same questions about my 83 year old Mom—–if she comes to a point where she can’t live alone, who would take her in? We all would love to! But I’m thinking there’s so much commotion around my house, she’d get whiplash trying to follow what was going on! It’s not exactly serene, ya know! And my daugher and Chloe just moved back in with us. But I decided to just enjoy her when I can and leave tomorrow to tomorrow. But I know she’d absolutely HATE living anywhere but her own home.

    If your Mom gets bored following your family around with fruit, ask her to help you write a blog entry by letting us ask Bible questions and she could answer us! Wouldn’t that be fun! And educational! Not to mention inspirational!!! We would refrain from starting a big ole religious argument, but just simply glean a little wisdom from a sweet soul whose lived 90 plus years and has stumped numerous pastors and ministers in her day! It’s just a suggestion.

    LOVE your patio! I’d like to sit in your glider too, with my feet up……if you think it would hold me. And your Mom is truly beautiful through and through.

  5. ChristinaCD


    I love how you described this…. The love you have for your Mom and not wanting to step on her toes shows…

    Thanks for letting us into this special moment with you two

  6. jonny

    What !?! Charlotte’s gonna be in High School next year !! Everyone seems to be growing up too fast = /

    Really get a lot from your ‘writings’. Thanks again. And thanks for sharing all you do with us. I know I’m not the same as before all this came into my life, in a good way, as a result. Oh, and thanks for finding a way to put Pip in there as well = ) Still a fan.

    Peace !

  7. Gramma Jac

    I LOVE your eloquence about your Mom!! Wish I knew her!

    My Gramma is 89, remembers everything,…and enjoys letting both my Mom and me know when she remembers and we don’t! She is very frail physically. She has neuropathy in her hands and avoids eating out as she might spill food–BUT can play cards with her friends for HOURS!! Typical conversation with Gramma: “I’m tired,..I sure wish I could stay home.” (Me: “Why can’t you.”) “Because I have bridge today and euchre tomorrow,…” :-) Gotta love her!!

  8. heather e

    this is beautiful to me. i am watching my mom go through this struggle with my Gram and its so heartbreaking at times. thanks for putting this into words- it really touched me.

  9. VA-Cathy

    I LOVE how you make such beautiful memories for yourself – and others!!

  10. Craig

    Oh to be 28 years old again, like you, and still have my mom. I lost her when she was only 55. It’s one of those instances where the parent from hell remained and will live to be 200 – an a parent from heaven who left way too soon. I hate it when things are timed like that. The way life is slowed her down, the way her memory comes and goes, the way you would love to stretch out your wings so she can be underneath them – but you know that’s not possible – I know the story gets played out a lot by people who love. I know it’s not easy – and I know this – your mama must love you a lot because you are a spectacular daughter! God bless and keep you and each and every one of yours this day!!

  11. Barbara M. Lloyd

    First of all, Happy 16th Birthday to Charlotte…today!….wishing you a new year in high school plum full of happiness.

    You know, sweet Tori, I believe the hardest thing for a woman is to lose her husband; the second hardest is to lose her home…the place where all of her memories are….the nest she has made that helped her nurture and keep her family safe all those years.

    Granted, it is always easier when a left-alone parent willingly accommodates her children….and I keep telling myself that I want to be aware of this in my life. But perhaps fiestiness is one of the ingredients that contributes to a long life. In any event, sometimes it is possible for the children to allow the parent to remain in her home…and they are able to be comfortable with it….if arrangements can be made for a caregiver to come in….or caregivers if someone should be with her at night, too. With my mother-in-law, the three sons contributed a specified amount each month for this to happen. With my mother, she willingly and almost enthusiastically came to live with us soon after she was widowed….it’s not always an easy move for either party for a variety of reasons.

    My three children have aszked me to come and live with them….one day. Gracious, I do not wsant to do that….and at the same time I don’t want to be stubborn and create unnecessary stress for them. Fortunately, I have long-term insurance and I’m planning on this enabling me to, if necessary, have caretakers come and take care of me in my home.

    Perhaps you could present the different possibilities to your mom as her choice. That way, you kids aren’t exactly tellikng her what to do. Just a thought, of course. I know this is heavy on the hearts of all of her children and I will be keeping you all in my prayers.

  12. Barbara M. Lloyd

    Oh my goodness, I meant to mention your sundeck….I love it! It’s easy to understand why this would be your mom’s favorite place in your home. It would be mine, too……and add to that a Russ Taff cd playing.

  13. tori

    Oh Momma Lloyd– you sound like you’ve been in on our family discussions! Your suggestions are really good ones, and we’ve presented all of them to Mama over the last few months, but to no real avail… We even briefly had a system going where a friend of hers who’s only in her 70’s and lives right down the street would come over and sleep in the guest room and leave in the morning, which gave all of us a respite from worrying about her alone at night– until she “fired” her!

    The problem is she’s not happy with things as they are, but won’t really agree to any of the possible solutions presented. This is all exacerbated by her memory issues, because she will sometimes really lean towards one idea, or even agree to it, and then has no memory of it, so when we start to act on her ‘decision’, she strenuously objects! And she changes her mind almost daily about whether she wants to try to stay in the house or maybe look at assisted living, etc.– some days she’s really ready to go, some days she just wants to stay put. The problem is, we really want these decisions to be made with her full permission and input, before they have to be made FOR her… which none of us wants.

    It’s hard.

  14. Barbara M. Lloyd

    I know it’s hard, sweetheart. Hard for your mom and hard for you kids. Perhaps you need to, say, make all of the arrangements so that once she agrees you can start moving her immediately. Take her for a ride and then to her new home in the assisted living where she will see a few of her furniture pieces that she loves so much. When she questions this, you all can assure her that this was her decision. I’m almost sure she realizes her memory isn’t what it used to be….and, you will be telling her the truth.

    I know everyone here on your blog will join with me in praying that this matter can be worked out very soon…and mother will be content in only a little time.

  15. auntie


    You write so beautifully about your mom. Question – how is your niece doing? The one who had the tumor? You may have updated on a post and I missed it as I can’t get to all my blogs all the time.

  16. tori

    Auntie– Sarah is doing very, very well, thank you so much for asking. She’s pretty much back to her regular life before the surgery. Deafness is permanent in one ear, but she manages beautifully. God really did a miracle with that girl!

  17. Barbara M. Lloyd

    That’s such wonderful news, Tori. And there is that sweetness of answered prayers.

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