I spent part of the afternoon with a high school classmate. Her mom, who had passed 100 in age, drew her last breath a few days ago. I went to the funeral home to pay my respects.
We don’t see each other much. I make it back home at most twice a year. There are many relatives to see. I have trouble vacationing when I go back; there’s always something that needs to be done. So it was a pleasure to be able to take the time that one must set aside in order to catch up.
Children; spouses; former spouses. Far removed cousins that somehow, after five degrees of separation, end up in a relationship with each other. Eventually we got down to talking about our mothers.
Both of them died long after their prime. My mom developed severe memory loss. She had to be reminded to eat, or bathe herself, or even sleep. She could watch the same movie over and over again. She often wandered away; we had to place her in a locked environment. Her last few years presented a constant and overwhelming stress for me. My life belonged to her first.
My friend’s mom also needed a lot of help. Also in a facility.
We thought of all of the bad times. It occurred to me that I had almost forgotten about the days when she managed to be a successful educator, mother, wife, sister, friend, and helper at her church. I began to resent the unfairness of it all; why the most prevailing image that I have of her is of her being helpless and senseless.
I made an effort to go back in time. Way back. My mom could cook. Her idea of happiness consisted of a few family members to show up unannounced, like family used to do in the old days. If it was anywhere close to a mealtime she could whip up something delicious in the blink of an eye. She could grow flowers. Orchids were her favorites. She loved our music, and our parties.
I told my friend about the many times that she would fix me a meal; then she’d sit right across from me at the table and watch me scarf it down.
“It’s such a pleasure to watch you eat.”
My joy was her greatest joy.
They used to sell chocolate in hard bars. As it came close to bedtime some days she’d go in the kitchen and place a bar inside a pot half full of milk. As the milk warmed the chocolate melted. It had to be stirred constantly. It took a while. The best hot chocolate ever. It was for us; she’d seldom take any for herself. She had tons of things to do. I never, ever, had any notion that she had any other responsibility other than to take care of us.
Many other memories rushed in. The games we used to play. We made noise. We had very few toys. We spoke to each other.
We rarely went to a restaurant. We ate together. Three meals a day.
I’m at the age now where most of my social circle has grandchildren. I have been shocked by stories that many of my friends tell.
One of them said that her son had forbid her from seeing the grandchild for 2 weeks after birth. They wanted to experience the bonding with their baby all by themselves. Both groups of in laws banned from an unforgettable moment.
Another couple told a different friend that they would call if they were needed. Many, many restrictions on presents the child could receive; clothing he or she could wear; stories the child could hear.
These are not malignant, snooping in laws. And even if they were… Hide the grandchildren?
And again I think of my mother; of how absolutely, unconditionally loving she was; of how her mom had been the same way with her; of the chaos that my house often descended into when we had a dozen visitors who happened to drop in.
Now our children find ways to keep us away from their children. As if a child was a piece of property whose every living minute has to be preplanned.
It’s rare to find children who make noise when they play these days.
What will become of them?