>Effie at Eighty One

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Today is my mother’s birthday. She’s eighty-one.

This is Mom when she was eleven years old, in 1939.

And this second picture doesn’t have a date on back, but she appears to be about the same age, maybe twelve. I love these pictures of her when she was a little girl. And yes, I see some of myself in her then. And also now.

Here’s my post about her birthday last year when she turned eighty. She was still in the assisted living home then—still clinging to the last bits of independence that she could grasp. But she was happy in her ever-shrinking world, and I hoped against hope that it would last for a few more years.

And then the inevitable happened. In October she fell and broke her hip, and you know the rest of the story. [If you’re new to my blog and want to catch up, check out the posts below. Just click on the title that interests you to read the post. Then close it and return to the current post to continue. Thanks for reading!]

Bingo December 2008
Long Distance Caregiving November 2008
The Purse November 2008
If Mama Ain’t Happy November 2008
Unhappy Chairs September 2008
The Good Granddaughter August 2008
Piece of Mind November 2007

I went to visit Mom on Tuesday this week, rather than today, her actual birthday. She has no idea what day it is, but she still lights up when she sees my face. Each time I drive down to Jackson, I wonder if that will be the visit when it happens—when she doesn’t know who I am.

First I stopped at Beemon’s Drugs at Maywood Mart, in my old neighborhood. Beemon’s is one of those old-fashioned drug stores that carries lots of cute gifts and knick-knacks—the perfect place to gather goodies for Mom’s birthday. Into the box went:

Good Housekeeping Magazine (because the pictures are pretty and colorful, and she loves that, even though she no longer reads the articles.)
M & Ms.
Chewing Gum.
A stained-glass cross to hang on her window.
Lipstick and blush-on.
A new comb, brush, and barrettes. (she’s not letting the beautician at the nursing home cut or perm her hair)
A lavender (her favorite color) plastic make-up bag to put the new goodies in.

Next I went across the parking lot to McAllisters to get two giant cookies—her favorites—and included them in the gift box.

Off to Lakeland Nursing Home I went, to find Mom not scooching up and down the halls in her wheelchair, as she usually is, but sitting in her room visiting with her new roommate, Mrs. Jackson, who is 86 and in her right mind. I think. The reason I think so is because she was able to tell me all about her son, her previous situation, and then to tell me that “this is the end of the line for me.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I mean I guess I’ll live here until I die.” She was very matter-of-fact about it. Mom seemed unplussed, as she piddled around with her birthday card and gifts. We had fun, putting on her new lipstick and blush-on and holding up her new mirror so she could see how pretty she looks. (If only my skin would look like hers when I’m 81!)

“We get along pretty well,” Mom said, pointing to Mrs. Jackson. “Come on over here and have some of my birthday candy,” she waved at Mrs. Jackson, who was stretched out on her bed, because her back was hurting.

“No, thank you. I’ve got plenty of candy from Wal Mart,” she pointed to what looked like a display on a candy aisle at any discount store. “I used to work there,” she explained.

I kept asking Mom if she didn’t want to go up to the lobby to visit, thinking she would want to get out of her room for a while.

“No, I’m fine here. Just look at those beautiful trees!” She points out her window to the huge pines on the city park property next door.

“But I need to go to the bathroom,” she said.

“But Mom, you have on a diaper, remember? You just go when you need to and the nurses will clean you up.”

“But she goes to the bathroom on her own sometimes,” Mrs. Jackson interjected.

“Really?” I don’t even try to hide my surprise. “Do the nurses know this?”

“I don’t know, but she goes in there and gets on the toilet sometimes.”

Mia, the head nurse, drops in shortly after this conversation, so I step out into the hall to ask her about it and she says, “Oh, yes. She’s figured out how to unhook the alarm so we don’t know she’s out of her wheelchair. She gets the diaper off and gets herself onto the toilet. Sometimes we have to help her get the diaper back on.”

I’m flabbergasted. “But what if she falls?”

“If she falls, she falls. We’re doing everything we can, short of restraints, which we don’t use here at Lakeland. She’s doing fine.”

Back in Mom’s room, Mrs. Jackson is complaining, “The food here is awful.”

So I look at Mom to see if she agrees, but she’s off on another planet, stroking the ribbon on her birthday gift.

“And the plastic covers on these beds are so hot I wake up sweating at night. Do you think we could get something more comfortable?”

I look at Mom and ask, “Mom, is the bed comfortable enough for you?”

“Oh, yes, it’s fine.” Her eyes have a bit of a glazed-over look, but her smile is full.

“And I can’t seem to get a television in here,” Mrs. Jackson continues. Her son lives in town, so I ask:

“Has your son tried to bring one and get it hooked up? You have to call Comcast a few days ahead of time. But you are welcome to watch Mom’s tv whenever you want to.” I look at Mom.

“I don’t watch it much any more.”

“What about the news. You used to like to watch the news.”

“Yes, sometimes.” There’s a resignation in her voice that’s new.

“Well, it’s okay if Mrs. Jackson wants to watch it, right?”

“Oh, sure! Anytime she wants to.”

“Well, my son will be bringing mine eventually,” Mrs. Jackson says. And he’s going to bring me some pictures for the walls like your mother has. Her walls are bare, whereas Mom’s are covered with framed photographs, posters, and a bulletin board filled with labeled pictures. Another bulletin board is covered with cards.

About then Mom is playing with her new makeup, when Mrs. Jackson brings out some liquid foundation makeup from her drawer and offers it to Mom: “This is the wrong shade for me—would you like to try it?”

Mom takes it and smiles, and their eyes meet and for a moment it reminds me of two young girls sharing beauty supplies. Mom hasn’t worn liquid makeup in years, but she says, “I might like to try it some time.” And she puts it in her makeup bag.

When’s it’s time for me to leave, I ask if Mom wants to go up to the lobby to see me off, but she says, “No, I’ll stay here, thank you.”

I kiss her goodbye, and tell her happy birthday again, and as I leave her room, I watch her maneuvering her wheelchair around to the far side of her bed and placing her birthday card in the window with her other cards. I stand and watch to see what she does next, but she doesn’t move… it’s close to sunset, and the deep orange sky behind the increasingly dark trunks of the pine trees is something to behold. And mother would rather look at the sunset through the trees than watch the news on TV. Who can blame her?

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