I drove to Houston Mother’s Day weekend for the second (and last) weekend of the estate sale. Mom’s been ill with another infection; one that has hit her especially hard. The new antibiotic, injectable Rocephin, was started on Friday before I arrived at mom’s assisted living. When I got there, she was reclined in her lift chair watching a Modern Family marathon. Well, not watching exactly, since she wasn’t entirely coherent. The sitter I had hired was with her, playing with the cat.
Mom smiled when I arrived but talked little. She wasn’t up for more than one-word responses. She wasn’t strong enough to go down to dinner, so they brought a plate of fresh fruit to her room. I fed her the first few bites, and when I told her she could eat it with her fingers, she began feeding herself. I watched tv with her and played with kitty until it was time for bed. When I spoke to her, she stared blankly at me much of the time.
It took three caregivers and the sitter to transfer mom from her recliner to the bed Friday night. She was so weak, she couldn’t help them much. Once she was in bed, I pulled up a chair and sat with her, holding her hand. I put kitty in the chair so she could reach him for petting. She lay there with her eyes closed, stroking the cat. She looked so weak and vulnerable. When my eyes filled with tears, I got up and turned away so she wouldn’t see me. I left after she fell asleep.
I spent the night in mom’s house. (At some point over the past three and a half years, it shifted from being my parent’s house, to being mom’s house.) The house is in complete disarray, with everything out of the closets, cupboards, drawers, and cabinets for the estate sale. We sold a fair amount of family treasures (along with a good amount of crap) two weeks prior, but it seemed to have barely made a dent. I slept in a twin bed in my brother’s old room, feeling lonely and wishing I had the company of Lucy, like I had the prior visit.
After a restless night, I got up and made a pot of coffee, thankful we hadn’t yet sold the coffee maker. I’d stashed my mug in the refrigerator the weekend before so it wouldn’t be sold. At 7:45, the garage salers began ringing the doorbell, like vultures descending upon a carcass. I didn’t let them in until my sister arrived five minutes later. My sister and I both were in a surly mood, and not having nearly as much fun as the prior sale weekend. We seemed to be carrying more mementos out to our cars than we were selling. Knowing this was the last weekend, things felt a bit more final. Letting go of family treasures grew more difficult.
In the afternoon, one of the garage salers told us of an estate sale in a nearby neighborhood being run by an estate sale company. My brother-in-law went and fetched the owner, who came over to talk with us about taking over the sale. We quickly reached an agreement with him, and closed up shop early. In two weeks, the estate sale company will run the sale again. This time, in a more methodical fashion, with more comprehensive ads, prices on everything, and a group of “professionals” on two sale days. Once the sale is over, they’ll auction what remains, and donate what can’t be sold. The house will then be empty and ready for the next step: sale of the real property.
After the estate sale owner left, my sister and I went through the house room by room once more, adding a few more treasures to our piles. A few, meaning as much as I could fit in my car and still see through my rear-view mirror. Odd how suddenly we felt frantic. With each item carried out to my car, I vowed to clear out my closets by year-end to alleviate the feeling of suffocation that overcame me.
When I visited my mom Saturday evening, she seemed a bit perkier. The second antibiotic had begun to work. I was flooded with relief. I had brought mom a big bouquet of yellow flowers, happy flowers, and explained to her that the next day was Mother’s Day, and we were going to have a picnic. I stayed with her until the caregivers helped her to bed. She was stronger than the night before, but still very weak.
On Sunday, I awoke early and went for a seven-mile walk with a friend. The mosquitoes were fierce due to the flooding weeks before. Afterward, I took what I expected would be my last shower ever in the house and packed up my belongings. I walked around the house that for nearly forty years had been “home”: room by room, I told it goodbye.
I arrived at my mother’s assisted living shortly before lunch. My sister, brother-in-law, and niece both were there visiting mom. They were preparing to leave as my brother-in-law had gotten word that his brother was dying and wasn’t expected to make it through the day. (As it turns out, he would not get there in time to say goodbye.) As they left, my niece and brother-in-law lingered over my mother, giving her kisses and telling her she is loved. My sister, in contrast, was already out the door.
“Why doesn’t Dierdre kiss her mother goodbye? What’s her deal?” I asked them.
“She’s not affectionate,” my niece said. “You know that.”
“She’s always been that way,” my brother-in-law said.
“No wonder she likes me better,” I blurted.
After they left, I pushed mom out to the courtyard where we could watch the birds. It was a beautiful day. Mom had improved even more, having been on the right antibiotic for more than forty-eight hours. I ordered lunch from a nearby cafe, and sat holding her hand and talking with her until it was time to pick it up. As we watched a mourning dove chase the others away from the feeder, I asked her how she was feeling; if she was feeling better.
“I’m just feeling content,” she said.
Content. What an exquisite word.
Mom told me it was time for me to pick up our lunch, that twenty minutes had passed. I looked at the time, and sure enough, she was right. I picked up her omelet and my salad, and added a giant piece of chocolate cream pie to the order. The waiter gave me a white carnation for mom. When I got back to the courtyard, a gentleman in a motorized wheelchair had come out to enjoy some fresh air. I greeted him, and mom and I tucked into our lunches. Eventually, I made my way toward the topic I’d wanted to broach with her.
“Mom, Dierdre wants you to do rehab at a rehab hospital. Do you want to do rehab at a hospital?”
“Not today. Maybe later I’ll try it.”
“But do you want to leave and stay somewhere else to do it? Stay overnight somewhere else?”
“How about if we do rehab, physical therapy here, in your room? You can sleep in your bed and you won’t have to leave your cat?”
“I would like to try that. Maybe tomorrow.”
“But you don’t want to leave here and go somewhere else and stay overnight to do it?”
“No, I want to sleep here.”
“OK. I told Dierdre you didn’t want to go to a rehab hospital. She can be kind of a bully,” I joked. “But I can take it. I can stand up to her for you. I will tell her you don’t want to go to rehab. That you want to do therapy here. At some point, it just gets to be too much work.”
“OK, we’re not going to eat the whole thing. We’ll save some of it for later,” I told her.
“I might be able to eat the whole thing,” she said.
“But what if it does crazy things to your blood sugar? What if it makes you go into a coma?”
“I’m sitting down so it will be OK,” she said. And she laughed.
“But mom, you don’t want to die by chocolate, do you?”
“That would be OK,” she said.
“I suppose there are worse ways to go, than death by chocolate,” I said.
We ate in silence, savoring our pie. The man in the wheelchair then told us he was going for his “walk.”
“It’s a nice day for a stroll,” I told him.
“You’re a good daughter,” he replied.
I thanked him, surprised.
“You are a good daughter,” he repeated, and he motored away for his walk.