It was 10 years ago today, but I remember the moment vividly. It was a crisp summer morning, with blue sky and fluffy clouds drifting over the back yard of our church where we were attending an outdoor service. Rich’s phone vibrated in his pocket. It stopped, then came to life again, so he surreptitiously glanced at the screen. “It’s your mom’s caregiver.” She never called Rich, but my phone was silenced. Our eyes met.
Slipping inside, I dialed her number. Sue was one of our precious caregivers. The small dedicated group of women who took Mom into their hearts and adopted her as family. Who saw that she was dressed exquisitely each morning, and lovingly quaffed her silver-gray hair. Who enabled Mom to stay in her own home as Alzheimer’s ravaged her memory and 91 years weakened her body. I’ve forgotten Sue’s words, but the message was clear. Mom was leaving us.
We didn’t make it in time. We hadn’t even reached the edge of the Twin Cities when the next call came from Duluth to tell us she was gone. As we drove, I made tearful calls to each of the kids to tell them Grandma had died. Although we had lost her years earlier to dementia, this moment added the burden of finality.
Ten years later I continue to sift through the memories. Those from my childhood play like an old video in my mind, scenes on a screen that I watch as a smile creeps across my face. High school stirs images of Mom’s unwavering support and high expectations. College evokes the sense of growing wings, of taking Mom’s life lessons and using them to make my own way in the world.
But it is the adult connections that remain the most vivid. The years when she was a vibrant senior, independent and actively engaged in life. When we could plan outings together, share common perspectives, even travel to England together. If I’m honest, it’s probably when she was in my current stage of life. She was long past raising her four children, and still had miles to go before it would be our turn to be caretakers for her. When I think of Mom, I don’t picture her as a lithe young mother, nor as a dependent octogenarian. I recall her grace, style and spirit as she navigated the world on her own terms in her golden years.
It is a startling realization as I reflect on my own station in life. Am I making the most of these years? Is this how my children will remember me, with my own silver-gray hair? For certain I have inherited that trait from Mom. I can only hope I carry on more than that.
I still think of Mom each time I pass her house. I still seek her approval when making decisions. Still yearn for her presence and knowing smile in the big moments of my life. I can’t help myself when I wonder what Mom would think, what words of advice she might offer. Ten years later, she’s still my Mom.