Sometimes, a fresh start is not obvious until it has passed—until the reflective memory becomes potent with meaning. Such was the gift Mother gave to me in January 2012. At age of almost 96 and on hospice, mom moved up and down like a roller coaster. We called her YoYoMa, one of our ways of staying sane when our hearts were so heavy. That yoyo behavior prompted my sister and I to agree that I could go on my annual New Year’s retreat at a center about three hours away.
That morning she would not open her eyes or acknowledge I was there. But in the afternoon, when I returned to see her before heading out of town, her little blue eyes were bright and she said, “I’m hungry. Let’s go eat. I’ll buy!”
“Wow, Mom. OK, what would you like?”
“Food. To get out of here.”
“Ok Mom. I am on it.”
I asked our care manager to get the print menu from the assisted living dining room. Mom was totally paralyzed on her left side and unless I had a van with a wheel chair lift, Mom was going nowhere. The benefit of Alzheimer’s was that she couldn’t remember any of this.
“So, Mom, while we are waiting for a menu, let me tell you about where I am going.”
She snuggled down, closed her eyes and listened as I described The Center for Spiritual Renewal in Santa Barbara and the old house where I would retreat for a few days. She then blurted out, “OK. I’ll go with you. Let’s be daring. Let’s have an adventure. ”
I blinked hard to keep tears from spilling down my face. Indeed, this is the legacy that Mom always intended to leave us: to have an adventure, to be daring. It’s what called her to med school when there were only three other women. It’s what called her to hop in a plane and fly with the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots during WWII. It’s the same daring that could turn the howling wind of a hurricane into an adventure as we gathered in the center of the house, far away from the picture windows and told stories by candlelight. It’s the same daring that helped her pick up the remnants of her life and re-enter the job market in her mid 50s. And it’s the same spirit that propelled us to drive her across Ireland, taking back roads and having no destination other than where the wind blew.
“Do you know where the restaurant is?” she asked. “I do, Mom. I am on it. Let’s get some clothes on you and get you into your chair. We’ll head out to the Bistro.”
When we went through the locked doors, it didn’t register to Mom that we had not left the building but rather gone over to an alcove with three tables and a little bar-type setting.
“Great,” said Mom, “We’re at the bar.”
She looked around and marveled that there were no people in the “restaurant.” She didn’t hesitate or question the two teaspoons she ate of Bill’s soup or the tiny bite of peanut butter and strawberry jelly on a sliver of toast.
“Mom, thanks for taking me to lunch. Shall we split some ice cream for dessert? Susan will be along shortly and join us.” Our wonderful care manager had made vanilla ice cream appear as if by magic and Mom ate a few spoons with relish. My sister Susan was coming to take my place so I could leave. I had called and given her a heads up that we were “dining out.” Susan appeared as if on cue, and I reached down to hug Mom.“Do you have my wallet?” asked Mom.
“Indeed, I do, Mom. I am on it. I will pay the hostess when I go out. Thanks again for lunch, Mom. It was great!”
I left Mom happily looking at Susan and offering ice cream with her one good hand. It was great. It was grand. For her, getting out of bed and eating was daring—even if she didn’t know it.
Two days later, I raced back. With my twin brother John and my sister Susan, we kept vigil–holding, praying and letting go. The pain of loss and grief held me tight for months until one night, I dreamed of our last full conversation. Mom had indeed given me the green light, waved the flag for my departure, demanding a fresh start. “Let’s be daring. Let’s have an adventure.”
“Got it Mom. I’m on it.”