My parents’ 43rd anniversary

Aug. 3 is my parents’ anniversary.

43 years of marriage.

My father cues my mother to stand up from her chair:

He takes her hands and says,

“One, two, three, up!”

She looks up at him expectantly,

Wanting to do a good job.

A good Girl Scout, she used to call herself.

Sometimes it takes a few tries

For her to get it.

Finally, she bears down on his hands

And pulls herself to standing.

“Good up,” Dad says, pulling up the waistband of her pants,

Which had slid down.

In their wedding picture,

My father’s tux pants were a couple inches too short.

My mother is wearing the sleeveless straight white dress

That she let me use as a

Halloween costume when I was the

Bride of Frankenstein’s monster in high school.

It’s a color picture

But it’s faded into yellows and greens and grays.

43 years.

Last year we were at a wedding.

My younger cousin and her new husband

Came out of the reception hall

Into the hotel lobby to say good night to

Aunt Marti and

Uncle Bob.

My cousin hadn’t seen my mother in years,

And I watched her wedding smile

Freeze up

As she tried to greet my mother

Who stared unblinking at her for a moment,

And then started fidgeting with her dress.

This is marriage.

A white-haired main leading his Alzheimer’s-stricken wife by the elbow

Into the parking lot of the hotel,

Into the dark spring night.

The script my brother and I wrote

Was that

Mom

Would take care of

Dad

In their old age.

If you’d known them then,

You would’ve thought the same.

She was the one feeding us vegetables at every meal.

She was the one balancing the checkbook at the dining room table.

She was the one deep-cleaning the oven at night.

God chuckles at scripts like that,

And shores up my father for his

New life.

She did take care of him for many years.

And now he’s taking care of her.

Not always with perfect patience or skill.

But with a

Willingness and a

Devotion that’s a

Small miracle.

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Last night of taking care of my mom

It’s my last night of putting

Mom

To bed.

Eleven days and nights of caretaking her

For my dad, who’s on a trip.

I haven’t touched her this much since I was a child.

Steering her thin arms with their

Cool, white, wobbly skin,

Anchoring my hand to the only solid part of her left:

The hips and lower back,

Disentangling her clutching fingers from straps and pieces of clothing,

Pulling her pants up the haunches with their empty hanging sacks of skin.

I see things I remember about

Her body

From when I was a child:

A mole on her lower back,

The way her thin hair streaks against the base of her skull when

Pulling a shirt over her head,

The knuckle-knobs on her hands.

We have the same hands:

Long narrow fingers,

Knobby knuckles,

Blue vein tubes leading into the wrists.

I used to press on her hand veins when I was a child

When I was holding her hand.

But at a certain age,

10 or 11 probably,

I didn’t want to

Touch her

Or be touched by her

Anymore.

If I ever handed her something and her fingers,

Overreaching,

Would brush against the top of my hand,

I would wipe off her touch on my pant leg.

And now,

Here I am,

Her nurse.

She is easy, as Alzheimer’s patients go.

She is light enough to lift,

And gentle, agreeable, trusting, quiet.

(I am sure I will not be so easy if my mind goes.

I will be heavy and contrary and paranoid and I will

Screech nonsense constantly.)

But still.

It’s been hard.

A dependent child

Seems like a worthwhile investment of energy.

They’re the future of the world, after all.

Investing energy in an elderly dependent parent …

They’re at the end.

It’s just comfort now.

What’s the return?

(The return is for me in the giving, I suppose.

Another tough-love parental gift.)

Giving comfort doesn’t come naturally to me.

I would make an efficient,

Detached,

Perhaps harsh nurse.

The kind a sick person would cringe at,

The kind who would jerk an injured limb,

Or scrub a wound too hard.

So not only am I touching

And touching

The maternal body I avoided for 25 years,

But I’m trying to be

Gentle and

Patient.

Yesterday was hard.

She spilled her cereal, juice and milk

On her pants and the floor,

Broken glass.

Lifting the bird-like body in and out of the car.

Mutterings and delusions.

She messed up my plans.

I wanted to go to both

Yoga

And a 12-step meeting.

But I could only choose one.

This caregiver got one hour off duty.

And driving to yoga,

Alone in the car, I thought,

“You know how people say they won’t want to be a burden to their children?

Well, Mom, you’re a burden.”

But at the end of class,

Sweat-bathed and lying on my mat,

I started crying silently,

My tears mixing with the sweat rolling down my temples into my ears.

Tonight,

Laying her into bed,

I looked into her eyes and said,

“I love you, Mom.”

And her blue eyes focused for a moment and she said,

“I love you, too too.”

And I said, “I miss you.”

And she closed her eyes.