“It’s like a resort! They even have a coffee shop where you can go and sit in the afternoon and have a latte. They’ll make your meals and your dad will love that!” Mom was elated as she shared the day’s events with me that evening. “You wouldn’t believe it, Debs, we spent the entire day looking at assisted living facilities. I think this is the way for us to go. And you just wouldn’t believe how much I walked today!”
“That’s great Mom—you’ll be so close! You guys can walk over to the house and take Sam and Rose for walks, shop at Sendik’s, get your prescriptions at CVS. We can meet on Downer for dinner after work!” This sounded great to me. How does she do it I wondered. Every day brings the possibility of renewed hope for her. That’s what her mother taught her. That’s what her faith gives her. I reassured myself that everything was going to be alright as I walked down the Boulevard, crunching through the leaves, listening to Mom’s voice with Sam and Rose following after me. Cars were stopping to ask if it was my cat that was walking along with me and my dog. “Yes,” I’d whisper and nod. I listened to Mom describe Bradford Terrace, the assisted living facility Dad had designed over 40 years earlier. It had won an award for being the first elderly housing in the state with balconies in each unit. It’s funny how life circles back around—now they were considering moving into it.
It was a part of my daily ritual to convince myself that everybody and everything were all fine. How many times had I left Mom over the past several months and years in tears certain it was goodbye, only to hear her voice the next day full of new energy and inspiration? Just several days previously I had stopped by the condo expecting to find Mom in bed. Instead, she and Dad were pulling out of the driveway, top down in their little convertible with big smiles on their faces, Mom holding a bottle of wine, on their way to dinner with friends. Astonishing, was all I could think. Nothing made my heart leap more than these moments of unexpected normal. When life delivers a plan in place of the one you had hoped for—when you lose the people who mean everything to you—you can either lose yourself as well or look for a new way of living life—a new way of living within yourself. I was trying to find a new normal.
The next week I dropped Mom off at the hospital entrance in the parking structure marked with the crickets—the chirps and pictures were there to calm you and help you know your bearings. I told Mom I’d be right there and parked the car. By the time I got back to the elevator entrance she was gone. I had her purse with her phone in it and no idea which appointment she was going to or where she might be headed. I got on the elevator, pushed the 1st floor button and expected to get off at the lobby with the nice lady and the hand sanitizer. I couldn’t find her though—the lobby had disappeared. I went up and down in two different elevators, checking all seven floors but no lobby—only long halls. I started to panic and someone asked if they could help me. I must have been talking to myself as I pounded the elevator buttons and waited for the doors to open and close as people got on and off. “My Mom—I can’t find her! I dropped her off when I parked and I have her purse and phone. She needs her purse! I don’t know where she is!”
“I’ll help you,” the kind, calm, irritating woman replied. “Tell me where you came in.”
“Right here—where the lobby is supposed to be. They took away the lobby! I’m sure that’s where my mom is!”
“Follow me,” she said and started leading me down a long maze of halls which I knew couldn’t be right. By now people were stopping and staring. My voice got louder and louder, “This isn’t right—where are you taking me?!”
When we reached the window—which for the moment meant I was still in the world I knew—she pointed and said, “There’s the entrance. Is that where you came in?”
“Yes!! That’s where we came in and then parked the car on the other side, back over there by the crickets! That’s where my Mom is! Why did you bring me here? I’ve got to get back! I have to find her!” I started to run down the hall, retracing our steps. I heard her say, “Slow down, I have a bad hip,” as others were joining in to see what was wrong. I got to the elevator and held the door open for her, trying to stay calm as I waited. We returned to our search and by now I was close to hyperventilating. Down we went 7, 6, 5, Stop. Ding. Three people got on with a stretcher.
“Someone close the door for crying out loud! Heavens these doors are slow!” (I can’t breathe. Mom where are you?) The doors slammed shut and down we went. Ding. 2. The doors banged opened and would you believe it, there was my mom walking down the hall.
“Mom!” I yelled and squeezed my way passed the people and the stretcher to get out the door. She turned and smiled.
“I couldn’t find you—where did you go,” she asked. (Where did I go?!)
“I thought you knew I was coming up to meet with my dietitian,” she continued calmly. “I thought you were going to meet me in the lobby.” (What lobby?!)
“I lost you Mom. I couldn’t find you. I’ve been all over this hospital. I was so afraid I lost you.” Then the dam broke. I had been struggling to stay strong for months, doing whatever I could to help keep life normal for my parents; whatever I could to make them laugh and feel good but now I wept. “I’m scared Mom—I’m so scared of losing you.” We walked over to some chairs and I didn’t let her go. We sat down.
“I’m scared too Debbie.”
We sat there for a while as my pulse returned to normal.
Then out of the blue Mom said, “I haven’t done anything important with my life.” A wave of emotion poured over me so strongly that I couldn’t speak. I sat stunned by Mom’s words, by the sound of her voice. The voice that read our favorite stories to us, soothed us, sang to us. Was there a better sound in the world? Mom the adventurer, always thinking ahead, leading the way to the next step in life—for our family and for so many others. I couldn’t imagine what would make her say such a thing except I knew this disease was cruelly chipping away at her sense of worth. I couldn’t think of anyone who knew Mom and wasn’t impacted by her. She had a special way of showing each person she met how incredibly valuable they were. She always asked how they were doing and listened carefully to whatever they had to say. People remember that. They remember her beautiful smile. It came from her heart. She met with so many one on one–supporting, guiding. Mom led the way for me.
Mom modeled and I then modeled. Though neither of us liked it much it gave me the opportunity to learn how to do the books for Rosemary Bischoff Agency which always provided me with a job throughout my life.
She took ballet then I took ballet which eventually led me to my job today. She performed at the Skylight Theatre and then I performed there and went on to years of travel and adventures. She confided in me and I confided in her, we talked and drank wine together, laughed, shopped together, cried and drank tea, yelled sometimes, drank more wine and went out to lunch. She loved so deeply. How much she loved her family, her church is beyond words. She showed us all how to love. How could she sit here now and question her value?
“How can you say that Mom after all you’ve done? You supported Dad through his career and then you made one for yourself, returning to school, earning three degrees, went into music therapy so you could help people, then chose church ministries because that’s what you felt called to do though you had many other choices. You helped build a church and used all of your gifts to support others. You bore and raised four children. You have seven grandchildren—the perfect number—and one great grandchild. Ask anyone who knows you, ask your doctors and the nurses here, ask anyone their opinion. They’ll say you light up a room when you walk into it. You have the most beautiful heart and smile.” (How could she be feeling this way?)
“…I’m afraid of dying Debbie….”
…I knew it wasn’t that she was doubting her faith…
“…I’m afraid of losing you Mom….”
I didn’t understand that day but I came to realize, Mom’s life was running through her mind like a film playing—hurts, misunderstandings, unresolved situations were the loudest scenes. She wanted to live long enough to be free of all of them. She didn’t want to take any of them along with her to heaven. Mom didn’t want to let Jesus, who had done so much for her, down…
“Evening and morning and at noon I will pray, and cry aloud, and He shall hear my voice. He has redeemed my soul in peace from the battle that was against me…”Psalm 55:17-18