Thursday, February 21, 2008

Pictures of You, Pictures of Me

This is the clock upon the wall
This is the story of us all
This is the first sound of a newborn child,
Before he starts to crawl

The summer before my last year of high school, Mom, Grandma and I embarked on a road trip to Texas, to visit my uncle. Our family had taken lots of trips like this over the years (although before this my brother had always went with us) but this trip was particularly memorable in a few different ways, one of the better being that I was the driver. From Regina, Saskatchewan to Houston,Texas, I drove it all.

The drive was a blast, I really enjoyed it. Get up early, drive all day, stop for a picnic lunch, get a motel with a pool around 5:00 pm. Supper in a restaurant and swimming every evening.

But when we got to Dallas, complete with all of it's freeways, it got to be a bit much for a 17 year old who only had her driver's license for a little less than two years. But mom navigated and somehow we made it through. When we got to Houston, we couldn't follow the directions to my uncle's house so mom phoned him. Turned out we weren't that far away and he tried to give us directions on the phone.

No. I absolutely refused to drive another minute. He came and got us and mom drove, following him back to his place. The whole time we were down there, I couldn't drive. Just couldn't make myself do it. I tried once, just backing out of his driveway in a quiet residential neighbourhood. Went in the ditch. Just wasn't meant to be. Apparently I had had enough.
This is the war that's never won
This is a soldier and his gun
This is the mother waiting by the phone,
Praying for her son.
We planned on spending about a month at my uncle's. But one morning after we had been there a couple of weeks, we woke to find that Grandma wasn't feeling well. She was feeling bad enough that mom tried to reach her doctor back in Canada. While she was on the phone, she asked me to check on Grandma, who was still in bed. Something wasn't right. And at some level, I knew as soon as I looked at her face what was wrong. But all I could do was tell Mom something wasn't right. Mom came over and checked. Grandma was dead.
There is a drug that cures it all
Blocked by the governmental wall
We are the scientists inside the lab,
Just waiting for the call
This earthquake weather has got me shaking inside
I'm high up and dry.
A few days later, my uncle, mom and I drove back to Saskatchewan. That was a heck of a drive. My uncle decided he and I could should drive straight through, no need for a motel. Yeah, right. We did it but only because I spelled him many a time when he was falling asleep. Not that I was any less tired. I vividly recall waking up about 6:00 in the morning to a beautiful sunrise, everyone else in the car asleep and me driving on the wrong side of the road. Obviously, traffic was light at the time which was a good thing, I suppose.

When we made it home, it was very close to the end of August and Grandma's apartment had to be cleaned out before the end of the month. I remember helping mom and my uncle and aunt do that, everyone doing their best, forcing themselves not to spend too much stopping to reminisce over each picture and keepsake.
Pictures of you, pictures of me
Hung upon your wall for the world to see
Pictures of you, pictures of me
Remind us all of what we used to be

My mom now lives in a little one-bedroom bungalow on our property. The houses are only about five feet apart. It's funny, Mom use to constantly say that she wished I would come over to her house more to visit. We were always out together a lot and she spent a lot of time at my house, but she wanted me to come to her place. To visit. And I didn't very often. Too busy, I told myself. And if she was here, I could get other things done while we talked.

Confess to me, every secret moment
Every stolen promise you believed
Confess to me, all that lies between us
All that lies between you and me
But now I spend a lot of time at mom's house. An awful lot. Taking over her pills a couple of times a day. Checking in to make sure she is eating. And that she is otherwise okay. And I find it's virtually impossible to run over 'just for a minute' to quickly do something because I see so many other things that need doing that a minute or two often turns into half an hour or more.

And then there are the times when I take her home at night and after I ensure a few things are done and prepared for the next day, we end up having the most heart-breaking and beautiful conversations. The other night, somehow I ended up sitting on the floor with my head on the couch she was sitting on as we talked about how we could continue to make it work for her to stay in her own home. It feels like I am in a totally unsustainable situation at the moment. And yet as sad as our conversation was, as many tears as I shed, when I went home that night I suddenly realized that now I not only knew the definition of the word 'bittersweet', but I also intensely knew the emotion it evoked. And, that as sad as it was, those moments would stay with me as more memories of our time together.
We are the boxers in the ring
We are the bells that never sing
There is a title we can't win no matter
How hard we might swing

Lately when I have been at her house, I have been spending more time looking at the pictures spread around the living room. My brother and his wife, my nieces, my own family and a family picture of my mom and dad, my brother as a preschooler and me as an infant. They make me smile. And make me sad.

Yesterday I spent most of the morning at Mom's while a Department of Health representative conducted her assessment. And I found myself sitting quietly a lot of the time, gazing at the pictures and dreading the day that I will have to enter that house and know that Mom won't be sitting in the living room or laying down in the bedroom. The day that I will go into the house to pack up her belongings, to take down those pictures. Is it possible to have your heart break in advance?

Pictures of you, pictures of me
Hung upon your wall for the world to see
Pictures of you, pictures of me
Remind us all of what we used to be


Casdok said...

A beautiful sad story, full of emotion, had me in tears.

tam said...

MMC - have I told you lately that I love you? Well, I do. I love your mom too. It's been a long time since I've seen either one of you, and I'm sorry for that.

Let me know if you need anything and I'll come down.

Kris, in New England said...

Yes, it is possible for your heart to break in advance - I've done it and it really does suck. I'm so sorry about all this for you Michelle - you certainly do have a very full, nee overflowing plate. I'll keep you in my thoughts.

Punkys Dilemma said...

You have me in tears M. I'm so sorry you/we have to go through the agony and having our heart break a little more each day. I'm so glad you and your mom have these heartfelt talks. Its so sad, but these are memories you're going to hold onto forever and ever. And its going to make you smile one day. Take care.

Anonymous said...

I am in a somewhat similar situation with my Mom's health, and have been for a couple of years.
My sister getting a divorce, and needing a place to stay, was a Godsend. She is looking after Mom and keeping up with the maint. on my house while I am overseas earning the money to pay for it all.
I call quite often, as my last phone bill was over 500 dollars, because you never know when it will be the last your last opportunity to tell her that you love her.
Bittersweet is the perfect word to describe the emotion of these conversations.

I'll put both of Y'all in my prayers, Unka

neardem said...

You know I am in tears. You write so well, your images are so vivid and the feelings behind them ... yes, you know I am in tears.
And I thank God you have the chance to talk to your mom, to have conversations that you will never forget and that she may have forgotten already. But she knows she is safe with you so close. Emotionally safe. Even if she forgets.
I love you too.