It’s an hour and a half before mom has to be at the doctor. She’s eaten less than a cup of food a day for a week. Months earlier I’d taken her to the emergency room. It turned out she was starving and dehydrated. I thought then “she’s throwing a temper tantrum”. Everything in her life is out of her control except what she puts in her body.
She can’t drive, she can’t walk. Her cordless phone confounds her, she can’t navigate automated answering services, her doctors barely speak English and barely tolerate her. No one sees her and no one cares to know her anymore. I’d probably stop eating to.
She knows I think she’s making herself sick and swears she isn’t. The need for me to believe her so strong that I do.
Mom’s childhood was spent hunting and fishing the rugged Idaho Mountains. Traversing on foot and camping overnight. Still grade school age she was left with older siblings to fend for themselves through most of a winter. Snow nearly reaching the roof of the homesteader’s cabin. At twelve she was running moonshine with an older brother.
Part of her life she was a grifter. Dealing dirty card games to rough men who threatened to kill her if they caught her cheating. After losing all their money a couple of unhappy customers approached her outside a bar saying they’d “take the money” she’d just won from them. With a very large gun she said “you could try”. My piece of shit father loved that story.
Forty years later she needs me to bathe her for a doctor’s appointment. Sitting on one of those bath stools for old people she is shaking uncontrollably. I’m worried she’s cold, but then realize she’s bone weary. There will be no more Idaho Mountains for my mother.
I wonder if this is humiliating. Hating the thought of my gun toting moonshine running kick ass mother humiliated I make some jokes. I wash her hair with false confidence, and I marvel that while skeletal she’s still beautiful and somehow dignified.
Then it came. The thought “I’m helping her die”. “She’s at the end of her life. She can’t wash her hair. She can’t towel off her own body”. Instead of the fear I expected would come at that moment I felt lucky and honored. She felt sad and done.
Several months later mom and I barreled through the Idaho Mountains. Mom traveling as ashes in the saddlebag of my Harley Davidson. The container held in a purple velvet crown royal bag left over from her liquor store days. Over wine glasses after a long ride my husband and I would laugh at the possibility someone might break into my saddlebags and “steal mom”. What joy that would have brought her.
One day we pulled off at a clear mountain stream. My husband waited for us by the side of the road while mom and I sat near the water listening to a song she used to sing. I held her for a while, listening to “A Daisy a Day”. Then I left her in the Idaho Mountains.