I don’t like to wait. I get restless and can’t do anything productive while waiting for someone to show up—late. And I don’t like to be late.
My mother doesn’t like to be late either. And so she waits. If I’m taking her somewhere I used to find her standing at the front door waiting for me—coat on, cane in hand, her Bag of Essential Things at her feet—15 minutes before time to leave. And the agreed upon time was generally 15 minutes before we really needed to leave. Now she waits, patiently, in the uncomfortable kitchen chair. She doesn’t like making me wait. We take care of each other that way.
My grandbabe is due date plus seven in Seattle. My daughter is ready to tear it from her body with her own hands. My overnight bag has been packed—ready for a quick get-away—for twelve days, pajamas added each morning, removed each evening, spare clothes changed with the yo-yoing weather forecast. The weather has mostly been gorgeous, and I want to go on a ramble, or camping, but I don’t want to get too far from home or out of cell phone range. I want to stand witness to our Elliot meeting his sibling.
Then there is end-of-life waiting. While we aren’t in “watchful waiting” mode, the 100th birthday is a month from today. How much longer can it be? (Well, it could be a lot longer.) My friend Elizabeth who waited out her father’s long death, is standing with her mother in her progress toward life’s end. She writes in her blog:
“It gets easier to mother my mother the closer she is to dying. In some ways her physical needs are more demanding, but her emotional needs are simplifying. She just wants my presence, my touch, my voice. She likes it when I say something easy to understand like, ‘You look beautiful today,’ rather than something complicated like, ‘I’m sorry I’m late, but the line at the grocery store was so long and then there was a lot of traffic because Elton John is in town tonight. Plus it’s raining like crazy.’”
This is so not my mother. Maybe that’s how I know she’s not going anywhere. My mother wants far more information about all things than I am able to give her. She is on a cleaning out rampage though, typically an end-times indicator. I think it’s just because of party guests coming next month, and she doesn’t compute that no one will see the shelf in her beside table. She’s enlisted M, she knows better than to do it with me. I wouldn’t stand for throwing out just a Tinnitus bulletin and a recipe saved from the Sunday Seattle Times in 1987.
I try not to feel like I’m waiting for my life to start again. And that is getting easier nearly four years into my one-year commitment. (We all tell ourselves lies; that this would be a one-year gig was one of mine.) And really, I don’t know what I think will be different. I’m taking care of business here. But like the past several days, waiting to be called to Seattle—and trying in vain to settle on what to do that might (happily) be interrupted—I haven’t settled completely into these days and years while waiting for things to change for my mom.
I continue to transcribe my father’s letters from the war. Five hundred and sixty letters in, it’s October 1945. Victory in Europe Day was five months ago. He’s waiting to go home and it’s not his turn; he doesn’t have enough points. He hopes he’ll be home by their second wedding anniversary in November. Then by Christmas. Then that he would at least be on the way by Christmas. His roommate left Germany and has been waiting in England for a month for one of the Queens to take him home.
“The days are so long, even if there isn’t much to do, that it wears me out. I surely do wish I were on my way home – even more than that, I wish I were home. Home with you, my darling. The very thought of it makes me alternately happy and then depressed that I’m not there and won’t be for some time. Everything seems so futile. I relive all the things we’ve ever done together. I dream of all the things we will do. And then I wake up to the fact that we’re 4000 miles apart. Well, the time will come and then all these months will seem only like hours.”
“The time will come.” He doesn’t know yet that it will be another six months before he packs his bags for home. In the meantime, he is making improvements in the weather station where he is a forecaster. He wants to leave it efficient and pleasant for those who will continue to be there after he is gone. Unless they close the air field.
It reminds me that I planted annuals at my house in Raleigh for the new owners to enjoy. It’s what we do while we wait: plant seeds for the future. My mom is cleaning out, even though she can no longer see to either appreciate nor disdain what is there; even though it takes her a lot of time and will take me no time at all when she is gone. Maybe she just wants to leave it nice.
My father came home. The baby will come. The end of my mother’s life will come. The years will seem but weeks, the days but minutes. But oh, the waiting. To be in the moment is a gift, and I’ve got the ribbon off. I’m still picking at the wrapping paper.
“I’ve lapsed completely into the activity of just waiting to go home. It’s not good and I know it, but it seems that I can’t combat it any more. At times it seems that I can’t wait even another hour. At times it seems that the waiting would be absolutely impossible if I didn’t have you at the other end of my wait. I can just feel you in my arms.”