Umbilical Cords

I loved being pregnant. Well, after the nausea was over, and before I felt like an elephant. Both my babies were plus-size, and both stayed in the safety of the womb beyond my need for them to move out. By the time they breathed their first breaths I had no mixed feelings about the end of the pregnancy: cut that cord, time to meet the future.

Last weekend we finally moved Mama. While Rebecca grieved, I was making lists of things Mama needed to be comfortable in her new home. Saturday, while Jo Ann—visiting from Virginia for the week—helped Mama decide what clothes to take and determined that, yes, they will all fit in one dresser after things she hasn’t worn in years were removed, I filled boxes.

And I dreamed of what I was going to do with all the space in my womb.

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The neighbors came on Saturday to help with the heavy lifting, including the dresser. I removed the detritus on top, including the camera for the baby monitor. I took it downstairs and dropped it on my bed. All that was left was to take her and the last minute items when she woke from her nap.

While she slept, I went to my room. There was the camera on the bed. There was the monitor on my bedside table. I have been listening to her breathe and snore and talk in her sleep for almost four and a half years, and checked the video countless times to see if she was awake—or breathing—and if she got back from the bathroom okay.

I pulled the plug and dropped the receiver onto my bed next the camera. No regrets.

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But when I woke Mama up so we could get her to her new place before dark, she had forgotten she was moving on Saturday. It was late in the day and she hadn’t slept well the night before and to her it was already dark. We decided to hold off until Sunday morning and start fresh.

When I went to bed, rather than reattaching the umbilicus, I gathered the monitor up and stuffed it in a drawer with other electronics I don’t know what to do with, or at least haven’t done anything with: two old cameras, the original monitor, mystery computer cords, old cell phones. I slept in silence with Mama still upstairs in her bed.

Sunday morning I took the rest of Mama’s things to her new home and made last minute adjustments then met her and my sisters in the Community’s (as the staff calls it) dining room. Mama declared breakfast delicious—even though the scrambled eggs didn’t meet the light and fluffy demand I accommodate at home. When she went to her room, she loved it.

“I never thought it could be like this,” she said, teary. Finally I wept my own tears.

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As I wrote last week, Mama has a long history of adapting to change. She moved back and forth across the country during the war years, her new husband far away. She left her homeland in the Deep South to make a new forever home in the Pacific Northwest. In more recent years, she has adapted to her myriad health issues, including exercising a broken knee to stronger than the healthy one, tinnitus and hearing loss, diminishing vision, digestive and bowel issues that started long before old age. Then there was the death of her husband, Rebecca moving in with her (yes, I am sure that was a change that might not have been completely welcome after years of living alone), and my arrival after more years of living alone. She coped—not always peaceably—with my takeover as we dealt with her diminishing cognitive and physical abilities. She began wearing incontinence pants first sometimes then regularly for occasional accidents, she began using a walker even in the house; she’s suffered two recent falls with injury. She has lost most of her vision and stopped wearing her glasses because they didn’t help. Her blissful solitude and her independence has been decimated by daughters and caregivers.

Never did she lie down and die. She is a fierce warrior woman.

I left town Sunday morning for my other caregiving job. Since I saw Adrian two weeks ago he has learned to sit up without falling over (except sometimes) and has begun to rock in pre-crawling position. He is thinning the cord that ties him to those who care for him. Elliot has memorized a book and “read” it to me, then he put a puzzle together by himself. He is signed up for the next level of toddler soccer—the one where parents sit, hands-off, on the sidelines.

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I returned from Seattle last night to a house empty of my mother for the first time. It felt strangely unfamiliar. When I rose this morning, the power was out. It was dark and chilly. And very quiet. I wrapped myself in blankets and sat in the dark. I have returned to the womb while I contemplate the thinning cord between Mama and me.

Mama is not the only one who will need time to adjust and to do a new thing. But she raised a fierce warrior woman. Though the cord won’t be cut through until she leaves the earth, I am ready to meet the future. I think she is too.

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15 thoughts on “Umbilical Cords

  1. Ah, Gretchen, I’m so happy that she was pleased with her new home once you moved her in. She’ll likely have them whipped into shape in no time. 🙂 Enjoy your new worlds…hope the adjustment continues well for both of you.

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  2. This put tears in my eyes – so poignant with the juxtapositions of old age and infancy, loss and gain, relief and grief, anticipation and disorientation. Onward, fierce warrior woman, to the what-comes-next. Thinking of you.

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  3. Thinking of You, Gretchen and your mom and sister, too. All of you have exhibited courage and a tremendous amount of love over these past few years. I am sending blessings that you continue to have courage as compassion as you figure out what comes next. Happy Thanksgiving from Wisconsin! Jude

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  4. Your words leave me almost speechless (rare). There is a lot of stuff going on in the paragraphs you share. Some past. Some present. Some future. Some light, heavy, and TBD respectively. I hope your mother can “settle in” and give you time to rest and prepare for what lies ahead. I know whatever you decide and do, you will do it well.

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    • Thank you, John. That you read my words means a lot to me. That you share what you see there means even more. Funny, I don’t remember you as a man of many words 45 years ago, but I gather from your hilarious FB posts that changed! G

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