Hanging On, Letting Go

“I don’t want anything changed in my room.” That was the stipulation Mama made when she reluctantly let go of multiple bids to stay at home rather than move to assisted living two months ago. “If I come home for a visit,” she explained, “I want to be able to lie down on my bed for a rest.”

It was an easily honored request. The fact that she took some of the furnishings with her, thus changing the room, wasn’t the point. She wanted to know that her essence would still be in the house. She wanted to know there was one space I wouldn’t seize in what, in her imagination, would be my immediate takeover.

Someday I will need to move myself to the bedroom she and my father shared throughout my childhood in order to free my bedroom in the downstairs studio apartment for potential renters or retreatants in my grand plan. But I’m in no hurry. I love my bedroom, hers not so much. Before I move into her room, some minor and major changes need to happen: rid the walls of yellow that the master bedroom has been in at least two of the three homes of my childhood—yellow being one of my least favorite colors—refinish the hardwood floors, remove the traverse rod drapes, sell the Early American bedroom set, cut a window in the end of the room. That last in my dreams. And I’m not going to do any of that while she still has cognition; maybe even while she has life. It’s her room in my mind too.

I don’t promise not to clean out the closet.

Though she didn’t say so, maybe too she harbored some hope that she could move back home, that this would be a trial of short duration (“one night,” “three days,” “a week” were among her bids). As long as her bedroom was there waiting for her, that was still a possibility. Although we have never said so to her, it is possible under perfect circumstances, that when we know the end is near—if we know—she could come home to die. I want her room to be there for her too.

Then, two months after she moved, she started talking about wanting her full-size bed in her new home, the hospital bed isn’t comfortable and it’s too narrow. It’s too unfamiliar. I made sure she understood the pros and cons, then, with the good neighbor’s help, I made that happen last Friday.

Was it an acceptance that the Manor is her home now; that she is staying? Is that a giving up, or an acknowledgement that it’s okay—maybe better—that she is where she is? I’m told adjustment takes three months, and she’s getting close to that. It’s probably a whole slew of things, not the least is simply wanting to sleep in the bed she knows, that she shared with my father—even with the limitations she was already beginning to remember after the second night. I get that. I’ve wanted my familiar things for the past 4-1/2 years too.

I’ve moved my bed that’s been in storage into her room—I’ll get a mattress for it soon—so she will have a place to rest during visits and I’ll have another guest bed. I’m still not moving in, but it’s nice to see my bed again. I didn’t have a headboard and footboard for all my years of adulthood until I was on my own again at 50-whatever, when it was my first purchase. I longed for one, but somehow it never got to the top of the family priority list. Acquiring it was important to me, and I’ve missed it if only for the symbolic attachment.

Mama came up to the house for a while on Sunday, and somehow managed not to need to use the bathroom. I wonder if she didn’t want to pass through her now-unknown room. She doesn’t know I put my bed up, filling the space; but even though she couldn’t see it, she would have sensed the unfamiliarity.

When I took her back to the Manor after her visit, she hugged me goodbye and wept. She apologized for being so much trouble, she said she’s lived too long, she thanked me for being so good and so patient. I don’t know what brought that on; I wonder if she did. I do know I struggled with patience in just those three hours and I was feeling bad about myself. But I didn’t let it slip out, so that was a victory. The rarely expressed gratitude was a balm; the familiar self-deprecation a window into her own grief.

We are both adjusting to our new circumstances: me at rocket speed, she at glacial. The Wendell Berry poem came to me in a blog post the other day. It is certainly fitting for the frightening times in which we are living as citizens of this country, but it has been my mother’s alien world for a long time now.

                       The Real Work
It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.

—Wendell Berry


Following my guest commentary in the local paper last week (see last week’s blog post), my mother wrote a letter to the editor. Her work on this planet is not done.

In 1985, I traveled to Washington, D.C., to participate in The Ribbon International, a project created by Justine Merritt. She wanted to wrap the Pentagon with a ribbon to remind everyone that “we love the Earth and its people.”

In 2000, I joined my daughters in Washington, D.C., for the Million Mom March, to promote tighter gun safety. In both cases one woman not only spoke up but also took action, and her action turned into the action of hundreds of thousands.

Never think that one person doesn’t count or one voice won’t be heard! Channel 4 News interviewed me after The Ribbon, and asked me why I had gone across the country to participate. I said I wanted to teach my children that if things are happening that are not OK it is our responsibility to speak up.

And now my children and grandchildren are doing just that. Although I was unable to attend Saturday’s Women’s March in Olympia (or Washington, D.C.), I was there in spirit, walking alongside my daughters.

And now I will join them — and millions more — who will speak out against what we see as wrong, including the election of a president not chosen by the majority of America’s citizens.

Stellajoe Staebler
Centralia

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