Thursday, July 5, 2012

Seeing the End

Seeing the End [first posted July 15, 2011]

You’ve donned a sweater most days for two weeks, and then weathermen predict one day in the 80s. Don’t you long for one last picnic before winter? After you’ve made the hard decision to part with a favorite dress you haven’t worn (Why? It is so cute!) in two years, don’t you consider wearing it one last time before putting the box out for Salvation Army pickup? As the library due date nears, and you finish a novel you enjoyed, don’t you page back to reread the parts that made you laugh out loud? Driving away from your vacation cottage, you call out, “Bye, cottage! Bye, lake! Bye, kayak rental place! Bye, lighthouse! Bye, ice cream shop!” Don’t you? I do. I know I will miss these things.

Recently, I visited my 91-year-old mother on my “regular” day despite my raging headache. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have wanted to not disappoint her more than I wanted to be a safe driver. The pain was borderline blinding; and a simple phone call could have absolved me of my promise to visit. Mom is a reasonable, caring woman. I knew this. But the damage was done—I had driven 20 miles to her house and now faced another such drive to get home. But if I had done the smart thing and stayed home, I would have missed a big blessing.

Mom asked me if I wanted her to massage my head. Everything in me said no, because I am the one who has to be strong now. Plus, one of her hands is bandaged; she shouldn’t be applying pressure with her fingers. But then I remembered that when I was sick as a little girl, I just wanted my mom. I wanted her to lie me down on the couch and tuck the blue afghan under my chin. That afghan was such scratchy wool, it may as well have been woven of porcupine needles, but it felt light and soft to me, because it represented my mother’s caring touch. I remembered her hands tipping a water glass toward my lips and smoothing a cool washcloth on my forehead. And I remembered my mom’s saying when she was sick as an older adult, she still just wanted her mom. I remembered I wouldn’t have many more offers like the one my mother had just made. I said yes.

No blue afghan this time, I laid on the couch with my head on my mother’s lap. Her middle fingers made small, gentle circles on my temples. Using all her fingers, she feathered my forehead. I needn’t have worried about her applying too much pressure with the bandaged hand; I knew then, those arthritic fingers were no longer capable of standard massage. With all fingers barely touching my scalp, she combed my hair. I fell asleep. But not before we’d reminisced about the 1960s and ’70s when she’d had migraines and my two sisters and I had massaged her head. And we laughed remembering how sometimes the four of us would all lie on our left sides on her and Dad’s big bed and scratch the back of the girl in front of us. Then we’d switch to our right sides. Dad and our brother could never understand how good this assembly-line back scratching felt.

It was a sweet half-hour or so. Made sweeter by seeing the end and setting aside my foolish pride long enough to admit I just wanted my mom.

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