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I watched him slowly hobble away cane in hand. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him and not stop wondering who he once was. I met him only briefly while visiting my mother at the nursing home she recently moved into. Our brief encounter was over green beans and chicken tenders that he gobbled up while telling my ma to do the same. “Eat” he said, “Eat jur food so you can be healthy”. Eating has become difficult for her these days. A woman who rode the roller coaster of life who on many occasions would skip the light bill and spend her last dollar on taking her children out to eat because she felt “we deserved to feel good and enjoy ourselves once in a while”, can now no longer enjoy even that. We never had a lot and her deep sense of unwarranted guilt causes here to say she made many mistakes, I would argue otherwise. Still, we all survived only because she taught us to survive. When we found ourselves alone in the world we took care of she took care of us and we took care of each other. I didn’t care that I had to go on the street and steal to help pay bills or work a job instead of going to school so I could do my part when I was a kid that is if I was ever a kid. My brother says he doesn’t remember ever being a kid. I can’t say he’s wrong. But she did the best she could and we did what we had to in order to help her out. I didn’t care if I had to go on the street and steal to help pay bills or work a job instead of going to school so I could do my part. Ma used to say I acted too old for my own good, that I needed to be a kid, I don’t know if I’ve ever been a kid and if I was I cannot remember it enough to matter. My baby brother says he doesn’t remember ever being a kid and I can’t say he’s wrong. But she did the best she could and we did what we had to in order to help her out.
After eighty-three years she fell apart this past month and then had to be admitted to a nursing facility. A safe place, a warm and wonderfully staffed place, yet a place I have now accepted that she went to die. The same place her mother had gone to die before her. We have been so blessed with this, blessed because for the first time in many years she feels safe. Yet the reality is she has been hospitalized more on than off and it has now has come to hospice, not an easy decision for me to make, in fact, the single hardest decision I’ve ever had to make. After many hours of discussion with my siblings, her single remaining brother and pools of solitary tears the decision for hospice had to be made. It has been difficult to watch her degenerate so quickly, a major shock to me really. I suppose I just didn’t notice as she was getting so frail. She had always been such a strong woman I assumed that nothing could take her down. Now I know better but I also know that she’s in a safe place, a place where people care. I could not ask for a better place, yet a place even I have now have accepted that she went to die.
She talked, mumbled really, about her life while we sat there at the table in front of the dinner she would not eat. She’s never been one to talk about her life. It’s been a hard one but she never let on she just got tougher as she grew older. She talks about how she had been beaten up throughout her life, a fact I am painfully familiar with. I recall when I was younger and weaker, there was little I could do about so many things but when I got older and stronger there were things and people I had to set straight. I took care of the things I had to and they never laid hands on her or threatened her again. I came home and went through this a year ago with my father entering a nursing home that was difficult but not heart or soul hurting. I felt no real sense of obligation to him only a disconnected role because he is my father and I am his son. I had set him straight years ago so I no longer carried any animosity toward him in me. It was taken care of and done. But this, this is going to be difficult, or as ma would have said a few decades ago “a real mother effer”. Yeah, she quit swearing and drinking, smoking and carousing around sixty-years-old. She’s tried to fly right since then. This time I do it out of the deepest sense of obligation I have ever experienced and the great desire to be there for her in her time of need as she had been for me. This I owe to a woman who has never ever in my darkest of darkest moments turned her back on us. A woman who once traveled on a bus with only a few dollars to her name fifteen hundred miles to Las Vegas to visit her nineteen-year-old son in dank, dirty maximum security prison only to be turned away because she lost her identification. It would be another three years before I got to see her again. That made me bitter and took me years to get over, for her it gave her more resolve than she already had. Her whole life had been about never giving up.
So needless to say it’s been difficult at best to watch her like this, but I would be no other place in the world right now. You see I listen closely when she speaks and try to fill in the blanks of her life from the things she says. The things I only heard second-hand stories of or never knew at all. She was tight-lipped all our lives. She had to be, she grew up that way, there were a lot of people to protect from other people that wanted to do them harm. Ma is no dummy. Listening to her gave me the courage to call my sister tonight to let her know that whoever wanted to see her again after so many years had better do so soon before it was too late.