Yesterday i called my mom. I was working. well, i was procrastinating. I’d finished my laundry, though not yet put it away, washed most of my dishes, except for the cutlery. I HATE washing cutlery. I had pulled up three versions of my dissertation on my computer. I had found the recording of my last meeting with my advisor. I had put my notebook and new fountain pen on my desk, next to my computer, so i could take notes to guid me while i renovated. I did that thing i do, eh. Got all the tools out and sort of arranged, taken care of rudimentary household chores that give me a sense of accomplishment and then I looked at my dissertation title page and just froze. I called Mom. She answered after the third ring, and her voice was all foggy with sleep. “Oh Mom, i woke you up!” “no” she said, “I was just lying here, kind of napping and kind of reading”. When i go visit now, I know she falls asleep in bed with the light on and her book open. I no longer go in to take off her glasses, close her book and her reading lamp, because then she wakes up all startled and has to read to get back to sleepy, and of course falls asleep with the light on…anyway, i think that’s what had happened here, too. Simple things tire her now, like getting up, showering, dressing and having breakfast. Exhausting. When i was there over Christmas, often it was nearly noon before we were ready to leave the house to go out for breakfast or start the Welsh Cakes or go visiting. Well, she’s nearly 80, that’s a lot of memory and experience and so on to carry around. Loss. She carries a whole bunch of dead people with her now. She’s always been a visitor, and a listener, my mom. when we were talking yesterday, she told me stories (as she often does now, more and more) about her visits with the dying, about saying goodbye. Marg Cline died of cancer a few years ago, she was 80 and had suffered a great deal in her later years. The Clines were our neighbours when we first moved to 7 Fox Crescent. Lifelong friends. Mom said, “i would often go to their house, when Marg was in the hospital, and leave some baking or stew for Don. i would just hang it on the back door knob and hope no dogs came around before he did.” Mom told me about the last time she saw Marg–“We were visiting, and as I left, something made me turn around at the door. I looked at her and said, ‘Goodbye, Marg’. That was the last time I ever saw her.”
Then she said, “That’s happened to be before. When John White died, he worked at the Experimental Farm when I was in the typing pool there, he would’ve been my dad’s age, more. Mom and I went to the hospital to visit him, and as we were leaving, i turned around to say goodbye to him again, at the door I said, ‘Goodbye Mr. White’. And that’s the last time I saw him.”
She meandered to another Mr. White, a few years later–“Herb White, no relation,” she said, “worked at the Experimental Farm, too, oh he would tease me, he was one of the ones who teased me a lot, once he had a dead mouse in his hand as he was talking to me, I couldn’t take my eyes off it. Finally I said, ‘Mr. White, please take that away, if you don’t take it away, I’ll jump out the window!” then she laughed and said to me, “that was quite a desperate threat, too, the office was at ground level, I could have just stepped out the window”. Anyway, she went on to tell about the last time she saw Mr. White: “Mom and I were out once when I was visiting Swift Current, and I said, ‘let’s stop in on the Whites’, and Erin and Shawn were just little guys, then”.
That was the first time in a conversation with Mom that she referred to me in the third person, and throughout the story, she continued to do so. “So we went, and we knew Herb wasn’t well, we didn’t stay long, and he said, ‘I probably won’t be around much longer, thank you for bringing your babies, it was really nice to meet them’,” and again she said, “the kids were really little then, Shawn was just a baby, and Erin was about two, Herb was delighted with them. I turned to him as we were leaving, and said to him, too, ‘Goodbye Mr. White’, and that was the last time I saw him.” She never caught herself and said, “I mean ‘you kids’”—I was someone else to her in that moment.
I have those feelings, too. Those “last time” feelings. When i was home over Christmas, I woke up one morning with that feeling very strong. I was barely awake and I thought, “this is the last time”. I won’t miss that hundred-year-old twin bed mattress, i tell ya. But i think that’s about all i won’t miss. I don’t want to think about it, but I can’t not think about it. This woman, my mom, she’s preparing now. In earnest. For the last goodbye. She’s remembering her loved ones, she’s talking to them and about them, giving me her memories of them so I will have them.
Not too long ago, at work, one of my friends said, “we don’t talk to the ancestors enough, we don’t ask for their guidance. They are all around us, you know, and they don’t have enough to do.” I said, “I talk to my grandma, and my dad”. Which is only partly true. I do remember them, and Grandpa, too, but I don’t really talk to them. I talk about them, though. Kind of like my mom talks about her dead. But she does, she talks TO them, my mom. She’s getting ready to join them, so she’s doing what she can to keep the relationship going (I was going to say, ‘keep the relationship alive’, but that’s not exactly accurate, is it?–rhetorical question, that last, don’t bother to answer it–), and to keep their presence here for me and for Shawn and the rest of us who need our ancestors for life. We always need each other, we need to remember where and from whom we have come.
I hope that my “this is the last time” feeling is inaccurate. I hope it meant something else. But even if it’s not right this time, it’s coming. There will be a time, in the not very distant future, when I will return to a home without my mom. I’ll never be really ready for that. But she’s doing what she can to prepare me, I understand that much.