This is something I wrote three years ago but never posted. I decided to share it because mom is on my mind, and because I want to encourage those of you involved in elder care to consider keeping a journal. I did write some during my years caring for mom, but not regularly, and not nearly enough. I wish I could have all my time with her back in writing. Here is one bit I did capture.
You'd been mentioning the arboretum during our phone calls, and on my last few visits. What could you be talking about, where might it be? An arboretum, right there in the city? You said we went to it years ago, as Girl Scouts, when you were a troop leader. The woman from our town who took us there pointed out the spring wild flowers. Trilliums. I didn't even know you knew what they were. I had recently discovered them, through a garden excursion with my own local arboretum. And thought I was fancy for learning what you had long known.
But the arboretum. Through the genius of google, I found it, right where you said it would be. And I asked you if you wanted to go see it. Yes.
We stopped by the woods on a sunny autumn afternoon. The parking lot was empty. I got your wheelchair out of the trunk and should have known right away I was attempting something that wasn't sensible, something too difficult, something downright dangerous. The handicapped parking spot was the only thing about the arboretum that was accessible. Between the parking lot and the arboretum path there was a step - a small step, to be sure, but still a step. I didn't notice then how the pavement sloped a little downwards there, too. Nevertheless, you wanted, and I wanted for you.
I placed the wheelchair on the path, and helped you manage the few paces from the car to the chair - including that small step down. Not bad. The path itself was gravel - not great, but I managed. We rolled back and forth only a short distance, as the path quickly sloped downwards at either end. As stupid as I was that day, I wasn't stupid enough to push you in a wheelchair downhill on a gravel path.
We admired what trees we could see, read what signs and markers there were to be read, and then returned to the path entrance. And the little step, and that - oh, now I see it - sloping pavement. How in the world am I going to get you back into the safety of the car?
I brought the chair close to the step and locked the wheels, and helped you stand up. But that easy step up for me, from the level surface to the mildly sloping pavement, was for you a step onto a looming incline - you, with your weak legs, poor balance, and no handrails in sight. "I'm going to fall, I'm going to fall!" you cried out.
"No, no, you aren't!" I wrapped you in my arms and by sheer will alone I held you up. By all the laws of physics you should have been lying on the rough asphalt with a broken hip, autumn leaves plastered to a bloodied skull. Those are the images that flashed through my terrified brain as I steadied you, calmed you, helped you move slowly to the safety of the car just those few paces away. "How did she die?" someone murmurs at the funeral home. "Oh, it was the daughter's fault. Knocked her down on some godforsaken parking lot pavement and bashed her skull in." But you did not die, and we both live to drive off for dinner with your sister.
While I held you and did not drop you, and vivid images of your death flashed in my mind, this also came to me. There is a story of my infancy you have told me over and over and over again. How, as a baby, I was colicky, and you walked the floors with me every night, trying to soothe and calm me. How one night, holding me so long and so late, rocking back and forth from one foot to the other, so tired from all your labors of the day, you fell asleep standing up. You woke up just in time to catch yourself from dropping me on the floor and falling on top of me. I am certain, from the sheer number of retellings of this tale throughout my lifetime and the way you tell it, that images of my bashed and bloodied baby skull on the kitchen floor must have flashed through your terrified brain.
I want to give you all that will make you happy, just as you did for me, but my first job is to keep you safe, just as yours was for me. I am not an overworked, sleep-deprived mother. I should have known better than to try something crazy like an arboretum outing, and all on my own, too. No one gave me a manual for this.
My arboretum's paths are paved. I could wheel you around the whole of it. But you are not here. And it is not the one you remember, with the trilliums, when you were a Girl Scout leader, when your legs were strong, when I was a girl, when life stretched long before you, when a step was just something you stepped lightly over on your way to something else.