The Writing Mamas Daily Blog

Each day on the Writing Mamas Daily Blog, a different member will write about mothering.

If you're a mom then you've said these words, you've made these observations and you've lived these situations - 24/7.

And for that, you are a goddess.

Friday, April 17, 2009


A Mother's Friendship Will Last Forever

“Shoot me if it comes to that,” I make my husband promise every time I visit Maggie. If his response is any indication, I suspect he’ll oblige.

“He must be a saint,” shudders my husband as I describe Maggie’s decline and her husband Peter’s ministrations.

His horror foreshadows the treatment I’m in for when our lives move from better to worse, the inevitable trajectory all wedding vows portend. I ought to feel alarmed, but I know exactly what he means. I feel the same way. When the saints go marching in, my husband and I will knock each other over running for the exits. Or the guns.

I wonder if Peter contemplates the same thing.

When I met Maggie thirty years ago, she had an elegant steel-gray chignon and a cultivated British accent that made her ribald wit all the more delicious. She and Peter had survived wartime London, his family’s death-camp incineration, and a sister’s suicide. I wonder if they will survive Alzheimer’s.

Today’s visit has been particularly grim. When Peter tries to help put on her socks, Maggie recoils in fear. Maybe she wonders why this strange man is swooping down on her. Peter explains that I am taking her on a walk, so she must wear socks to protect her feet. Because her hearing is going almost as fast as her mind, he raises his voice. She dissolves into tears, perhaps frightened by this shouting stranger. Peter retreats to the next room. His shoulders heave up and down in silent weeping.

I hug Maggie back into some kind of composure until Peter can regain his. He shows me the Kleenex, the sunglasses, the hat he has tucked safely into her purse next to the socks. He makes sure I understand that the twenty-dollar bill is so Maggie can treat this time. Trading off who buys the cappuccinos is one of her few remaining claims on dignity.

Suddenly, Maggie’s face clears. I ask if she would like to put on her socks now. “Of course!” she answers disdainfully, mystified by all the fuss. Maggie bends over like the girlish tennis champ she once was, neatly pulling on her crew socks. She offers a papery cheek to Peter, who kisses her and tells her he loves her. Peter and I confer about time, calibrating how long his respite will be. Then we are off.

“Do you know that man?” Maggie asks as we head down toward the bay.

“Yes,” I tell her, as I do every time. “He is your husband and you have three children together. He is a good man.”

“Is he?” she remarks dubiously.

Maggie searches for lost phrases to tell me about Peter’s temper and the many people who break into the house, invisible to all but her. She wishes they would leave her alone. One of the women seems to be having an affair with the man who used to be her husband. Vaguely uneasy, I wonder if she is referring to me because I have defended the man who frightens her.

“Your mind is playing tricks on you again,” I say. 

But is it? Maybe Peter mistreats her while the rest of us admire what a rock he is. How do I know what really goes on? I can barely stand to be there two hours a month without fantasies of mercy killings. He is there always, a stalwart man whose heartbreak and frustration simmer just below the surface. It doesn’t take much to drive a person from decency to desperation. Even my own father—the most mild-mannered and generous of men—once stood over my bedridden, demented grandmother with a pillow. What if my mother had not opened the door when she did?

I half-listen to Maggie’s halting stream of consciousness. When she fumbles with the door lock to unroll the window, I curse myself for bringing the car without the automatic controls. Some time ago Peter told me that Maggie had tried to throw herself out of the car when he was driving. Was she confused, psychotic, or lucidly suicidal? It might have been the sanest calculation imaginable. She’s never tried again.

As Maggie alternately weeps, then brightens, in the front seat beside me now, I wonder if I should call their son again, or if I will know when it is time to alert Adult Protective Services. But nothing is really different in this monotonous descent into hell except that I have deigned to pay a call.

The salt air soothes us both. Maggie grew up in a fishing village, and each bayside stroll returns her to herself with the calming tides of home. Her stride is brisk and steady even though she cannot grasp my words or find her own. I take Maggie’s elbow in a companionable gesture, a little out of fear that she might veer suddenly into the water, but mostly out of gladness that at least I can do this.

Maggie and I finish our walk and go for cappuccinos. She offers a string of garbled syllables to the waitress, who is patient and kind and somehow able to divine a wish for extra foam.

I deliver Maggie back home before heading to work. She is too proud to let me see her up the front steps, and always insists that I just drive off. So I feign a need to use her bathroom to make sure she is safe. Only as a gracious hostess with a favor to bestow can she bear to let me linger.

“She always seems in better spirits after she sees you,” Peter tells me. “Thank you.”

His gratitude intensifies my guilt. I have done so little, and I have done it with a divided heart at that. For I want nothing more than to run. Maybe then I can escape the specter of my own decline I see mirrored in her crumbling dignity. I want to join the legions of Maggie’s friends who can no longer bear to call or visit.

I want to, but I can’t.

Just like Peter. Just like all the ordinary people who want to run from heartbreak, but don’t. Perhaps this is what makes a saint. Perhaps my husband will not shoot me, but will find the grace to help me with my socks.

I might even do the same for him.

By Lorrie Goldin

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble This Post Add to Technorati Favorites
That is a beautiful piece. I used to work at a skilled nursing facility, and personally, would welcome a sudden heart attack later in life than the life you describe so accurately here. Touching!
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?