“I’ve made the decision to move in with Carol and Michael.”
Mum’s words, measured and gently delivered, put a knot in my throat. Several moments passed before I was able to tell her why her decision on September 10th was making me cry.
“I’m not stupid, you know,” she continued, “but I am proud.” She confessed that her pride kept her living alone in the beautiful home she and Dad enjoyed for their last 15 years together. “And I miss the sound of other feet in the house.”
Despite her wonderful neighbors and friends who checked in on her and took her to lunch and expected to see her at McDonald’s for oatmeal on Saturday mornings, Mum was lonely.
“And I know you’re crying because you see this as my last transition.”
Mum has always joked that the two of us are twins separated by years, but I’ll be damned if she wasn’t reading my mind as I sniffled at my end of the phone.
“But this makes me really happy, too,” I told her.
I spent a couple of weeks with Mum after Dad’s death just shortly before their 65th wedding anniversary and was blown away by her strength. I’m not sure why I should have been surprised. She managed our estrogen-filled household like a CEO of a Fortune 500 Company until all five of us “little chickens” flew off to build our own nests, and was there to help ensure each new nest was decorated and arranged tastefully.
I’ll never forget my husband’s response while living in one of our houses when he learned of an upcoming visit from Mum and Dad. “Just keep her out of my underwear drawer, okay?” Mike tolerated her proclivity toward rearranging things when she visited, but he had to draw the line somewhere. In each of our houses over the years, Mum has derived great pleasure in rearranging things, always with an eye toward efficiency, and I have always appreciated her talent.
Dad used to joke about being afraid to get up to pee in the middle of the night because the bed might be in a different location when he returned. I miss Dad’s jokes, and Mum misses so much more.
Dad never put Mum on a pedestal. He didn’t need to. They were partners. Anyone spending any time with the two of them would walk away knowing how much he adored her. And she loved, respected and defended him unwaveringly. We five girls knew the futility of trying to play one off the other if we wanted something. They were a united front.
Sure, they had squabbles. Sure, he could be brusque and she could interrupt his stories. And I don’t know how many years Mum hid sweets in the house knowing he would find them when she went to the store.
“Just give me a nickel’s worth!” is still Mum’s response to any offer of dessert or treats, and it has me baffled to this day because I inherited Dad’s sweet tooth. To me, “a nickel’s worth” is just a tease, and certainly does nothing to satisfy a craving. But I think Dad understood Mum’s desire to keep her man healthy, he being genetically predisposed toward heaviness, and I’m pretty sure Mum “hid” things as a compromise. I guess I should ask her about that. It amuses me to think they both understood the game.
After 65 years together, I’m certain the games they played were plentiful, and I loved the way Dad’s joke—about why they had so many children—always made her laugh.
“It’s because your mother was hard of hearing,” he would say.
“What do you mean?” someone would ask.
“Well, if she was busy, I’d ask her if she wanted to watch TV or what, and she’d say, ‘What?’ ”
They joked together, teased one another, laughed with, kissed and held one another until
the very end, and Mum remained stoic at his funeral service because she knew he would have wanted her to be the pillar she had been for him his whole life. She was not about to fall apart in the presence of all who came to honor my Dad.
So her decision to accept my sister and brother-in-law’s request that she move in with them almost two years later startled me only because I had just visited her a few weeks ago at her home. We had the most relaxing, wonderful time together, though I did bring up a few concerns I had.
A tad taller than I am, she weighs a mere 101 pounds despite allowing herself to enjoy more than a nickel’s worth of dessert now and then. And her driving, which once could have rivalled Mario Andretti’s, has become overly cautious. I’ve been worried about her, as have my other sisters, so I finally choked back my tears to tell her we all believe she’s making the right decision.
And by the end of our conversation, I could finally take a deep breath knowing that this move does not mean the end for her, but rather a new beginning, one she will accept with the grace and dignity she has modelled for her ever-growing family for over half a century now.
I have ever-so-much more to say about Mum, and Mum and Dad, but for now I’ll leave you with thoughts of your own transitions. Will you share?
Laurel McHargue / Laurel’s email / Leadville Laurel Facebook page / Laurel’s Twitter