Mom was widowed just before Halloween this year. She married at twenty-four. Practically an old maid back then, but she still went from her father’s house to my father’s house, and never in her 76 years has she ever lived on her own.
The other evening I called to check on her. I call in the evenings because, having been widowed myself, I know how lonely they are as darkness creeps in and settles in for a long night. However it was my sister who picked up the phone and, after exchanging catch up information for a few minutes, informs me,
“So our mother is not home.”
For the record, it was 5:30 P.M. and Mom was, like many new widowed are in the early months, still being wooed with dinner invitations from her telephone book of friends, co-workers and acquaintances.
“Have you tried her friend, Nan? She’s been over there for dinner a bit and she could have decided to pick up Zach (our nephew) for the weekend.” I wasn’t concerned. Okay, I was a little concerned but not to the point of worst case scenario visions.
But I do have plenty of those. I regularly picture Mom lying at the bottom of the basement stairs, hip shattered and unable to crawl back upstairs to call for help. Or her slipping on the ice when she foolishly goes out to shovel the driveway in spite of having a neighborhood full of people begging to do it for her.
My father’s illness was a lengthy one that began with a series of near deadly strokes three years ago through pulmonary fibrosis and finally stage four lung cancer. For much of that time – especially the last year – Mom was caretaker and tied to the house by the invisible chains of fear and guilt. These last weeks have freed her to have dinner out or visit at friends’ homes or go to a movie and though she hasn’t done much more than allow people to talk her into dinner and Sunday brunch, my sister and I are used to calling, or dropping by, and finding her home.
When I talked with her about the incident, because my sister had plans to meet Mom and there wasn’t even so much as a note or phone call to let her know about the change in plans, Mom shrugged off her concerns.
“She was tapping her foot and said ‘Just where have you been’ when I walked in,” Mom laughed.
I suppose it is an amusing reversal of roles for my sister who was the one who sneaked out at night to meet her much older boyfriend when she was sixteen and later had sex behind the neighbors lilac bushes with the fellow who would become her husband – fifteen years of dating later.
But in some ways it isn’t funny at all. Mom has high blood pressure and poor night vision due to glaucoma. And she’s always had Dad to lean on, even when he was sick. She readily admits she doesn’t understand the complex maze of finances he left behind for her to unravel and though she has excellent advisers in her sister and son-in-law and she is too tight with her money to hand it to anyone without taking time to check him/her out, we still worry.
I remember when my late husband talked me into getting a cell phone. My mother gleefully used it as her own personal tracking device. If I wasn’t at home, she would immediately hunt me down and god forbid I should have it turned off. The lectures that wrought could fill a book. She was the same with my sister.
“I worry you know,” she would say. “You could be dead in a ditch somewhere.”
We coerced her into a cell phone purchase when Dad first took ill. Three years later, she only rarely turns it on and then only when she needs to make a call. She really doesn’t like us calling her. She doesn’t need to be monitored, thank you. She is the mother after all and we the children still.
However we are fast entering that space between being in charge of her well-being, as she once was of us, and biting our tongues until the pain drives us to gingerly put forward advice we are sure she needs but she hasn’t asked for yet.
I am not nearly as reticent with my grown step-daughters though I probably employ more finesse.
I don’t expect Mom to elope with some widower in her choir or become a cruise junkie, as my best friends in-laws have. She is too much a product of her sensible German influenced Midwestern upbringing. But I am aware that time does nothing but pass in a forward direction and my sister and I are firmly planted on the path to parenting to our mother someday sooner rather than later.
This is an original 50 Something Moms piece.