My parents finally divorced when I was 24 years old. Being the last of their children, I was the only one left still living at home. Like many other young adults, I had previously moved out, and a year or so later, I moved back in again with them. It wasn’t easy living with my parents during the final demise of their 32 year marriage. A lot of resentment had built up between them and for awhile they stopped being nice to one another; a temporary condition of their relationship, but an unpleasant one nonetheless. I deeply resented them for splitting up, ruining our family, and complicating my life. I was in college at the time and working in a bookstore. I’d have to start working full-time, and either cut back on my classes or figure out how I could manage to carry a full schedule at school while working 40 hours a week. For years, my brothers, their wives, and children regularly came over on the weekends and we’d have family barbecues around the pool. All of that family camaraderie was coming to an end and my (poor, future, unborn) children would never have the same family experience that my nieces and nephews had enjoyed. This bothered me. A lot. Because I was young, dramatic, and didn’t have any real, grown-up person problems yet.
Despite the fact my parents weren’t going to be living there anymore, I moved to an apartment literally across the street from my parents neighborhood. They hadn’t even left yet and I already had separation anxiety.
My father moved a few miles away to a condo next to a golf course because, golf.
My mother moved 20 odd miles away to Laguna Beach and began taking fabulous vacations with her friends. She also started taking sailing lessons. She’d always loved the water and learning to sail, even a little boat that didn’t get too far past the harbor in Dana Point had been a lifelong dream. She loved living in a little beach town among a population of artists, gay people, and bohemian types. She wasn’t any of these things but like her, they were accepting of people with personalities that didn’t fit in tidy square boxes. Being exposed to them regularly smoothed some of her sharper edges. Best of all, for the first time in her life, she relaxed a little bit. “Come see what Joachim did with his renovation,” she said to me one day as I arrived at her house. She was standing outside chatting with Joachim, one of her neighbors. “It’s gorgeous! I want your opinion on how he’s designed his kitchen.”
“Hi, Joachim,” I said as I closed my car door. Joachim smiled, greeted me warmly, and lead us to his condo. As we walked, my mother pulled my arm and whispered quietly in my ear, “Ignore all the penis paintings on his walls. Don’t mention it.”
“What?!” I mouthed back.
She pulled my arm and whispered, “I guess some artists work in landscapes, some in portraits, and some…”, she shrugged, looked at me, and chuckled.
My children didn’t get the Family Barbecue Grandma version of my mom. Instead, they got a Beach Nana. It wasn’t a bad exchange. When they were little, I would often take my daughters to cove in front of my mother’s house and when they were full of sun and sand, I would take them to her house to rinse off in the shower. Afterward, we’d swim in her pool. At night, they would sit on her balcony, look at the stars through a telescope, and later, watch movies and eat bowls of ice cream with far too many maraschino cherries on top. She gave my daughters beautiful childhood memories.
Those times were behind her in 2010. She had lived in Laguna for twenty years and said she was tired of the tourists clogging up the streets making it difficult for her to get out and about. The unspoken truth was she was seventy-three years old, had high blood pressure, a heart condition, and she was afraid to live alone. She moved in with my oldest brother, Paul and his wife just until she could find a nice house of her own. No matter how many houses her real estate agent or my brothers and I would find for her, none were quite right. After a year or so, we all stopped looking.
It had been a regular Saturday afternoon like a thousand others; mundane, forgettable, filled with chores. I had just spilled a basket of clean laundry on my bed and began folding towels when my brother Paul rang my cell phone.
“Hey, Laurie,” he began, “Something’s wrong with mom.”
“What do you mean?”
“We were standing around the kitchen, just a minute ago talking. She poured a cup of tea for herself and when she picked up the cup to take a sip, she couldn’t seem to get it to her mouth. She staggered a little bit, dropped the cup, and held onto the counter. I caught her before she fell and got her to a chair. Laurie, she sitting here and talking about people she sees that aren’t there. Geez, do you think it’s her medication? What should I do?”
“Either call an ambulance or take her to the hospital right now,” I said. “I’ll let the others know and I’ll meet you there.”
I group texted my other brothers and my dad. My daughters and I got in the car and headed to the hospital. The ER was crowded, but I spotted one of my nephews. We all greeted each other the usual way; hugs and kisses all around and sat waiting for some word from a doctor. It would be a long wait. A couple of hours. Eventually, a doctor came out to talk to us. Our mother had suffered a small stroke. She hadn’t been assigned a room yet and was resting in a bay in the ER. We would be permitted to go in one at time to see her.
When it was my turn, I walked down the makeshift hallway of the ER respectfully peeking at the patients until I found my mom. She was resting on a hospital bed, under a thin beige blanket, her arms at her sides. I gently took her hand and she opened her eyes. “Hi Mom, how are you doing?” I softly asked. She looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “I want my mom.” I swallowed hard and blinked away the tears welling in my eyes. This was not what I was expecting to hear. My mother, such a little firecracker; always so independent and sure of herself had made the plea of a scared, lost little girl. I didn’t know how to respond to her so I said the only thing I could think of. “Don’t worry. We’re all here to take care of you. You’re going to be okay. I promise.” She squeezed my hand and began crying. I brushed away her tears and stroked her forehead.
When she was released a couple of days later, she called me on the phone. She seemed perfectly fine and didn’t remember anything that had transpired after she had made her cup of tea. Later, when I visited her at my brothers house I explained everything that had happened at the hospital. “I said what? I asked for my mother? Ugh! That must have been so frightening for you! I’m sorry, baby,” she said as she walked over and hugged me. “I guess it was the medication. I feel pretty good, just tired. It’s like I can’t get enough sleep.”
“Get as much sleep as you want! Laze around all day. You’ve earned it and you need to rest,” I said hugging her back. “Oh, I found this great book to read between naps,” she said, reaching over the kitchen counter to grab the book. “It’s about a little boy that died and went to heaven and saw Jesus. He was revived and then wrote this book. It’s fascinating.”
Over the next few months, she’d find other books about people that had died, gone to heaven to meet Jesus, and had come back to write books. “Another one?” I asked her one day, after spotting a book next to her on her couch. I picked it up and looked at the cover. “Apparently dead men do tell tales. Is this some new genre in literature? Is there now a Back From the Dead section over at Barnes and Noble?”
She grabbed the book from my hand, playfully smacked my arm with it, and chuckled. “I find them comforting you little brat.” I chuckled too, but I deep down I suddenly felt an undeniable dark sense of dread. My mother had spent her life preparing for things: dinners, holidays, appointments, emergencies, taxes, big purchases…everything.
She was preparing herself to leave.
Perpetually curious. I love history, genealogy, old movies, good books, all sorts of music, and adventures involving travel. In my spare time, I help admin a genetic genealogy Facebook page for CeCe Moore ("DNA Detectives") and coach people how to connect with their biological family using DNA.