This Friday’s post from July of 2009 was selected for two reasons. First, it shows how much life has changed in the last 7 years. Second, I love this picture. Rarely does this geranium plant produce such a perfect bloom and even more rarely are the blossoms so beautifully rain-kissed. Enjoy!
On this rainy Friday morning, I bustled around the house, opening window shades. The clouds were thick and the house was gloomy, so I eagerly coaxed the weak light that penetrated the clouds inside for a visit.
When I opened the shades to the patio, the blossoms of an heirloom geranium took my breath away. Mom gave me the plant over a year ago, when she still lived in her own home and had no idea she would soon break up housekeeping. Decades before her mother, Josephine Newell Hess, had given her a slip from the plant her mother, Cora Rose Newell, had given her a slip from in the 1940s.
Had Mom waited one more winter, it might have been too late to pass on the plant and the history behind it. In the past twelve months, Alzheimer’s has taken its relentless toll on her memory, stamina, and abilities. Our daily phone calls get shorter and shorter as she finds it increasingly difficult to hold up her end of a conversation. She still loves to read and do crossword puzzles, but has no interest in visiting friends or going new places. Quilting and jigsaw puzzles confuse her. She can’t make decisions.
Slowly but surely, Alzheimer’s is turning my steely, determined mother into a soft, hesitant whisper of a woman. But this morning, when I opened the shade and those bright red blossoms waved at me, they comforted me and reminded me that all is not lost.
“She’s with you,” they whispered. “She’s right here.”
“Thanks,” I said, and then I waved back.
In her prime, Mom was a sparkling conversationalist, She easily handled a variety of topics with great knowledge and wit. Her favorites were teaching, gardening, quilting, cooking and baking, reading, history, neighborhood gossip, genealogy, and family.
These days, her unprompted contributions to our Wednesday conversations consist of complaining about her runny nose and asking for tissues, gossip concerning fellow residents, reminders that she needs new library books, smack talk while we play Rummikub, reports of cards and letters received from family members, and stories about either her childhood or mine.
Every week, I try to draw her out a little while we waited for our meals to arrive at Applebee’s. “Did you fly kites when you were a kid?” I asked last Wednesday, which was a very blustery day.
“No,” she said. That was all.
I soldiered on. “Did you ice skate?”
She nodded. “Once. I fell on my butt/”
I persisted. “Did you roller skate?”
“Yes.” She brightened. “I liked to roller skate.”
“DId you skate outside or at a roller rink?”
“At a roller rink. In Pipestone.”
“Your family didn’t have much money. How did you pay for it?” I asked.
She shrugged. “My brother Wayne took us, I think. He was always kind. And my brother Ralph was a good skater. He could even skate backwards as well as I could skate going forward.”
Our food came then, and we stopped talking. But maybe it set her to thinking, because on the drive home, she brought up a new topic of conversation.
“What year did your dad die?”
“1997,” I replied. “19 years ago.”
“That’s a long time,” she said.
“Yes, it is,” I agreed. “Do you miss him?”
“A lot.” She nodded.
“Me, too,” I said.
“But missing a husband,” she went on, “is different than missing your dad.”
“I’m sure it is,” I said. “And in a way, you lost your husband twice. Once to multiple sclerosis and again when he died.”
“You’re right, Jolene,” she said before going quiet again.
It was the most substantial, thoughtful, and sweet conversation we’ve had in months. I looked at her and smiled. She smiled back.
Since the news broke that Fred Hoiberg resigned as head coach of the Iowa State Cyclones basketball team to lead the Chicago Bulls, I’ve been surprised by how many people have asked how the Man of Steel is dealing with the news.
I had no idea so many people knew about the Man of Steel’s
obsession with interest in Fred, a native son of Iowa and ISU basketball alumni and legend, affectionately referred to as St. Fred around here.
During the most recent Wednesday with Dorothy, Mom broached the topic shortly after I arrived. “What’s Hiram have to say about Fred Hoiberg leaving?” she asked with a twinkle in her eye.
“He’s handling it better than you might think,” I assured her.
“He’s decided to become a Chicago Bulls fan,” I explained.
We moseyed out to play Rummikub in the activity area. We’d finished one game (she won) and were setting up for another when she asked, “How’s Hiram taking Hoiberg’s decision to leave the Cyclones?”
“Well,” I smiled, “he took it pretty well. In fact, he’s reading up on the Chicago Bulls and ready to be a fan.”
I won the next game of Rummikub, she won the one after that, and then we went to Applebee’s for supper. While we waited for our food to arrive, she looked at the poster advertising the Applebee’s Hoiburger on the wall. “Wonder how long they’ll keep serving those,” she mused. “Is Hiram all cut up about Fred Hoiberg leaving the Cyclones?”
“Actually,” I said as the waitress brought our onion rings, “he didn’t miss a beat. Just announced when the new NBA season begins, he’ll be a Bulls fan.”
I blew on an onion ring and offered a silent prayer as I took my first bite. Thank you, God, for the Man of Steel, Fred Hoiberg, and for using them to make this Wednesday with Dorothy a day one of us will never forget.
Friday’s here again, so it’s time for another fantastic post from the past. This one comes from April 2011, a few years after Mom’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis and subsequent move to live with my brother and his family. That chapter of Mom’s life ended this past January, when she moved to an assisted living facility. She is not adjusting particularly well. But as this post points out, she has adjusted before, and I can hope that she will slowly adjust again. And I can also hope that this week, during our Wednesday visit and drive, she will smile to see the daffodils are blooming.
The Daffodils Are Blooming
My daffodils started blooming yesterday, their bright faces raised, impervious to the wind while they soaked in the sunshine. They spoke spring and warmth and light and hope into my winter weary heart. They made me smile.
Then the rain moved in, and everything changed.
These natty soldiers, who had marched beside my house erect and confident short hours ago, were bowed and bedraggled this morning. They shivered in the wind. Tears rolled down their faces and puddled in the dirt at their feet. Their burdens were heavy on their shoulders, so heavy they couldn’t lift their heads to see the clusters of clean, greening grass lining their parade route, cheering their arrival.
They have no idea that sunshine will return.
The daffodils were a gift from my mother the last fall she lived in her house. Before we suspected Alzheimer’s. Before her legendary strength abandoned her. When she still had energy to dig in the dusty, autumn soil for the daffodil bulbs that needed separating. Come spring, the news that I had planted the bulbs didn’t bring her as much pleasure as in previous years.
The first clue, as I look back, that something was wrong in my green thumb mother’s world.
Things moved more swiftly after that. The next fall, Mom moved in with my brother and sister-in-law. The next spring, her house was sold. Her passion for gardening evaporated along with her love of quilting, sewing, jigsaw puzzles, and ordering around her children. When my sister gave Mom an African violet for her bedroom, her response was, “I’m not sure I want that much responsibility.”
Can this be the woman who grew all the roses for our wedding altar arrangements?
“The daffodils are about to bloom, “ I told Mom during our visit two days ago. “The ones you gave me.” On our drive to the library, we saw some blooming beside a small house. “Look, Mom,” I pointed. “Aren’t they pretty?” Her eyes turned warm and bright. For the rest of the trip, and again on the way home, she watched for flowers.
“The daffodils are blooming.” She smiled and lifted her head. Briefly, the sunshine returned.
In the past 7 days, I helped Mom move into assisted living on Monday, traveled to Wisconsin on Tuesday to help out with the our 2-year-old grandson and brand new granddaughter until Saturday, and joined our church Connection Group on Sunday afternoon to make 32 pans of scalloped potatoes and ham for an upcoming fundraiser.
After a week in the whirlwind, I am home alone today.
Catching up on neglected tasks.
Sitting in my comfy chair writing.
Reflecting on the many changes our family has undergone in a few short weeks.
2 moments stand out amongst the tornado of moments that swirled around and above and under and through my heart in 7 short days. The first moment came after my brother and I had moved Mom’s furniture, arranged her room, and returned to take her to her new home. When I announced it was almost time to leave and asked her to wait until I was done in the bathroom. While I was otherwise occupied, Mom grabbed her walker and headed out the door.
A few minutes later,
I found her in the garage,
standing in the 7 degree weather,
waiting to begin her new life with the grit and determination that is her hallmark.
The second moment came during my Wisconsin sojourn. I was sitting in the rocking chair holding our newborn granddaughter while her mommy spent some time with her big brother. I looked down at this little one’s tiny perfect face, felt the soft rise and fall of her breathing against my chest, and breathed in her sweet baby aroma. And there, in the center of a month marked by the gale force change, a calm descended upon my windblown heart.
my heartbeat slowed,
my body relaxed,
and I thanked God for wrapping my arms around the gift on my granddaughter’s new life.