Mum, Lois Ada Keillor McEwen
God love Meta. She is our savior. She began taking care of Mum last year, and we first encountered her during the last two-thirds of our 7000 mile car trip to Hell and back. We clicked, Meta and I. I could see in her eyes that she knew exactly what the family was all about. She knew that I knew, and the bond began. From that day on, we were allies. Our common goal was to pamper and praise and love, so Mum would know that she was not alone. Meta had taken Mum to her heart just as I had done some twenty five years ago when Rod and I married.
When we first arrived, Meta hugged me, laughing. “I knew you were coming! I came in one day last week and this house was turned upside down! They were all cleaning!” she declared.
“I guess they stopped short of shampooing the rugs.” I said, wrinkling my nose.
I learned last year that Meta had been bringing Mum treats every day to encourage her to eat. Rod’s sister was supposed to have been buying groceries, but it didn’t take us long to discover that there was very little with which to prepare even a simple sandwich.
We would see little of Rod’s sister this trip. When the doctor told the family just how little time Mum had left, she bailed. She moved out of Mum’s house, where she had established residence almost 30 years ago. She had her own house, but could not afford to live in it, so she had rented it out. Now, miraculously, she could afford to live there, and so she did—living in one room, with a space heater for warmth over the winter because she didn’t want to pay a gas bill. The talk in the family was that she secretly had a boyfriend that she did not want to introduce to them, and that is why she moved.. Meta thinks that she moved out because she didn’t want to be alone with Mum in case she died on her. Mum was heartbroken when she found out, and began asking everyone why she left. Meta told me she would frequently look for her daughter’s car in the driveway, and would ask when she was returning home.
For the first several days, I ventured out no further than the yard. My time was spent tending to Mum’s needs, preparing meals that she hardly touched, talking to Meta, and reading while Mum napped in the lounge chair on the patio. Since Rod was the oldest in the family, and the one with the best memory, he chatted with Mum when she was awake about Canada, and their former life in Edmonton. These talks delighted Mum, whose long-term memory was superb, but whose short-term memory was virtually non-existent. Occasionally she confused one memory with another, however, and several times she told me that she could still see my as a tiny girl, walking to school with a little coat and hat. Even though I lived within walking distance of our school, I was nine by the time they moved to the states, to a house far enough away to require her children to ride the bus. I assume that in her mind I had also lived in Edmonton as a small child.
Rod told me that I needed to get away from the house for a while, so one morning I called my oldest childhood friend from the second grade, and we met for lunch and a local chain restaurant a mile or so from the house. I left the house with some trepidation, my first excursion in my old neighborhood alone. I felt my chest tighten as I drove down familiar streets, but I purposely took the longer route to the restaurant in order to avoid driving by the street on which I had lived as a teenager. There were too many bad memories, just as there had been in the little house that was now torn down.
“Suck it up, you whiner!” I told myself, sitting up a little straighter to go and meet my friend. We would reminisce about the happy times we had together as children and as young adults as well, for this was the friend who had persuaded me to come to our 25th high school reunion. It was at the reunion that Rod and I renewed our friendship, and less than a year later, we married.
After a relaxing and productive lunch with my childhood friend, I headed to the bookstore to buy a copy of Bloodroot, by Amy Greene. During lunch I learned that a photographer had asked my friend’s daughter Cary to pose for him. Some time later, the photographer had a one-man show at a well-known Atlanta gallery. Amy Greene attended the opening, and when she saw the beautiful and ethereal photo of Cary, she immediately announced to the artist that she wanted that photo for the cover of her new book. Knowing full well that you cannot judge a book by its cover, I bought it! It turned out to be a very good book, and I carried a piece of my friend home with me.
For quite a while, we had been getting reports from Rod’s siblings about Mum’s decline. Her fainting spells and the resultant arrival of the paramedics to her home was beginning to seriously stress everyone out. They all feared that she would die before their eyes, and no one was in any way prepared to deal with that.
Mum, January 2008
A couple of days before our scheduled departure, Rod’s brother called to tell us that the rumors of her impending death were greatly exaggerated, because when she learned that we were actually coming, she rallied. This has happened before, so we weren’t in the least surprised.
We weren’t really prepared for what we saw, however. Mum seemed to decline in the late afternoon, but she always tried to put on a great front for our sake. It was getting harder and harder for her to do that, and we saw straightaway through her feeble attempt.
She tried very hard the first few days to maintain a cheerful and animated attitude around us, even to the point of stating that she really must “start getting dinner for you kids.” At first we told her that it was already prepared, and that it took but a couple of minutes to heat it up to serve.
One day I announced that I was making corn chowder for dinner, thinking that if I presented something in soup form she would be more likely to eat more that two tablespoons full. She immediately informed me that SHE would fix dinner tonight because she felt that it was only right. I was frankly tired of making excuses for the meal having already been prepared, so I said, “ Sure, .o.k., Mum. If that’s what you want to do, then go right ahead.” I called what I knew to be her bluff.
“On second thought,” she replied with a smile, “ That corn chowder sounds too good to pass up!”
-By Judie McEwen of Rogue Artists.