My husband and I just returned from our trip to visit my mother and her husband in Pennsylvania. It has been four years since I have seen my mother. The last time it was right after she had surgery and only a year after Brandon died. I was not really equipped emotionally to be on any kind of a trip but I felt like I should see my mother. After all she is my mother. She has been in decline with dementia for several years now. It is never more obvious when you are with her face to face. On the phone, her husband takes the lead in the conversation and more or less helps it along. I think it is so that she won’t keep asking about Brandon as she forgets as soon as you answer any of her questions. In the beginning, it was a shock to hear her ask about him. Now, I have grown accustomed to her repeated questions.
On our way up, I couldn’t help notice all the road signs and “Garman Girl’s” directions…..”take the next exit”….and so on. She was indeed a rude bitch interrupting our conversations, repeating herself, injecting her own “observations” along the way…and so bossy! It didn’t help that I had programmed her to make a “moo” sound whenever a particular restaurant was within 1,000 yards of the next exit. As boredom settled in, I began to notice the many exit signs and scrambled words to make other words in my mind. Exits came from exist. I found it an interesting combination. It played in my mind more on the way back for several reasons.
We had hoped to visit our old friend, Howard, the first day of our road trip. His wife, Mary, had called just a few days before we left to tell us that he had been given only 4-6 weeks to live, as he had just found out that he had inoperable pancreatic cancer. It was too advanced after spending almost a year trying to find out what was wrong with him. We were truly sad and wanted to visit him. As we neared the little town in Alabama I called to say we would be there soon. Mary answered the phone and with a tired and exhausted voice to let us know that Howard would probably not be up for visitors as he had a rough night because of his medications. We agreed to call back on our return to Florida and make our visit and last good-bye then. It crossed my mind that there was not that much time left and that this was good-bye and that things were not going to get better, would there be a better time to visit??….but, oh well.
While we were on this trip our laptop connection was limited. My mother has no internet and her neighbor could not get his password to work so we could use his wi-fi connection. Their neighbor is battling colon cancer and his wife has breast cancer. It is a very sad situation. They are around my age. He was frail and weak. It was sad to see. This couple has been angels to my mom and Carl. They have done the things that needed doing, like shoveling snow, watching out for each other, going to the store, etc…just being excellent neighbors.
There was not a whole lot to do since we were there basically to just sit and visit and help out with whatever we could. We went out to dinner one night and my husband took my step-father-in-law to a Philly’s baseball game (the history making one where the Dodgers had a no-hitter, the eleventh in Dodger history.) They enjoyed it a lot. I think Carl (my step) needed a break from being with and doing for my mother 24/7. He never complains and is an enthusiastic caregiver. My mother does not know how much she is blessed….or maybe she does. Being out in the sun really did exhaust him, though. He is ailing from different health issues brought on by aging, too. He fell asleep in his recliner when they got home and stayed that way the rest of the evening and night.
When it came time to leave in the wee hours of the morning, we said what might be our last good-bye. It was emotional and I felt like this would be my last time seeing my mother or even Carl. We had discussed the inevitable questions about what would happen to my mother if Carl was to die first. It was table talk in the kitchen. That is where we are in life…..death. But that is where I have been the past five years…no news to me. Death has been following me. I notice it like I notice the exits signs.
On our way home, we exited the major interstate to the one that takes us to Alabama…and I called our friend Mary. She sounded somber and exhausted as I asked how Howard and she were doing. This time she told us that Howard had passed away the previous Saturday, two days after we made our first call. There would be no good-byes for us. She had sent an email (one I never received until I got home) and she did not have our cell number…although, she did but had forgotten. Anyway, it was not to be. Our last visit was one we will always cherish when they had come to visit us at a condo in Panama City Bch. (courtesy of my brother.) Howard was ailing then from probably this same cancer but no one had diagnosed it yet.
At the next “moo” sound we exited to a restaurant. I was already overwhelmed with all this death…imminent death….death in every direction….exits exist…… As we sat there, not saying much, little blonde fraternal twins sat close by, laughing and jabbering, probably around 4 years old. They said their blessing out loud and it touched my heart so deeply that I began to sob….and got up to go to the restroom so as not to make a spectacle of myself. The thought came to my mind in that brief second of tow headed innocence that this world is cruel little ones….who knows what will happen…. How long do you have? How many exit signs do you get to pass before the last one?
Tomorrow we will head back to Alabama to attend our friend’s funeral. Life is bittersweet. Short. All the cliches that apply.
Good-byes everywhere….exits exist.