“I am so scared”. The voice is quivering and has the high pitch of a child. It’s the kind of voice that would emanate from a small, helpless creature, curled up in a corner, afraid to move in case they would be stricken down by unknown dangers that might be lurking just outside of their field of vision.
It is hard for me to accept that this is indeed my mother’s voice. It was yesterday. My daily, dutiful phone call. Everything seemed to be going along at a smooth and fortunate pace. She finally acquiesced to putting her house on the market and to working with the realtor that I found for her. To our great surprise the house sold, close to the asking price, within two weeks. The buyers had cash – no mortgage and asked for a quick closing – the date was set for the end of September. Mom knew, and admitted that it was time to move in to an assisted living situation. She knew she was becoming a danger to herself, living alone.
My mother has never allowed herself to be, or seem, vulnerable. “I can handle this myself” has been her mantra. Most offers of assistance through the years were disdainfully rejected. The voice I now hear is fraught with fear. It is a voice nearly alien to me. How is this my mother? I speak to her as I would speak to a child, softly, gently, to calm them. I tell her I will book a flight as soon as possible and come down to Florida to help her sort through things. The relief in her voice is nearly immediate and palpable. “That would make me so happy, I can’t do this by myself. I have always been just a follower. I need someone to tell me what to do.” For years I suspected that my mother was ruled by a deep seated fear of living. Life itself presented so many dangers that she managed to seal herself and steal herself against them. Fortified over 60 years by the sanctity of a “normal” marriage on the surface that was a rotting hulk of unfulfilled desires underneath. When my father died, she shored up her defenses, and soldiered on. I thought I could easily let her continue in this mode till the end. I imagined that I would just wait, and one day, someone, a neighbor, an EMT, a doctor would call and tell me that my mother was gone. Over. Finished. A life, in my estimation that had been barely lived. I would then just sort through whatever remained, and see if there was anything of value to me (all the things I really cared about, my mother had long ago discarded). She was not a keeper of things. She had no idea of the emotional connection one might have to an object that had little value in the world other than what was projected on to it. The hand written letters I wrote to my father over the years, all of which he kept in a tightly wrapped bundle in his night table, the letters that my mother fed into her shredder before I could stop her.
There is nothing in her house at this point that I want. We could easily hire people to pack up her things and leave the furniture and all the rest to the new owners (the house looks like a stage set for Home & Garden Magazine and they expressed interest in taking everything “as-is”).
The neediness in her voice is compelling. I am surprised how easy it was to say I’d come. I’m surprised at how relieved I feel that I am actually going when I have resisted her for so long. We are still mother and daughter. It may be the last time I see her. But the roles are reversed The daughter has become the mother. The mother is now the frightened child. I will try to ease the fear of death that envelops her. It is a fear that some have more than others. My pride tells me I won’t be like her, I won’t go like she is going. But there really is no way of knowing until it happens. And it will happen. That is all one can say for sure.