My Blog

November 27, 2017

Elderly Mothers and the Wait

I lie in the big, comfy bed beside her hospital bed, waiting.

Waiting through the night. Waiting during the day. Perhaps it is something as mundane as waiting for her to wake. Or waiting to fix her breakfast and then waiting for her to want to eat it. Waiting for her to speak lucidly, other than to ask ‘Who are you? Or ‘What are you doing?’ in a complaining whine when I try to get her up to use the bedside commode. Waiting while my life is on hold.

I got angry with her in the night when she wet the bed, again.

“What is that?” she asked confused, running her hand over the large round stain on the sheet. I wanted to yell at her, “Are you stupid?” Then I stopped. No, she wasn’t stupid, once.

My 98 year-old mother was my inspiration. I struggled to emulate her. When we lived in Mexico, she began teaching at the American School where all four of us kids attended. (My grandmother would have blanched at the use of the word ‘kid.’ We weren’t animals, she said, as she lectured us on the proper use of the term). Mom did more than just teach 5th grade.

She came from a long line of educated women, a fact she frequently pointed out to us. Not many girls from the small town of Greenville, Kentucky would have had the good fortune, or the money, to attend colleges. But my grandmother made sure her three daughters did. My grandmother, Mom’s mother, Caroline (pronounced Caroleen) Gorton also attended college at a time when few women did. And her mother did. When Mom wakes, I’ll see if she remembers where they went to school.

Education for Mom was a way of life. There were always books in our house. My grandmother read to us at night when she came down to Mexico to visit. There were bookshelves of books on either side of the fireplace in the living room. I remember curling up in the big comfy chair next to the bookshelves and picking out books to read at random.

The Encyclopedia Britannica, with its wealth of knowledge, received the place of honor in heavy wooden bookshelves built specifically to house their 25 volumes. She used it often. Once it even came in handy when she insisted that she wanted Daddy to have the albañil (an elderly Indian mason that worked for us) build a fireplace in the living room. She looked up the design in the Encyclopedia, it actually provided a blueprint drawing, and he built it to plan. An early Google, if you will.

I would like to say we had great philosophical discussions at the dinner table, but we didn’t. Mom was busy with the Junior League, and bridge club, and her art group. And Daddy just entertained us with wonderful stories. And together, as members of the American community, they organized parties for all occasions. People still talk about the parties Mom and Daddy gave.

So, when Mom began teaching, she found herself in a world of academia. It was a perfect milieu for her. She began work on a long-distance Master’s Degree from Michigan State. After Daddy died and we moved to the U. S., she parceled us out among relatives while she spent a semester at Michigan finishing her M.A.

On regathering her children and moving back to Miami, she promptly went to work on a doctorate in philosophy at the University of Miami. I still remember her lying up in her bed, books propped on her breastbone, reading tomes so heavy they bruised her chest. We four kids learned to fend for ourselves, while she became involved with all the New Age philosophies of Gestalt. We got to hear about Kant and Wertheimer and Kohler and, her favorite, Fritz Perls, whom she actually met.

She even insisted on us attending T-Groups, as well as holding some at the house in Coral Gables. Probably giving one participant an axe to ‘express his emotions’ wasn’t an overly good idea. There are still scars in the living room floor from that. And probably scars in our psyches from attending as well. We got so we just rolled our eyes at Mom’s latest philosophical explorations.

In the recent past it has been Eckhart Tolle. She has read and handed out his books and tried to convince everyone of his wonderful ideas. Of course, so did Oprah, so Mom isn’t alone in that. Again, we have just rolled our eyes and said, yes, sure, of course we had read his books and agreed with whatever new philosophy was the order of the day.

And now, when I go in and find her on the commode, having dragged herself out of bed, and wondering what that wet spot is in the middle of the sheets, I have to sigh. No, she wasn’t stupid.

Of course, I have thought about how long we have to live. I’m sure we all have. But lying here, waiting, it becomes a much harsher, more fundamental question.  At least I can console myself it will be the end of a life well-lived.

So I wait. I wait for the end.

About Caroline Castillo Crimm
Retired Professor Emeritus from Sam Houston State University, interested in writing novels and speaking about topics such as the history of Latin American. Would like to share the AMAZING world of the 18th century in Northern New Spain, that's Spanish Texas and Mexico!
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