Today is my parent’s 64th anniversary, and I expect my mom will have a steady stream of visitors once my siblings find out she’s not well enough to be transported from Golden Age Assisted Living to her home for the celebration. She can no longer sit up on her own or even hold up her head or speak. She hasn’t eaten in two days. I have seen these symptoms in the other patients here. This is the end.
My oldest brother, Joe Jr., and his wife knock on Mom’s closed door and come in. Tami sits on the end of the bed and puts her hand on Mom’s leg. She has her camera around her neck. I tell her that I had to take pictures today, too. “We might have to lay down next to her to get a photo,” she jokes. Mom sleeps on.
Joey sits across from us on a red wrought iron bench that I bought when we moved Mom here over a year ago. There was no place to comfortably sit beside her—close enough that our legs would touch and I could throw an arm around her—so I found a two-person bench. My dad brought in some of his old folding lawn chairs and tucked them into the closet incase a crowd showed up to visit. This room is so small that it’s impossible to be far away from Mom. I’m aware that I’ve got the best spot: I’m sitting on one of Dad’s re-webbed lawn chairs next to the head of the bed. I lean my elbows on her single mattress and smooth my mom’s hair.
Joey and Tami and I talk and laugh. Mom doesn’t stir.
“This is how I hope she dies,” I say. “With lots of us sitting around telling stories and Mom in the middle of it all. A part of the pack like she always was.” I hold Mom’s hand. We’ve had plenty of time to get used to her death. She’s in her ninth year of Alzheimer’s.
My whole life I’ve hogged Mom’s attention because I was the youngest. In my defense, for much of my childhood I had my parents to myself simply because my other siblings were gone.
I don’t want to hog Mom today. I know Joey would never ask me to trade spots with him, so I say, “I’m gonna go to the bathroom.”
I walk around Golden Age and talk to some of the residents still sitting at the dining tables. When I come back, Joey is in the lawn chair next to Mom’s bed, and he’s stroking her face. Tami sits closer to Mom on the bed.
Joe Junior was the boy my parents longed for after four girls. The spring he was born—at almost eleven pounds, like giving birth to a four-month old—my mom came out of her drugged-up haze and actually checked his diaper to make sure she really, finally had a boy. I don’t know how she could have remembered all eight of her childbirth tales, but she recalled this story. When I was a little girl and she told it, I always giggled. At first I’m sure it was because of the checking-for-a-penis part, but also because of the possible foolery. My dad was always a teaser, but certainly even he would not tease about something as important as having a son.
New mothers stayed in the hospital at least a week back then, and I suspect my mom cherished the time alone with her baby boy before going home to a house full of daughters— ages five and under. She spent hours gazing into his chubby face, and perhaps from the first moments after checking his diaper for the right equipment, she called him what she would never again call her husband: my Joey.
Now Joey talks gently to our mother, a soft voice and soothing words perhaps only reserved for his own baby daughters many years ago or for his beloved dog. He tries to awaken her, tenderly rouse her from a deep place. Mom opens her eyes and lifts her head off her pillow an inch. She looks in Joey’s direction, but her eyes are blank.
“At least I got to see your baby blues,” he says to her.
As he and Tami rise to leave, Joey puts his face close to Mom’s and kisses her full on the lips. She puckers up and kisses back, a real smack. “Did you see that?” Joey asks Tami and me.