Mom turned 86 years young on St. Patrick’s Day. She is a skeletal figure of her former self but she has a strong will to live. Three weeks ago she fell and fractured her hip in at least three places. Dr. Reeves’ skillful surgical intervention put her bone fragments back together again, and she convalesced for eleven days in the hospital, in and out of consciousness. She gained nine pounds on decent food and dedicated care. It was stellar nursing compared to ManorCare.
Maybe it was bad luck that she fell; however, if the African CNAs would have come to her help, she would not have fallen in the first place, trying to walk to get some water. Then they let her linger in pain from Wednesday afternoon until early Thursday evening when I arrived from a trip, before they sent her to a hospital to be x-rayed.
She had fallen during the three-year stay at ManorCare more than fifteen times and, thankfully, each time she walked away with a painful bruise or two. But this time her luck ran out. She was gaunt and malnourished because the nursing staff lost her dentures four times and often gave her pills on an empty stomach which caused her to vomit whatever food she did ingest. When she fell directly on her right hip, it crushed it as if she had been in a severe car accident. It was a comminuted fracture.
We could barely dress and lift her onto the wheelchair for fear that we might cause her unnecessary distress. I called a wheelchair van taxi to transport her to her favorite restaurant to celebrate her 86 years of life. I knew she would not eat much, between physical therapy and pain meds, but getting her out of the house and into the world was hope and life outside of four walls.
Mom is now a shell of her former self, frail, child-like, sweet some days, and a hellion on others. After her stroke last year, her incipient dementia had gotten worse and, on most days, she knows we are related, knows my name, but I am either her sister or her mom.
When she was 72, I found her on top of a ladder trying to clean the gutters stuffed with dry leaves. She was very active and moving about all the time. But she had slowed down after a fall on wet leaves in the driveway. She had to wear a corset for six months to repair the hairline fractures in the tailbone and ribs.
Mom took so much pleasure in raising a garden and flowers. She took trips to Walmart with her Mimi Eileen every spring to buy plants, seeds, pots, and fertilizer. There was a sparkle in her eyes, and a sprint in her walk, as if she was going to a very important event that she did not want to miss. Spring was on its way, mom said, she could smell it in the air and hear it in the melodious birds chirping in the barren trees.
Mom had a green thumb and felt so happy and free among plants and flowers. She brought back to life potted plants our neighbors put out in the street for trash pickup and then she gave them back to the owners green and often in bloom. How did she do that? It was magic.
She was trying to make up for 48 years of living in a communist drab cinder block tiny apartment where the only concessions to a garden were a couple of red geranium plants she grew on the window sill in winter and on the balcony during the summer.
When she first arrived in the U.S., mom had such a large and beautiful garden in our faculty housing yard at MSU that people would drive by in awe watching her toil in dirt with glee, waving at them from her white wide-brim hat. When the eggplants, tomatoes, peppers, green onions, radishes, cucumbers, carrots, okra, and green beans would start coming in, all neighbors had fresh vegetables from her garden.
As mom aged, the large garden dwindled to a few tomato plants and peppers and a few roses and geraniums. I would find her picking Japanese beetle off the rose bushes and putting them in a jar filled with water. Somehow she felt that killing them this way was a more humane way to dispose of God’s creatures that dared to crawl out of dirt to shred her rose bushes.Every spring, Anthony, our trusted lawn care man, would trim the azalea bushes and the Japanese magnolia we had planted twenty years earlier when we moved into our lovely southern home. Mom would harass him, trim that, trim this, to my exasperation and his ever patient and smiling demeanor. Anthony had a bossy mom just like her at home, and he always did their bidding with an unmistakable southern charm, “yes, ma’am.”
We still talk with love and longing about our fig tree in the back yard that would give so many figs, enough to make jars after jars of preserves each year. The tree was there when we bought the house. If the new owners have not cut it down, the tree is fifty-eight years old now. You never know who will enjoy the fruit of your labor when you plant a fruit tree or a shade tree.
We miss the gorgeous Ginkgo biloba tree in the back yard. Its leaves turned bright yellow in early fall; they blanketed the ground with a thick and beautiful yellow carpet of waxy leaves. Tiger and Bogart loved to chase moles and lizards in this impromptu playground. When Tiger passed, the yellow leaves would cover his grave.
It was mom’s first home since the communists had confiscated my parents’ apartment, their savings, and their pensions. And dad’s relatives took all their personal possessions when dad passed away in 1989. To this day, when she has no clarity, her scrambled brain remembers the confiscation and theft, but I am the culprit.
Perhaps she is right, if I had not left the communist country legally, perhaps she would not have followed me here as a defector from communism and would have kept her property. Those commies did not take lightly the acts of defiance of their prison society citizens escaping from their tyranny and oppression.
Mom is 86 years young today. She came a very long way that flew by too quickly, almost nine decades of life full of good and bad experiences. She said, she did not care if she was 100 today as long as she was still alive and breathing, enjoying the sunshine and her plants. She has an assorted collection of small potted plants in her room at ManorCare. When she cannot water or tend to them, she makes sure that Alamatu does it and brings them in and out of the sun.
I have to remember Marcus Aurelius’ advice to enjoy the moment because the present is a split second in eternity, minuscule, transitory, and insignificant.
Seeing mom in the outdoors again, my eyes teared up. I thank God, Mom is still with us! I was not sure she was going to make it alive from this difficult surgery. But here we are, we live another day to enjoy each other’s company in the Virginia sunshine, with bright blue skies and a blustery wind.