by Gretchen Staebler
Sunday hadn’t been a good day. Dan the Handyman had cancelled. Dan is the light in my mother’s life, and he helps her with her tape recorder, on which she’s telling her epic life story. Mama needs Dan to check the tape before she starts, to make sure she got what she thought she recorded. She doesn’t trust anyone else. It was a day-changer for both of us.
Sunday morning she was sure she had taped more the day before than I could find, but that there was a long silence between words. She couldn’t explain why she thought that, and she didn’t appreciate my exploratory questions.
“It’s on there!” she insisted. She didn’t understand that the end would be at the point where the tape was stopped, since it hadn’t been rewound. I hop-skipped through the tape to be sure.
“Perhaps you were speaking, but the pause button was on,” I suggested, expressing my sympathy for this recurring problem.
“No!” she said, “I could hear it running.”
“You can always hear it running,” I explained for the umpteenth time, “even when it’s paused.”
That evening I stood, unobserved, watching her in her chair. She looked so old, so weary, so alone sitting there. She looked so much like her mother at the end of her life my eyes welled up. My chest tightened, until I could hardly breathe. No matter how many people are around, the end of life is traveled alone. I wanted to pull her onto my lap, fold my arms around her tiny self and hold her to my bosom; like she once held me. I wanted to tell her I was so sorry. Sorry she had to still be alive, and not really living. Tell her she could stop working so hard to stay tethered here. Tell her to go find her true love.
I’m reading the letters my father wrote over their long separation during World War Two. Sunday morning I read one from the summer of 1945. The war was over, but for the atomic bomb, but it would be seven more months before he shipped home.
July 1945, Ansbach, Germany: “I know one girl I wish I could see tonight, tomorrow night and every night. Last night too. That’s you, my darling. I hate so to think of this summer slipping by without being with my wife. And I hate even more to think of spending another winter over here. I’m surely hoping hope on hope that we’ll be together next spring. Don’t be sad or unhappy, my dear. Time goes faster if we forget ourselves and make the best of a bad situation. And after that first kiss, we can forget that we were ever apart, and probably will.”
She continues to make the best of a bad situation, and increasingly the best falls far short of satisfactory. She told me some time ago she no longer believes in heaven, or reuniting with loved ones. I choose to imagine them together again, forgetting they were ever apart.
Gretchen Staebler blogs at www.daughteronduty.wordpress.com about the education and frustration–and occasional humor–of living for the past nearly four years with her almost 100-year-old mother, and the déją vu of living again in her childhood home. Hopefully without losing her mind. Read this post in its entirety at Daughter on Duty.