My mother is in her 80s and has physical limitations and worsening dementia. My parents live three hours away by car. I am not able to drive that distance because of the residuals from a brain injury. Visits are limited to when they feel well enough to travel here. They visited for week with me during the holidays. It was good to spend time with them but also stressful.
Mom always enjoyed soaking in the bath. They were her time to relax and escape the ongoing demands of motherhood and part-time work. I remember the smell of her favorite peach body scrub and the sound of soft music drifting from the bathroom. Unfortunately, she now needs help that my father isn’t able to provide, so she is no longer able to take baths. I helped Mom take a bath in my soaking tub when the visited.
The flowery scent of my mother’s favorite soap drifted from the tub as I gently washed her back. It struck me how much her body changed over the years. Subconsciously, to me, she was still the strong and fit woman from years past. Her hands that once delivered and cradled babies are now weakened by arthritis. Her mobility and balanced limited by two broken hips and the surgeries to replace them. She’s no longer able to take the dog on long walks through the neighborhoods with my dad in early evening. Her muscles are withered by age, soft under her thin and wrinkled skin. She was once physically strong. Now she requires more help than she wants to accept. It’s a constant balancing act to encourage her independence of choice and self-care with safety and helping as needed.
I reflected on changes as I washed her silky hair. She raised three children. She cared for us; — bathing, cooking, kissing scrapes and bruises, tying shoes and putting on clothes. Now I’m bathing her. And I’ll help her to put on her shoes later. She’s no longer able to do it herself. At times it seems my mother looks to me and the world through childlike eyes. She points out horses and houses as we drive. A trip to Dairy Queen brought a huge smile and excited chatter. She ordered her favorite: chocolate covered vanilla cone.
Sometimes, frustration and anxiety causes her to be angry, tearful and mean. She snarls and snaps out insults or sits and cries helplessly. It’s hard for me to see the changes. In the movie “Freaky Friday,” a teenager and her mother wake up in the other’s body. They experience life as the other for a day and gain understanding about each other. I live now in an ongoing “Freaky Friday.” We don’t switch bodies, but it is as if I am her parent. It’s depressing and unnerving.
My favorite photo of a falcon in flight caught my eye. Her wings are stretched to the sky, floating effortlessly on air currents. I can almost feel the wind in my feathers, see the mice in the wheat field and smell the heat and grass scent rising. Freedom. Nature has rhythm. It cycles through seasons. It cycles from birth to death. My mother’s journey is part of nature’s dance. In time, she will be on to the next part of her soul’s flight.
We have to end the bath soon. My knees are sore from kneeling next to the tub, and the water is getting cold. I call to my dad to bring in the heated towel. Perhaps we will go for a drive later to see horses.
Getty image by TolikoffPhotography