After a wedding in downtown Chicago, my husband and I drove to the south end of the city to visit my mom. Reminders: she is 94 and struggling with dementia. This was a good visit. Mornings are better for her. She remembered the family whose son was married; she was eager to hear details. I wished then we had taken pictures so she could see the amazing roses and hydrangeas, the beautiful bride, and the four little bridesmaids who ran around in white dresses with cranberry bows.
Two hours later, we left her, after going through pictures from the past—left her with a kiss on her bony forehead and a firm hug around her thin back, humped with osteoporosis. Bye Mom. It could be the last.
We live in Iowa, a five hour drive, and I started out while my husband napped. Rod Stewart sang from his Great American Songbook and suddenly I found myself singing along. After all, the car is where I learned the melody and lyrics to Time After Time, They Can’t Take That Away From Me, It Had To Be You, I’ll Be Seeing You, Night And Day, Someone To Watch Over Me. It was Mom singing, driving us to Washington DC for a visit with cousins. I was only in grade school. She firmly grasped the wheel with hands that typed insurance policies to feed and clothe us, the left hand still wearing a thin silver wedding band, though my dad was long gone from a heart attack. Her lilting soprano voice, which blotted out the hissing of passing cars, tightened my own throat and stirred my gut and soul with strange and conflicting feelings.
There’s a somebody I’m longin’ to see
I hope that he, turns out to be
Someone who’ll watch over me
I’m a little lamb who’s lost in the wood
I know I could, always be good
To one who’ll watch over me
Won’t you tell him please to put on some speed
Follow my lead, oh, how I need
Someone to watch over meAs her voice filled the car, those words hung, echoed there. Did she really feel like a little lost lamb? Did she hunger for someone to replace my father whose image sat eternally in a gold frame on our living room table? What would my life be like if someone put on some speed and arrived on our front porch, only to take my mother away from me and my brothers?
We always arrived safely after those car trips. But despite the fervent singing of those love songs time after time, no one ever again appeared in my mother’s life to watch over her. No one ever put on any speed at all.
Maybe she was too much her own person to attract a man. Or maybe it was the three children who trailed after her. Instead my mother was her own person throughout the years of raising us, working, and then settling back to live alone, and continue to work, travel and see her friends.
Now she is never alone, surrounded by occupants of the Memory Unit where she is spending her last days. Time after time we have to repeat things to her as the dementia rubs her of the ability to store new information. Oh how I wish that I knew for sure there were angels watching over her. Oh how I pray that someone will put on some speed and answer her need for love and guidance as she passes from this earth. I hope it’s my father who comes to get her—he will remember the fragile and beautiful tones of her voice and take her hand. Though he probably has been watching over her for these sixty years, this time the plaintive appeal of the song will finally come to an end.