What Normal Used To be
The mother who raised me was an active, vibrant woman. She didn't believe in taxis. During the 11-day NYC subway strike of 1980, she walked to work every day: from Park Slope, Brooklyn to Park Ave and 50th street...and back home every evening. She loved to dance. She was a great double-dutch rope-jumper. The mother who raised me was a voracious reader, always having a book open as she rode the NYC subway to work in the morning. The mother who raised me travelled all over North America, to Spain, to Gibralter, to Mexico, to the Caribbean. The mother who raised me rode in a helicopter, watched thousands of baby sea turtles hatching at midnight and scurrying to the ocean, enjoyed the rare privledge of seeing a newly born baby rhino and, as a child, had a place of honor on one of the floats at NYC's annual Puerto Rican Day Parade. The mother who raised me met Eleanor Roosevelt, Princess Diana, Willie Mays, Dominic Dunne, Ingrid Bergman, and Princess Grace. The woman who raised me could kick anyone's ass at Scrabble, was a whiz at math, had a photographic memory when it came to driving directions, and could type 120 words a minute - without errors - on a typewriter. That's a typewriter, people...not a PC or a word processor.
When Things Became Different
During the last few years of her life, things became different.
A degenerative bone disease caused chronic pain and weakness and forced my mother to use a cane, and then a walker and, eventually, a wheelchair to get around. No more long walks, no more dancing, no more double dutch.
Macular degeneration rendered her legally blind. No more reading on the subway. No more afternoon newspaper.
Diabetes, dialysis treatments, and severe arterial disease dictated her daily schedule, her diet, and her ability to travel and be physically active. No more major travel.
After a while, all of this became normal for her - for all of us. Life had changed and what we all came to think of as "normal" was very different from anything we had ever known.
What Stayed The Same
So many things about my mother changed as she developed illnesses and disabilities, but so much stayed the same. She still made me laugh, and loved to laugh, herself. She still wavered between being incredibly cute and funny, and being incredibly grumpy. She still loved music. She still had a great memory. Using large-print tiles and a magnifying glass, she still beat my ass at Scrabble. She still loved books, and learned to love listening to them on cassette, as opposed to reading them. She was still great with babies. She still had a weakness for shopping. She still loved going places, even if she had to limit it to places that were fairly close to home.
For my 41st birthday, my mom insisted on treating me to a day at Disney World, a place that has gone to great lengths to be accessible.To hell with the heart disease and degenerative bone disease - my mother rode every, single ride that was wheelchair accessible...some of them twice. It was a great day full of fun and laughter. I think it was then that I noticed that there were more things about her that had stayed the same, than things that had changed. What really mattered about her was the same. Her generosity. Her sense of fun. Her love of life. Her openess to experiences. How damned great she was at just being a mother. Where it counted most of all, nothing was different.
During the wee hours of June 30th, as my father, who held her hand, drifted off to sleep for a moment, my mother took her last breath and left this world. This kind of difference will be harder to get used to.
© 2010 Lana M. Nieves
Limited Licensing: I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby publish it under the Creative Commons Attribution license, granting distribution of my copyrighted work without making changes, with mandatory attribution to Lana M. Nieves and for non-commercial purposes only. - Lana M. Nieves