Orka stood watching her mother’s casket slowly descend into the gaping hole. Her skin felt cold and damp as a mist of rain drizzled over her. Gradually she realized she’d never feel her mother’s cool hand on her forehead, see her beautiful smile, hear her soft, deep voice, or feel her hugs again. Her stomach wrenched into a sickening knot.
Her family huddled close for support, forming a cocoon from the outside world. Her dad stood to her left. Her fourteen year old daughter stood to her right and to her daughter’s right were Orka’s brothers. Orka wondered what her dad would do now; he was seventy-three years old.
Leaning even closer, she whispered, “Dad, how are you?” The preacher’s voice in the background was only a droning sound.
“Fine, Honey, just fine.” He patted her hand and smiled a half smile. She fought back her tears.
Orka’s thoughts pulled her back in time to the doctor’s office eight years before. After studying the CAT scan x-rays, the doctor, tapping them against his leg said, “I’m afraid it’s Alzheimer’s. I’m sorry . . . I’ll give you some time alone.”
Orka and her dad stood in shocked silence for a few minutes. “I can’t believe it, Dad, can you?” She wiped her tears from her face.
“I had my suspicions.” He reached over and touched her face. “Do you remember when your mom couldn’t park the car without pulling in and out several times?”
“Yes,” she said, taking a tissue out of her purse.
“And in Sunday School, she would fumble over words when she read aloud . . .and once she screamed in fury at the clerk at the tire store . . . totally out of character for her.”
“Yes, I remember . . . and finally when she ran into the stone posts to our driveway, you took her car keys away.”
“That was the hardest thing I had ever done.” He rubbed his fingers through his silver hair.
“That car was her independence . . . her freedom. Something died in her that day.”
Orka knew in her heart her mother’s death was a blessing for her dad and for her mom. She believed her mother was better off--in her mind, but her heart told another story. Her parents were married for fifty-three years, and she admired her dad when he chose to keep her mother at home with him, rather than put her in a nursing home. She knew she probably wouldn’t have made the same choice given the same circumstances.
Orka’s thoughts leaped across time like a stone skipping over water. “Mom, can you hear me?” She held her mom’s face in her hand and looked into her eyes--all she saw was an empty gaze. It was like someone pulled the shade on a window. “I want to try something, Mom. I want to see if we can communicate. Here’s what I want you to do. I’m going to ask you a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question.” She patted her mother’s arm. “I want you to blink once for ‘yes’ and twice for ‘no’. Can you do that for me, Mom?” She studied those cloudy eyes. No response.
She came out of her reverie and noticed her friends, across the grave from her family, searching their faces. Instead of finding comfort, she slipped away again, remembering her mother had to be fed, bathed, and dressed, and couldn’t even walk. Her dad had done it all. She knew she could have helped him more but was too busy with a rocky marriage, a teen-age daughter, a full-time teaching job, and a husband who resented her closeness to her father. Excuses! She thought.
The funeral faded from her mind like a water washed watercolor painting as her mind replayed the past. “Honey, I have to go in the hospital,” she heard her father say over the phone. “You need to take off from work and get mom . . . you have to put her in a nursing home. Call our doctor. He’s made all the arrangements.”
“But, Dad, what’s wrong with you?” Orka answered, twisting the phone cord in her hands.
“Kidney stones. They have to operate. I’ll be there for awhile, and I won’t be able to take care of mom after I get home.”
“You want me to put mom in a nursing home?”
“You’ve got no choice.”
“Okay, Dad, I’ll take care of it. Don’t worry.” She hung up the phone, slid into a huddle on the floor, and cried her eyes out.
When she arrived at her parents’ house, she found her mother in the living room in front of the T.V. set where she always was. She thanked the next door neighbor who had come over to be with her mother until she arrived. The neighbor left shortly after her arrival.
“Mom, I have to pack your things.” Orka gently shook her mother. “Do you understand me? You can’t stay here anymore.”
She noticed a flicker of life, an instant of comprehension, or was it simply a reflex and nothing more? Huge tears flowed down her mother’s cheeks. Her face twisted like a drama mask into a huge frown. Loud howls filled the room.
Her own tears choked off her words, “It’s okay, Mom. Everything will be fine. I’m taking you to a nursing home where you can get proper care.” She knew it sounded so hollow, so insincere. “Dad had to go in the hospital, but he’s fine. When he gets well, he’ll come to see you.”
She wondered if her mother could understand her and if her normal, intelligent self was trapped inside her body. It was the first time she’d reacted. Being claustrophobic herself, Orka imagined herself pinned under a giant, unforgiving rock, unable to even scream.
“Mom, please, let me help you,” she hugged her mom’s limp body. “I promise you dad is okay. He’ll come to you. He’s just not able to be here now.”
Six months later she was dead. She had been a housewife--her husband, children, and home were her whole life.
The rain stopped. Flowers covered her mother’s grave. Orka’s friends shook their hands and hugged them, whispering shared words people use in times of death. Orka took her dad’s hand and her daughter’s and walked slowly to the car.