Mother’s Day in isolation

My mother, alive and well at 96, has a phone in her room. But I can’t talk with her this Mother’s Day.

Between her near-blindness and some dementia, the chances of her answering that phone and carrying on a conversation if I called are only slightly less infinitesimal than the likelihood that she could place a call to me unassisted.

Mom enjoying the sounds and smells of Edwards Gardens in Don Mills, within bicycling distance from my childhood home, a few years ago.

In the normal past, once a week my sister would call me, hand that phone over to mom and we would have a good chat. 

Almost always mom rose to the occasion, seemingly enjoying phone calls more than our face-to-face interactions when I visited in person every couple of months or so.

(Can’t blame that on my face. Did I mention she’s pretty well blind?)

Her long-term-care home is locked down now, to both my sister and me. So phone calls are out as well, though the staff connect mom with my sister about once a week that way.

I’d have to say not being able to talk with my mom is the hardest blow COVID has inflicted on me. I miss her. 

Given how dementia disposes of a person’s concept of time, it’s quite possible she doesn’t miss me at all. If pressed, she might think she talked or visited with me just yesterday. I hope that’s the case.

And given the many social media tributes I have seen today by people whose mothers who are not longer with us, I should and do consider my mother deprivation to be akin to whining.

She is alive. There is no COVID in her home, apparently a well-run if a bit run-down not-for-profit with a staff that has always struck me as being as wonderfully kind, caring and loving as they underpaid. 

I’m delighted to trade the emotional costs of not talking to my mom for the fact that she has not suffered the fate of too many of her cohort, old people sacrificed on the altars of shareholder value and government “efficiency.”

Unless something unlikely and awful happens, in 26 days mom will turn 97. Her birthday will be another occasion for me to miss my mom. For her, probably it will sail by her unnoticed; they celebrate birthdays once a month in the residence, one day all those with a birthday in that month. COVID might have put an end to that too.

Not being able to talk to her today, or on June 5, prompts me to remember the conversations we have had over the past few years that she has been in that facility.

She likes that I tease and joke with her; mom has always had a great appreciation for humour, probably a survival mechanism for dealing with her late husband and me.

She chastises me if my joking goes over the line, as inevitably it does.

She concedes that she is well-cared-for — the food is great there, and at her stage in life that satisfies a good chunk of her pyramid of needs — that she is in pretty good health and that she’s having a good time.

She has no news. But that would be true if Doug Ford had been assassinated just outside her room.

She wonders when I’m coming to visit.

She thanks me for calling, even though it’s her who called me, through the agency of my sister.

Very satisfying for me. Probably very satisfying, for a briefer moment, for my mom. Hopefully a longer-term boost to her endorphins.

In these COVID days people like to recite how many troubling global events our elders lived through.

In my my mom’s case, that would be prohibition, the depression, World War Two, the Korean War, the Cold War and all the other ups and downs in the intervening 65 years. And now COVID. I hope and sort of expect she’ll live through that.

But world history is far from the sum of mom’s experience. She also lived through some remarkable events in her personal life, challenges she overcame or at least endured, things that I won’t recount out of respect for her privacy.

I was a challenge. One of the dominant images I retain from my teenaged years is my mom sitting at the kitchen table, smoking, waiting for me to sneak in quietly well after my curfew. We’d share a cigarette and then she could go to bed.

Though mom quit smoking about half a century ago, I think the worrying took a lot longer to taper off.

I was one of those kids — heck, adults —  who could take years off a mother’s life. Thankfully, I didn’t. Or if I did, my mom has one hell of a life expectancy.

Happy Mother’s Day to my mom. And to all those moms who are incommunicado, whether or not they have a full recognition of their plight.

Today I’m the one smoking at the kitchen table.