No one ever tells you how hard it's going to be, this caring for an elderly beloved, as you enter the endgame, the last few months, maybe years; this reversal of roles so deep I've really completely forgotten what it was like to have a mother who was my parent and not my child.
She breaks my heart every time I see her and yet it breaks her heart every time I say goodbye and leave. She clings to me like a toddler whose mother is off to work. "Varda, please, don't go!" And then she apologizes because she knows I have other, pressing responsibilities I must rush back to (my "real" children chief among them).
And that hurts even worse, when she quietly sobs out: "You are so good to me, I don't know what I would do without you." Because I know that even my best is not nearly enough. She needs a companion, someone by her side, with her night and day as she was for my father as he went through his rough patches and then those awful, final three months of active dying.
But he's gone now and it's just me. And my heart and time are divided, parceled out to others, too. Not fair, but what it is.
We don't have much time left. She knows that, senses it even though no one has said anything to her directly. It's her memory. She keeps forgetting she has a progressive, terminal heart condition.
Whenever a new doctor listens to her heart and out pops some version of "Wow that's noisy!" (as critical aortic stenosis is wont to be) she explains: "Oh, yes that's my heart murmur, I've had it since I was a little girl."
But it's not, it's this new thing - or relatively new at any rate - on top of that old thing (her sizable mitral valve prolapse) but why tell her again what she's going to forget again in five minutes time? Sometimes the doctor discretely says nothing, but I can always see it on their face.
When I went to see her on Monday she searched my eyes for confirmation as she took my hand and said: "Varda, I'm not doing well, I don't think I have much time left."
I was stuck, pinned to the wall.
I didn't want to lie to her, nor hurt her with the truth, so I evaded, "However much time you have left, Mom, let's enjoy it, and each other." (Lame, lame, lame, but all I could come up with on short notice.)
And I kissed her white curls yet again and hugged her shoulders in that not quite satisfying way that is the only possible hug when someone is in a wheelchair.
I come bringing puzzle books, grandchildren, seltzer, chocolate and my loving presence. I wish I could clone myself, so I could leave me behind like all the else. But that's just science fiction, a pleasant fantasy.
I come and then I go.
On Monday I left her in the dining room, playing bingo, one old lady in a wheelchair among a small sea of others. I would say "her peers" but she is peerless, my mother.
No one ever tells you.