Saying Goodbye to Mom | Memories

by Elouise

1996, Diane on bench, Montgomery house

Diane at our old house on the river, 1996

Regrets. This one grabbed my attention after I’d written my piece about Mom and Arnica Ointment. It all began in 1998 with a telephone call to let me know Mom had just had a stroke. The news immediately set off a firestorm of self-recrimination in me. Here’s why.

In late 1998, two months before Mom’s stroke, she and Dad flew to Houston to visit Diane and her family. I’d flown to Houston two days earlier–the first time I’d visited Diane since she had gone on a ventilator.

Even though I’d been there before, I wasn’t ready for the sound of this monster machine pumping, wheezing and making noise night and day. Add to that the agony of never hearing Diane’s voice again.

Two days later I drove to the airport to pick up our parents. Mom was in a wheelchair. She was wearing a new, unobtrusive microphone that picked up and projected her weak voice. Suitcases were piled high on a cart. Some filled with equipment to ease Mom’s increasing difficulties with post-polio syndrome.

Mom and Dad’s visit with Diane was painfully difficult. They didn’t seem to know how to relate to her, given dramatic changes in Diane’s ability to communicate.

Two years earlier in March 1996, Diane, her husband and daughter drove to Savannah for a small family reunion. We all knew Diane had ALS, and that this was her last trip to Savannah.

There were awkward moments, especially when Mom choked more than once while trying to swallow food. We all knew Mom wasn’t well. Nonetheless, the visit was happy, a nostalgic stroll down memory lane.

We drove downtown to see the old grade school we sisters attended, and where Mom taught kindergarten. We also drove out to our old house on the river, seen in the photo above, sandbar peeking through at low tide.

Diane’s body already showed limitations from ALS. Yet they were nothing compared to what she now lived with, just over two years later.

Here are a few excerpts from my Houston journal that describe what I observed in my parents in late 1998.

Silence and sadness and inability to speak. . . .Very uncomfortable to watch. . . .Neither of them [my parents] knowing what to say or how to act. Awkward.

The air was heavy with longing and with stunned silence. Not knowing what to do or how to relate. Sometimes projecting onto Diane thoughts and feelings that seemed to keep them from admitting their own sense of grief and helplessness.

I tried to help bridge the gap, but it didn’t work. I felt stuck. Unable to move things forward. Nothing about this visit felt normal—even though we were all dealing with the new normal.

My parents were there for five days. On the sixth day, Diane’s daughter and I drove them to the airport. I wasn’t sure how I would tell them goodbye. A lot of old buttons got pushed in me during this visit, and I was relieved that they were returning home.

Still, the thought of my parents negotiating the airport alone weighed heavily on my mind. I was about to suggest we park and go in with them when Mom spoke up. She said she didn’t want us to go in with them because she didn’t like goodbyes.

So we dropped them off at the curbside check-in and left them there. Two very frail human beings. As we drove away I had second thoughts.

Two months later I got the call about Mom’s stroke. I’d talked on the phone with her once since the Houston trip. It was my last verbal conversation with Mom.

For years I blamed myself for not parking and going into the terminal. Strangely, it seems Mom’s stroke and my arnica ointment helped ease the way for both of us–even though it was late.

Perhaps that’s how I discovered what I wanted to say to her, and how. Still, I prefer earlier goodbyes. And fewer regrets.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 6 July 2015
Photo credit: DAFraser, March 1996