Touching Mom was never easy for me. That included everything from an arm around her shoulder to a kiss on her cheek. Hold hands? Forget it. The ache for physical contact was there, but the reality—or even imagining the reality—was an immediate turnoff.
In the late 1990s I got a telephone call from Savannah. Mom had just been taken to the hospital. She’d had a stroke. No, it wasn’t the kind that could be easily reversed. It wasn’t major, and it wasn’t minor. It was what it was. She couldn’t talk clearly or move independently.
Mom was 78 years old. Too young, I thought, to die. I immediately made arrangements to fly down for several days. I wanted to see her. I loved her. In fact, during the last several years we’d developed the most positive relationship we’d ever had with each other.
The afternoon I arrived I went straight to the hospital. There she was, arms and hands covered with multiple bruises. The result of too many attempts to find veins to poke for various medical tests.
Mom always bruised easily. But this was horrific. Though she couldn’t talk, she signaled early on her extreme displeasure (slight frowns) and even embarrassment (a few tears) about the way her arms looked.
I didn’t know what to do, so I sat there talking to her and looking at the bruises. They were ugly.
When I travel, I always have a small tube of arnica ointment in my bag. It’s great for many things, including bruises large and small. It’s anti-inflammatory, has no nasty side effects, and needs no prescription.
I pondered the tube in my bag. Normally I would just give it to Mom so she could put it on her skin. Not possible today.
I took a deep breath. I knew what I needed to do, though I didn’t know how I would get through it without feelings of revulsion. If that sounds over-dramatic, it was not. Touching Mom in any way, except for a brief hello and goodbye hug, wasn’t even on my to-do list.
What I really needed, so I thought, was to maintain that ‘safe’ distance I loved and hated so much. The emotional and physical distance that seemed to shield me from being rejected.
When I suggested putting arnica ointment on her arms and hands, she perked up immediately and moved her right arm ever so slightly closer to me. I can’t even describe my gut feelings as I began applying the ointment. Just touching her skin was difficult enough, much less applying ointment.
She watched my hand intently as I gently rubbed the ointment in. It took a long time to do one full arm and hand. When I finished her right arm, she signaled that was enough for the evening. The nurses were coming to get her ready for the night.
The next morning she raised her right arm for me to see. Her eyes were bright. Her skin wasn’t 100% clear, but the difference from the day before almost took my breath away. She looked over at her left arm and pointed with her chin. She wanted me to do the left arm, too!
Mom’s arms and hands didn’t fully recover while I was there. Yet the difference between before and after was as dramatic in her body as it was in my heart. I got over my fear of touching her.
I still have regrets about what she and I missed in our relationship. This wasn’t the last time I ever saw Mom. It was, however, the beginning of the end. As unexpectedly wonderful as it was sad.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 June 2015, reposted 13 August 2019
Image from purepro.com