Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Mother-Daughter Relationships

Mom and Arnica Ointment


~~~Arnica Flowers and Healing Oil

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.
Psalm 23:5

 © Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 June 2015, reposted 13 August 2019
Image from

Saying Goodbye to Mom | Memories

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

Mom and Arnica Ointment | Memories


~~~Arnica Flowers and Healing Oil

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. Read the rest of this entry »

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