Today is International Women’s Day. I’m celebrating it with a toast to lipstick. And the woman who never leaves home without it.
A few weeks ago, my mother suffered at fall at the lifelong learning class she and my father attend throughout the winter at a local university. It was her day to thank the speaker, one of a series of weekly lecturers in various fields, and so she did, after attending the session all morning with a broken hip. At its conclusion, she was taken to a nearby hospital and underwent a successful surgery. Since then, my siblings have rotated shifts at her bedside.
I’ve lived much of my life near my mom. I figure I’ve got this one. Not so fast. You’re never too old for lessons from your mother.
- This is the first time I’ve slept with another man in my room, Mom announces to the nurse who is attending to her, and two other patients, both male, in their shared room. The nurse laughs, as I do, because she’s not kidding.
- A lifelong reader of newspapers at dawn, Mom tells me she reads the Sports section first. I used to read all the birth announcements there. Now I read the obits.
- Wow, Mom, you have great colour today? Did you sleep well? It’s my lipstick, she tells me. Best makeup for shipwrecks and post-surgery pick-me-ups.
- Large colour prints of familiar faces, photocopied and taped up by my sister Mary on the wall across from Mom’s bed, are the first thing my mother sees when opening her eyes, and the best way to signal staff that here is a cherished woman, an only child with five children and eleven grandchildren, some of whom remind her of relatives they’ve never met. Good luck to the staff. You’ll need to learn everyone’s names. Have fun with that.
- Ivory soap and a default setting of gumption result in great skin, still soft under my washcloth as I wash Mom’s face.
- Find out his name. He’s so lonesome, Mom motions to the thin man across the room, who stares out his window. Unlike Mom, he has had no visitors crowd his bedside. He has little English but I ask anyway and he points to the name sticker on his IV tube. Hien. I smile and offer up my adult colouring books. A few days later Mom is transferred to a rehab hospital. Give her one of the stems. Mom eyes the bouquet I bring to her new room and directs me to the woman in the next bed. Carol is Mom’s new roommate. She’s a big reader, whispers Mom, who runs a decades-old book club on the street where I grew up. A card sits on her hospital tray with healing wishes from all the book club members. Aren’t I lucky to share this room? I concur even as I know neither of us really believe in luck. We make our own. Yes, Mom, you’re lucky.
- Hand me that scarf and I’ll show what I do to drown out the noise of the clock at night time. My sister Sarah has brought a wool shawl the colour of Mom’s eyes. Mom wraps it around her head nightly; a teenage concert pianist now a senior with razor-sharp hearing, and hands that still find the right notes on the piano.
- Visitors, big and small, are rewarded with grateful smiles. My father receives a look reserved for him alone. In it, are all the secrets to a marriage spanning six decades. Still, Dad’s tall frame is too big for naps in a hospital bed, to my mother’s great chagrin.
- I can do it myself is not just for toddlers and teenagers. Within days, Mom is up. Then again, down is not in her dictionary, unless a staircase is involved. My sister Jane brought Mom home today to a house with three sets of stairs, one of which leads to a bedroom we once shared at the top of the house. John, my only brother, had the room across the hall. How many times did my mother climb those stairs and then descend again to do a load of laundry two flights down?
Up and down, up and down, the march of a mother.
The march of a general.
Those stairs will be her undoing, we five ponder, cramming in conference calls to navigate ways we can be of help.
Those stairs kept me young, my mother responds firmly, with a look all her offspring know well enough. Scurry would not be a reach to describe her route to physical therapy every morning.
Soldier on, Mom. Hugs may be our way, but a salute is what I’m sending today.