Home 1920 1080 Angela M. Shupe

Rose petals lie open to the wind. Vibrant fuchsia has faded to a soft blush, the color now muted of its former vitality. A few petals have fallen and now rest on the ashen mulch of the flowerbed. A breeze blows, and loose petals tumble in the gust. Another flower stands at the edge of the bed next to the walkway at my feet. White with pink streaked through, the bud has just begun to stretch open and reveal itself to the sun’s light.

Beauty exists in all stages of life. I tell myself this as I walk past these flowers, not just to make myself feel better but because I have to believe it. I tell myself this as I open the door and walk down the long corridor, scanning those sitting in wheelchairs for my mother.

I pass through the intersection of two halls where fifteen or so elderly men and women have been wheeled around a small television. A few look up, none of them my mother. I continue down the hallway to find her.

The door to her room is closed, and I enter quietly. Her bed is made but empty, along with the single chair next to it. I turn to begin my search through other residents’ rooms for my wandering mother. What is it she is searching for as she roams? I wonder. Before I cross the threshold again, I spot a hint of light seeping through the paper-thin crack in the bathroom doorway. The bathroom is silent. I creak the door open. Standing fully clothed in the shower is my mother.

“Mom, there you are.” My words fill the small space.

My mother stares through me as she clutches the shower curtain in one hand like a seamstress contemplating the warp and weft of a fine fabric. She is completely still. I tell her she has to come out. No words are spoken in response. She makes no movement, but stands frozen in place.

Then as if waking from a deep sleep, she slowly pushes her right foot forward incrementally, once and again. It butts up against the two-inch tile lip set to catch water from spilling on to the bathroom floor. It might as well be a hundred foot wall. She cannot scale it.

Carefully, I lift her foot to guide her out, holding tight to her so she doesn’t fall. I will need help to lift her if she is unable to raise her feet. She raises one foot just enough, and I nudge it over the lip. The sole of her shoe scrapes tile as it clears the curb. Now she stands firmly one foot in, one foot out. She raises her other foot, and after two attempts is free of the shower. This two-inch tile wall—an impenetrable obstacle in her confusion—we scaled together. These small steps could have taken half an hour. I exhale with relief.

My mother’s shoulders stoop forward. Exhaustion is scrolled across her brow from her efforts. Hand in hand, we walk slowly to her bed. She doesn’t let go when we sit. I put my arm around her, and she leans in closer.

“I love you, Mom,” I say.

Still grasping my hand, she lifts it and presses it gently to her cheek then holds it close for a moment. My heart is in a vise of emotion at this small gesture. Words fail me.

Some days I fare better, talking silliness in an attempt to bring forth a response that may or may not come. One simple smile can be life giving. Today, I’m not lighthearted.

Time passes before I break the silence. “You know God loves you, don’t you, Mom?” I speak words she spoke to me as a child. “He loves you.”

Not a sound crosses her lips. No upward tilt of a smile graces eyes that stare vacantly at the greying carpet beneath our feet.

“He’s says He’ll never leave us.” These are holy words that I’ve come to breathe that I might breathe at all.

My mother sits still, and my heart aches wondering if she can sense God’s presence when, it seems, she barely can sense the presence of a heart beating right next to her.

Outside the window, the day is bright, the kind of day summer does best: sunny and warm with breezy cotton clouds dotting the sky. Inside, the light is dim. Dappled sunlight dots the crests of the charcoal blanket on which we sit.

Tears brim my eyes with the knowledge that this is how it is. There is nothing I can do to change it, and—I feel robbed of my mother. I’m a woman who feels robbed of the life that could’ve been had it not been for this sickness. The taste of bitterness rises in my mouth. I swallow it down and stifle my tears. Best to not fall apart here. I’m determined my pain won’t add to hers.

I lean closer and feel warmth radiating from my mother’s small frame. I begin to sing quietly for lack of knowing what else to do.

“Amazing grace how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.” I hate myself for the bitterness and stumble over the word ‘wretch.’ I feel it deep in my bones but continue, unable to stop the tears now streaked across my cheeks. “I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see. ‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear and…”

I stop, bewildered. The words have escaped me. How do you forget the words to Amazing Grace? I offer my mom an apologetic gaze. “I don’t remember the words, Mom.”

She stares blankly at the floor. Then, a sound passes her lips. Muted laughter morphs into a near belly laugh. I’m startled by this rare show of emotion. Shocked, I laugh, too.

Healing laughter cleanses. This surprise moment reminds me there is still good. In times like this, good is a pinprick star in the darkest night that you see when you squint just so. Seems forgetting can be a blessing.

“And grace my fears relieved, how precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed,” I finish. I don’t know if the words are right, but it doesn’t matter. We sit in silence, me with my drying tears, she holding my hand.

And then, it begins. I feel it vibrating through the slightly protruding ribs in her back before the first strains are audible. Muddled sounds meet my ear. My mother is singing. It’s the same song in a language known only to her, but the melody is the same. It’s still there flittering on the periphery of her memories. Music exists deep in those unseen regions, even now.

I hum along. After two verses, she sits quietly then yawns. It’s late afternoon, and I know this is the napping time.

She leans in to me. “I want to go home,” she whispers. Her words are unexpected, a rarity now like diamonds in kimberlite or Halley’s comet making a pass. I’m taken aback. Words simply don’t come anymore.

Years ago, I’d have assumed she meant her childhood home in the Philippines or the home I grew up in a half-hour away. This seems different somehow. I can sense it. And I wonder if she means ‘home.’ An eternal home. Heaven.

“Home.” I mouth the word echoing her whisper, and she breathes a sigh. The weight of it bends her fragile frame forward.

Home is a place of refuge. Safety and warmth free for the taking. This building housing my mother may be her residence, but it is a momentary dwelling. She is a nomad tenting here for a spell. Heaven feels so far away, a remote place of refuge, peace and joy.

“Home,” she whispers.

I look at her, searching her face for understanding. My heart clutches with the realization, the home she seeks is eternal.

Eternity becomes an urgent matter the moment you begin to lose someone you love. One day my mother will be a permanent resident in that eternal home. Odds are, it will then be a long time before we meet again. Emotions roil within me. For her to go, there will be a ripping. A deep void will remain in my heart with her eventual absence. Yet for her, it means freedom from over a decade of suffering with mental anguish.

Though my letting go began over sixteen years ago with her diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, my loss has grown each day as the disease has ravaged her brain. Her loss has been a slow dripping of memories that began with the intolerable knowledge that her independence was slipping away.

Living in the loss requires constant adjustment in how we relate to each other as her abilities have changed. Even now, she is still my mother. Nuances of her flicker, candlelight warming my soul.

“Mom, do you want to lie down?” I ask. “Do you want to take a nap?”

She begins to shuffle her body closer to the pillow end of the bed. Her legs don’t willingly follow, so I stand to help. I lift her feet and place them up on to the mattress. After removing her shoes, I drape a blanket over her as I would a child.

My mother closes her eyes, and sleep comes quickly. Then she raises a hand straight in the air. She moves it back and forth, plucking something from the sky in her dreams. She lays her hand by her side and lies still, like water, glassy, without a ripple of disturbance. She falls deep into sleep and doesn’t stir when I kiss her forehead.

Slowly I walk towards the door, afraid to leave. It’s impossible to know when the ripping will take place. If I go, will I see her again? There is no way to know. Teetering on the edge of two worlds is unsettling, and I’m hesitant. Gazing back at my mother sleeping contentedly, I seek an answer that doesn’t come. I force myself to leave and step into the hallway, all the while wondering about home.

Header photograph © Asher.

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  • Home Essay in Barren Magazine, Issue No. 4 | Angela M. Shupe 12/08/2018 at 9:17 am

    […] in Barren Magazine, Issue No. 4, which released today. Truly grateful to Jason Ramsey for choosing “Home” as an Editor’s Pick and to Barren for their kind inclusion of my work alongside the many talented […]

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