I couldn't find Used to Be Mother when I went to her complex last week. I looked in the usual places where she hangs out, but there was no sign of her. I walked passed the empty dining room and noticed she was there at "her" table almost an hour early for lunch. I watched her for a few minutes as she gazed around the room.
My mother has been wired for loneliness her whole life. Despite being reared in a family of 12 children, she never felt connected. She moved out west after the war and seldom heard from her family. Only a few of her siblings visited her in the west. For many years, she couldn't afford the trip back. She kept in touch with one sister who was adamant they not lose contact.
Used to Be Mother was shy by nature and although she knew almost everyone in our town, she didn't have friends. Oh she would walk with one woman on a regular basis, go to auxiliary meetings at the church with a few, but I never recall my mother saying that So and So was her best friend. She was private and guarded around people. She used my sister as her sounding board. For a long time, alcohol was her friend.
I called to my mother who took a few minutes to recognize me. We repeated a similar experience yesterday where I found her on a chair looking out the window. I asked what she was doing. Counting cars? No, she was watching for me.
I am the only person who matters now to her. She loves my sister and brother and her family but they are becoming dim memories. She doesn't ever talk about the pictures of family on her desk now.
Her daily pleasures are few: a handful of cookies, watching Mother Angelica say the rosary on television, playing Bingo, going for a walk up and down her hallways. A once productive and full life is now reduced to long and empty. She has begun wandering into the kitchen at 4:45 a.m. They insist we need to move her. She has a routine albeit a limited one. This next move isn't going to improve her loneliness.
As I helped her change the linens on her bed, I noticed how this once Herculean energized woman fumbled with the pillow case not sure what to do with it. For a brief second, I saw my mother - the one who nurtured and influenced me in more ways than I give her credit. She insisted I rotate her mattress 180 degrees and then in true form, she insisted that we fold down the bed sheets on one side for when she would go to bed later.
Taking stock of all the capacities she has lost this year, I can't imagine what 2014 holds for her. One thing for sure though: loneliness will trump all.