I visited my brother’s grave today, in Ridgeland, Mississippi. December 1 is Mike’s birthday. He would be 59 years old, if he hadn’t died of lung cancer in January of 2007.
The big tree near his grave offers shade from the hot Mississippi sun when I visit during the summer.
But today it was cold and cloudy up on that windy hill. The smaller trees lining the cemetery still had some of their orange glow, as if they were holding onto their last bit of life before joining the dark sky in its wintry palette.
Mike’s grave is only a few feet away from my father’s and my Goddaughter, Mary Allison’s graves. I wish I had taken new silk flowers (live flowers aren’t allowed here) but that will have to wait for another visit. Mom used to keep a broom and a bottle of water in her trunk and she would use them to clean my father’s tombstone each time she visited. She would sit on the bench under the big tree afterwards and remember their almost fifty years together. December 27 would be their 60th wedding anniversary.
That precious memory is growing dim as quickly as those beautiful leaves are fading. When I visited Mom at the nursing home today, I reminded her that it was Mike’s birthday, and she said, “Mike?”
“Yes, Mother, Mike—my brother—your son. He would be 59 today. He died almost two years ago.”
She only looked at me. No response at all. This is a new level of loss. Since she wasn’t sad, I tried to cheer myself up by decorating her nursing home room with a small Christmas tree and a pine swag for her wall, and I couldn’t help but remember Christmases past… like this one, from fifty years ago.
While we were in her room Mom kept asking, “How will I know where my room is?”
I wheeled her into the hall and pointed to her door, which had her name on it. “Look, Mom, it’s room 322 and it has your name on it.”
“Oh, okay. And where will I get those, oh, you know, I take them with water….”
About then another resident wheeled up next to us and said, “right here!” And indeed the nurse was giving out meds just then. She came up to Mom and gave her a hug and Mom smiled and laughed. She just seemed to need to know that there was some order, somewhere, if not in her own mind.
When I first arrived today, Mom was in the lobby visiting with two friends from her church. I was so happy to find her with visitors! She’s still in a wheelchair, although the physical therapist has her doing a little walking with a walker, but not on her own yet. But she’s not complaining of pain, thank God.
Later we went to the dining room to get a cup of coffee and discovered that it was almost time for Bingo. We joined a nice man who was sitting alone at one of the tables and I introduced Mom and myself to him. The man was clear-thinking and kind as Mom struggled to make cohesive conversation. And smiled kindly and winked when Mom couldn't remember how to play Bingo and I tried to help her with her card. They've got these cards with little transparent plastic red "windows" that slide over the number, rather than loose pieces that you cover the number with. Mom was fascinated with them and kept covering up random numbers and I had to keep uncovering them so we could see when she did, in fact, have five in a row.
But when I asked the gentleman to take a picture of Mom and me playing Bingo, he pointed the camera only at me, and then only at her. So here we are. The concept of pointing the camera at both of us at the same time must have been beyond him.
Mom won Bingo TWICE so she got lots of chocolate candy, which Mom proceeded to devour more quickly than I can ever remember seeing her enjoy any food. When the young teenage girl who was volunteering at the nursing home brought the box of candy over for Mother to choose one when she won, Mom started getting packages for everyone at our table, not understanding that only the winner got one. So when the girl walked away, Mom began to share her candy with the table, apologizing for the silly rules. Go, Mom!