Turquoise Pieces

I love all beach glass. I find the shapes and the colors endlessly interesting. Each piece tells its own origination and journey story, speaking in tones of curved edges, shadowed letters and lines of pasts as wine or cola bottles, a marble, or a cobalt container of some old patent elixir.


I do play favorites, though. Of course, the really rare orange and lavender thrill me, and a red…well, I’ve been known to happy-dance over a red!


But my “everyday” favorite is the turquoise. I can reasonably expect to find a piece or two of the elusive turquoise (or its more common cousin, aqua) any given day. Any given good day, that is. There hasn’t yet been a day when I find all turquoise, but I have had great days when I have found some really big hunks of it among the rest of white, green and the ever-common brown. At the end of one of those great days that end with a turquoise in my pocket, I feel satiated as if with a great meal, my bounty hunger most delectably fed.


In my walk along the shores of daughterhood, I’m also hunting turquoise. My dad is gone now, but my mom is still with us. For years I have spent part of at least a day or two a week with her. My walks with my mother have changed over these last years; as her brain succumbs bite by bite to the Alzheimer’s disease gnawing at it like a mouse at cheese, my turquoise pieces found on these walks beside her have changed, too.


Some years ago, my mom called me, very agitated. “I did something,” she said. “Something” turned out to be signing on the dotted line with a salesman of financial products who had knocked on her front door, initiating a full transfer of all her retirement assets to his company, via expensive products totally inappropriate to her needs. I was able to unwind it all for her and preserve the many years of hard work and thoughtful planning she had done decades before, but it was a chilling moment.


Thereafter, I started helping her pay her bills. She added me to her bank accounts so that I could monitor them online, but we also went through her piles of mail. I removed her from as many solicitation mailing lists as I could, which took months, due to her generous donation history.  Once a week, we went through all her bills. I put many of these recurring expenses on “autopay,” but we paid the rest – plus wrote graduation, wedding and birthday cards to four kids, ten grandkids, and five great-grandkids – in a system that I looked forward to every week: we discussed each bill (or family event), I wrote out the checks’ payees, amounts, and passed the checks to her, whereupon she signed them on the line I indicated. She affixed the stamps and return address stickers and sealed the envelopes. Often, we would then drive to the post office to complete our task, and maybe catch lunch out, too.


I loved this process. My gratitude abounded to stay in touch with the part of my mom I knew to be meticulous in her financial process: frugal, tidy, responsible. She had taught all of us kids to pay our bills on time, especially any debts. To sit at her desk with her, use the office supplies and notecards she always had well stocked, and help her still take care of herself in this way satisfied me profoundly. I got to know parts of her even deeper as we talked about the amounts of money she considered appropriate for gifts. True to the high value she placed on education, she always gave the most for college graduations, in sums that exceeded anything she spent on herself.


These sweet bill-paying days came to an end as her ability to mentally process, and even write her own name, ended. Most cruelly, she understood that she was no longer able to do something she had previously mastered, and it agitated her to be presented with it regularly. I simply took over the process then, paying and managing her finances on my own. I still enjoyed caring for her in this way, but my turquoise days of sitting side by side with her in the endeavor had ended.


We transitioned to another patch of turquoise, as I found something new I grew to love doing for her: bathing.


My older sister had moved in with my mom by this time, taking on her day-to-day care as her primary caregiver, for which she will be blessed eternally, I am sure. My sister stocked the bathroom with bubble bath, scented candles, and floral soap dispensers. She bought a fresh shower curtain, an inflatable bath pillow, and asked me to get thick new towels. My mom was treated to Frank Sinatra serenading her naked self during these daily tub times, and my new turquoise moments with her took root.


You might think that my mom would resent being bathed like a child. But she did not. At least with me, she sunk into the time as she did into the bubbles: relaxed, de-stressed, blissfully relieved of any need to “keep up” cognitively. Sometimes I switched up the streaming music profile to “yoga” or “brain music,” which would really unwind all her mental knots.


As I had previously handed her the pen to sign her name to checks, I handed her the washcloth to scrub herself. But just as I had done for my children as they learned this process, I went over territory she had washed to make sure it was thoroughly cleaned.


We giggled a lot during these baths. We talked. We negotiated hair washing, as she didn’t always want to have this done when it was definitely needed. I sang all the songs I remembered her teaching me many years prior, both silly and not. Funny how time telescopes out or in, depending on one’s perspective. During my time with my mom in that steamy bathroom, time shrunk in, all the little moments becoming important. We talked about it all: leaning her head back for a rinse, positioning her pillow properly, choosing the music, helping her grab the bar on her way out so she could shake her feet dry, one by one, a lifetime habit still strong. Then helping her put on her robe for the trek back to her bedroom, where I helped her with her camisole, clothes or pajamas, socks and slippers. Usually by then, back to bed for a nap after her great effort.


We did do more together, like walks and outings, prepared and ate meals together. I bought her clothes and household items as they became needed, and I liked outfitting her like my little doll, often getting her nicer things than she had allowed herself during a lifetime of frugality. But I loved giving her baths the most.


Then, that time ended as well. After nearly three years of diligence, my sister moved out of state to pursue her nursing career. The fulltime care team that was hired to replace her took over the bathing, transitioning my mom to sit down showers. After a few months, my mom moved into a loving home where she was one of six residents, which is where she lives now. As she has transitioned, my turquoise moments with her have done so again as well.


I don’t bathe her anymore. Nor do I pay her bills, as my brother has assumed his responsibilities there as her successor trustee. Since her recent hip-breaking fall, nor do I walk with her in her neighborhood of pretty front yards and roses. Her “assigned” caregiver, Lola, feeds her, cleans her, and along with the hospice workers she now has, repositions her regularly in the hospital bed where she spends her days and nights. So, my moments with my mom have become even more distilled. My turquoise pieces with her are simply this: holding her hand in mine.


I do sing to her still. I talk to her. I stroke her hair and smooth the deep worry lines this hard-working woman etched into her own forehead. Although the words come out garbled mostly, the intonation and cadence of her limited, quietly mumbled speech tells me that she is still there, and does still follow along the meaning of a lot of what I’m saying, shockingly. But her eyes stay mostly closed now, and she sleeps a lot. If I compared my time with her to fishing, I would say that I rarely catch anything big enough to fry.


However, the love remains. This ugly greedy disease has not only been prevented from stealing it, but the love is actually sweeter and deeper now. Simpler. Any edges have long ago been smoothed off. She is sinking under the waters here at our mother-daughter shore, rising to the surface less and less frequently. Nonetheless, I still find treasure here at the water’s edge, still find turquoise spots of joy.


As I hold her hand, she returns my grip. Sometimes she brings my hand to her lips and kisses it. Even if her eyes are closed, and she remains silent, her kiss tells me everything I need to hear from her, as does her grip, and her squeeze. I know the landscape of her hands so well: I still recognize the raised veins I used to play with as a child, although now I find their twins on the back of my own hand in hers. Her polished and shaped fingernails are better maintained than they ever were before, as my younger sister faithfully manicures our mom, in what I suspect are her own turquoise moments.


My mom is still here at the shore with me. Someday soon she will push off and set sail without me. I will surely be deeply sad at that moment, but only for myself. I will miss her so much. But I will not be sad for her. She will finally be free. She will take her place in the symphony I know awaits her: one note among many. One color among many. One precious piece of beach glass among all the rest, her perfected shape and texture reflecting back only the gifts she and this life gave each other; her brilliance radiating the tumbling but not the storms…turquoise forever.

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