6.01.2006

Grilled Cheese

I have been missing my mom a lot lately. She was always able to make everything better. All I ever had to do was call and tell her I needed her and she would be right there. Usually, her first solution to any ailment, be it the fever or flu; grief or exhaustion; was to “go lay down.”

What was great about this was that while you slept she whipped your daily life back into shape. She did the dishes. She folded the laundry. (The woman could fold anything you gave her into a perfect 10 X 10 square - even fitted sheets!) She would do the dishes, clean out your fridge and organize your pantry - all before bathing and feeding the kids.

Then, most importantly, she made you grilled cheese sandwiches.


Yup. Good old fashioned grilled cheese. White bread and American cheese. Perfectly grilled to a nice even tan. To this day I have never eaten a grilled cheese that came even close to comparing to my mom’s.

I think it was really all about just letting someone else be in charge for a while. I was only able to rest so well because I knew she was on the job. And believe me, nothing bad was gonna happen on her watch. Even if it did, she would have it all fixed before I woke up. She was just like that.

I could have shown up on my mom’s doorstep in the middle of the night and said, “I just killed a man,” and my mom would have shaken her head in only brief disappointment before she responded, “ Dammit! Let me get dressed and I’ll be right out to help you hide the body. If you must kill people I wish you’d at least do it at a reasonable hour.” Then she would grouse a bit as she gathered the appropriate tools for hiding a body.

Yeah, that is another thing. My mom always had the right tool for any job.  She had things in the garage that I never learned the purpose for.

She died almost 5 years ago and I still miss her like crazy. Lately I have had times where I have really needed one of those damned sandwiches. My laundry never gets folded, the dishes have water spots and my fridge currently has a pizza box balanced precariously on top of the milk carton, which is kind of stuck to the shelf with some sort of goo resembling spilled yogurt.

Is it any surprise that my life started falling apart proportionally to my mom’s mental health? As her Alzheimer’s progressed I spent much energy railing against the unfairness of it all and driving her to and from doctor’s appointments. What little energy I had left was used up trying to just hold myself together. RB moved out the same week my mom was admitted to the nursing home. I do not even remember which happened first.

All I know is that was the most difficult year of my life. I was defending my ability to parent my child while also saying goodbye to my mom. At one point RB even claimed that the time I was spending at the nursing home was subjecting my son to neglect. Meanwhile, mom had declined into an almost comatose state and my family kept hinting that I needed to be by her side more. In between all of this I was looking for my first job in almost a decade, visiting potential daycares and shuttling my kid to regular therapy appointments. I was also negotiating mom’s health care options, managing her accounts and feeding her cat. I was involved in two civil lawsuits in addition to the divorce. I was, quite simply, just barely holding it together.

That is the state I was in one Sunday afternoon when I went to the nursing home. Apparently the usual entourage of family members had scattered for lunch. It was once again just me and my mom. I found myself tearfully telling her how scared and how tired I was. The more I talked the more emotion came out. Of course she could not respond, but I knew what she would have said.

“You need to go lay down.” She would have said.

So I did.

I lowered the side rail to her hospital bed and climbed in. I curled up next to her with my head on her chest and for the next two hours we both let someone else be in charge. I drifted off comforted by her smell, by the smooth feel of her now paper thin skin and by the sound of her heartbeat against my ear.

When I woke up I did feel better.

Mom died two days later, but her final act, though one borne of her very inactivity, had been to give me one last rest on her watch. I consider that to have been an incredible and precious gift.

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Having limitations on your lifestyle is NOT the same as being poor.