The last time I took a road trip alone with my mother I was 14 years old. We boarded a bus in Boston and headed to Washington D.C. for an “Equal Rights Amendment” march at the Capital. While on the bus an older man began to take far too much interest in me and I was amazed at how quickly and efficiently my Mom handled the situation. I felt safe, she was in control.
My Mom is like that — she quietly and efficiently takes care of everything. The past several years she has been a wonderful caregiver for Dad helping him to remain at home living a full life right up to the end of his days. It occurred to me recently that had Mom passed before Dad, he never would have been able to stay home. Mom did the work of an entire nursing home staff, and she did it with grace, love and humor. At times it is hard for me to imagine Mom without Dad by her side, but that is where the cycle of life finds us today. Dad is gone and Mom remains.
She is still in control and is finding her way on a new path. Although grief is a constant companion, she looks forward to the next phase of her life. Traveling again was high on her list of things to do and so 35 years after our DC trip, Mom and I were on a road trip south again heading from Massachusetts to South Carolina.
I had spent every day of six weeks with Mom. A friend recently asked, “What do you and your Mom find to talk about and do all the time?” Another friend chimed in, “I could never spend that much time with my mother.” For me, time with Mom is easy. We talk, we laugh, we cry some, and we play games, read and share stories. Now we’re traveling.
As we pulled out of her driveway with the car all packed she turned to me and said with a twinkle in her eye, “We’re going far, far away!” Her excitement was contagious. In that moment I realized that perhaps all these years I’ve given my Dad far too much credit for being the adventurous leader of our traveling clan; Mom is every bit the adventurer that Dad was. What a pair they made.
We hadn’t gotten far when Mom exclaimed, “Turn off here — I’m going to make this day interesting.” I did and she did. We detoured to The Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts. What a sight!
As I walked across that beautiful old bridge with Mom it occurred to me that in our youth=crazed culture we are quick to throw out the old and replace with the new. We are a culture of consumers wanting only the newest and the best. But our world is full of old treasures — human and human-created. Why are we so eager to abandon the old? Why aren’t more old bridges turned into garden walkways, fishing peers, community gathering spots? Why aren’t our elders treasured, respected and heard? They have so much to say and we have so much to learn!
As we walked across the bridge we watched a man standing on a board paddling down the river. My mother observed, “That looks fun. I want to learn to do that when I get strong again.” She’s right. It did look like fun and Mom will get strong again. Being a caregiver takes its toll on the giver and I know she wouldn’t have done anything different. But now it’s her time to live, explore, get strong and have some fun. I look forward to the journey and adventures with her.
Time with Mom is easy. I am blessed.
Martha Reed Johnson is a professional storyteller and member of the Story Spinners, which meet in Laurinburg.