Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Voice from the Bed

My mother was sick recently. Like really sick. Hospitalized sick.

First there was my mom at 80 - spry, the mall walking, seniorcizing ball of energy. Then there was her auto accident a little over a year ago and things changed. Suddenly there was my mom, her couch, her TV remote and her phones lined up in front of her. A smaller life and an older mom where suddenly taking a walk meant walking to the kitchen.

So she got sick like that, just sitting on the couch with not even a breeze blowing by and it was the usual mayhem in the hospital - seven sisters showing up here and there, and grandchildren and husbands and the nurses wondering exactly how many offspring one woman could have anyway?

I knew I had to leave for Chicago right before she was getting out since I was appearing at a Jewish United Fund event for my book but how was I supposed to leave her that way?

I was pondering that, sitting in the hospital room, the oxygen machine hissing away, watching the IV drip, when I suddenly heard my mom's voice from the bed.

"What are you wearing for the presentation? You bought something new?"

Like swimming out of the murky depths of old age, my mother suddenly reappeared before me, as evidenced by her lifelong obsession with the buying of clothes. I breathed a sigh of relief. Nothing could convince me my mother was on the mend more than her quizzing me about clothes.

(that's me in the center at JUF event)

"I have a great outfit, Ma. A brown sweater dress, Clark boot shoes, brown tights and a jacket."

She looks at me askance. She's unhappy, but not exactly with my outfit. She's unhappy that I've taken care of it already and out of my own closet without going shopping. Going shopping in my closet doesn't count. With my mother every event must be shopped for anew even if you have the clothes already. Then she moves on to a different event.

"What about for Joan Rivers?" Somehow, she can't remember how to boil an egg but she remembers my itinerary in Chicago with a mind like a steel trap.

"Gray dress, black jacket, black boots and tights."  
She nods but I can tell that she's a little let down. She really wanted to plot out a shopping trip, a meandering path of me traipsing from store to store to store searching for the perfect outfit. Or, based on her history as a lifelong seamstress, her sewing it for me.

When I see that she's about to question me about all the other clothes I'll be wearing and, more importantly, whether I'll be dressed warm enough, I take over and I become the mother again.

When I return from Chicago, she's out of the hospital but back on the couch, the oxygen hissing next to her. But there's still part of her there. I visit her the morning after we return, sit down next to her on that couch. She says, "How'd the outfit go?"

Is there any one topic that your parent(s) love talking about or that you know when they bring it up that they're on the mend? Any aging parent issues?

Linda Pressman
Author of Looking Up: A Memoir of Sisters, Survivors and Skokie


  1. I love love love the way you write.


  2. I love your mother! And I'm glad she is on the mend. She's right, you know? Every new occasion deserves a new outfit and a shopping trip ;-)

  3. Hi Carly (Miz!), thank you for the great compliment! I'm absolutely committed to pay attention to my poor, overlooked blog, at least once a week! I finally realized that, in its own way, this blog is a photo album of my children's (an my mother's) lives and I need to keep writing this stuff down!

  4. Jennifer, I actually shopped and shopped until I realized I already had the best and most suitable clothes in my closet. But, hey, I did buy new boots! That should count, right? :)

  5. I love this, and the way in the face of a dismal situation there is a history that binds you both, one that lifts you out of the present and pushes you forward. Lovely!

  6. Hi Michelle, it's both the wonderful thing and the most awful thing about losing someone in degrees instead of all at once. There's this very long goodbye as parts of them disappear and then there's the craziness of the denial that springs up every time you see the "young mom" for a glimpse or two.

  7. This made me think of my mother, a strong women that has been there so many times over throughout my life....when the time came to find a nursing home to help her with her daily needs i stumbled upon a website I wasn't sure what to make of it at first, but found it to be quite useful in finding the nursing home that i needed as well as Jewish products for the home in their full range marketplace.

    Their homepage is

    Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!