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  • Writer's pictureLouise Carnachan

What Comes Around

“Your mother’s still alive? Wow! How old is she?” This is not a flattering question. I realize I’m creeping up on “elderly,” but my mother is twenty-nine years older than me which means she’s approaching “antique.” Mom’s the longest-lived person on either side of my family. She’s in assisted living in her home state of New Jersey. She’s lived on the east coast twice as long as she ever lived in California, the state where I (her only child) was born. As sometimes happens with mothers and daughters, ours has been a complicated and difficult relationship. We haven’t lived on the same coast for over forty years.

As my mother has become increasingly physically debilitated, I’ve purchased her clothing. I select the dull (to me) palette she likes. (Is beige even a color?) Occasionally, I slip in a bold hue which prompts compliments from the staff and fellow residents. Experience with the institutional laundry service has taught me to label her belongings, otherwise an item can go missing for months—maybe never to be seen again. I was dismayed when a pretty blue sweater, worn only once, didn’t return from the wash. Almost a year later, by some laundry wizardry, it returned. If an online order is sent directly to Mom, it’s up to the staff to use their labeller. Given how busy they are, pieces can languish for quite a while, tossed unworn over the back of a chair in her room. When it’s been up to me, I’ve used black indelible marker and hoped the name was legible—a problem given the width of a Sharpie point and the length of our last name.

It must’ve been my musings about the labeller that prompted a vision of name tapes I already have residing in my sewing box. They’ve been with me for five decades or longer. My mother ordered them, but for what occasion I’m not sure. For the sweaters I'd inevitably lose at school? For uniforms? For my one-time summer camp experience? It’s embarrassing to realize (after all these years!) that if I snip off the first name, the tag will do nicely for my mother. I’ll be sending wardrobe additions at Christmas and use them then. I think Mom will get a kick out of seeing those name tapes. I’m sure she’ll remember when, why, and how they were obtained.

Before last March, our weekly calls (received on her flip phone) required me to spell any number of misheard words. A benefit of the pandemic lockdown is that her facility has provided an iPad so we can FaceTime twice a week. A staff member sets it up, says hi to me, looks at the screen to coo at the grandcats, then gives us privacy. The sound quality on the pad is superior to Mom’s phone and she can read my lips, a real bonus. Now that we see each other more frequently, our relationship has softened. That and the fact that between us we’re on the cusps of “elderly” and “antique;” rough edges do tend to smooth given enough time.

In a normal year, I make two trips east, scheduled to avoid their worst weather. Health crises took me to New Jersey four times in 2019. There’s been no visit in 2020. My mother is worried we’ll never see each other again in person and who’s to say. We’re not unique in this. So, with an uncertain future and in this COVID moment, I’m grateful for FaceTime and shared memories over a screen.

What’s something unexpected or forgotten that you’ve rediscovered? Please write your comments in the box below.

Sending you appropriately physically distanced encouragement—and a reminder that progress is being made. This won’t last forever!

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