I haven’t been seeing much of the gratitude challenge that usually pops up on social media every November. Perhaps my friends and acquaintances are getting jaded, or maybe they’re so frustrated with life during a pandemic that they just can’t find the enthusiasm to be thankful for anything.
They know that Thanksgiving means they have to deal with a big bird, crowded grocery stores, soaring food prices, grumpy families, political differences and the ever-present arguments about masking and vaccinations. Maybe they’ve decided that this year it’s all just too much.
Not in this house.
Since Oct. 1, when my mom started to decline precipitously due to her dementia, I’ve been grateful for every moment with her. Literally every moment. Even the ones when I’ve had to force myself out of a half-sleep to go check on her because of a sound she’s made that I’ve heard on the baby monitor I acquired to keep her within earshot.
I learned quickly I couldn’t really trust the Mom monitor. From my usual hangouts in the kitchen and the den, I would hear her moan or groan or cry out, and I would go to her bedroom at the other end of the house to see what the problem was. Usually, she was sleeping deeply, and the noise was just a combination of her mouth being open and her body involuntarily emitting its response to 96 years of life on Earth.
Often, I’d climb into bed with her and spoon, stroking her arms, her face and her hair. Many times she would seem to calm down, but that was a short-lived illusion. The only thing that ever stilled her agitation was music. Here was a woman who had thousands of hymns and anthems stored deep in her brain from 70 years of playing organ and piano at churches, and she relaxed at my pitiful renditions of the songs to which I could remember the words.
Even without being lucid, she would sometimes “direct” me.
I was grateful for the sounds she made because the silences were scarier. It’s amazing how a woman who wouldn’t trust her knees to support her on a trip to the bathroom could silently twist 180 degrees in her bed, knock off her bedrail, roll onto the carpeted floor and inch her way across the room.
Inevitably, I would have to call one of my brothers to come over and get her back onto the bed because I wasn’t strong enough to lift her on my own. At those times, I was grateful for my brothers, their willingness to help and their proximity.
When she could no longer hold a spoon or fork, I loved the time I spent feeding her. A lifelong slow eater (like her own mother), she would find a way to savor every bite. Simultaneously, she taught me to go at her snail-like pace, deepening my breathing and relaxing while I studied her beautiful face and marveled at the scarcity of wrinkles.
Changing her clothes gave me the opportunity to appreciate her strength and obstinacy as she struggled with me, remembering that she had given birth to five bouncing babies during her young womanhood. I took advantage of those times to give her extra hugs and kisses.
While bathing her had its challenges, I considered it repayment for all the washing she did of her young children. And all their laundry. Did I mention she and my father produced five children?
I didn’t get very much sleep between Sept. 30 and Nov. 21, but my gratitude for having my mother alive and in my house instead of in a facility that could go on lockdown any minute made it bearable. There is no purer love than what a mother has for her child, but I felt like I was tapping into that in reverse.
Though she couldn’t say my name – and likely didn’t remember it, in the first part of the month she would reach up and pull my face down to hers. I thought she wanted to tell me something, but she brought me to her lips so we could kiss.
When I woke up at 7 this past Sunday morning to a beautiful sunrise and a crisp feeling in the air, even on three hours of sleep, I felt grateful for my situation. And when I went in to check on Mom, and there was no life left in her body, I felt a momentary pang but an overwhelming thankfulness that Mary Eleanor Pickle and her God had decided that this was her time to go, on the first morning of the week of Thanksgiving, a decision for which I will always be thankful.
Obituary information here.
Betsy Pickle is a veteran reporter and editor who occasionally likes to share her opinions with KnoxTNToday readers.