We are home from the doctor’s appointment, so now it is Mom’s bedtime. If it’s not mealtime or bathroom time or appointment time, it is bedtime. I help her change into her comfy pajamas, ones that are soft and stretchy, but not so slippery that she’ll slide out of bed. I roll Biofreeze onto her shoulder and rub Voltaren liniment on her knees, then a dab of ointment on the pressure sore we’ve been tending for five years. I lift her right leg (by the foot because her legs hurt), and her left, and then swaddle her in a sheet, a blanket, and a spread because the temperature’s only 78. “You good, Mom?” I ask her. “Oh, yes,” she says as if she were settling into a spa day.
She is not really my mom, but I have been calling her “Mom” since I was a teenager. “You’re the daughter I never had,” she told me 48 years ago, three years before I married her son. When my own mother died in 2013, she said, “I’ll be your mother now.” And now it seems natural and absolutely right.
Once Mom is all cozied up, I try to get comfortable for the hour-long storytime. I kick off my shoes and go lie down on the other side of the full bed. The bed creaks with my weight, and it sounds just like Mom’s knees and shoulders. The bed isn’t as old as Mom—97—but I wouldn’t doubt if it’s 50. “Maybe you should buy a new bed, one of those fancy Craftmatic ones, the kind that can incline your head or your feet or your bottom with just a press of a button.
“That would be a waste of money at my age.”
“Well, how about a hospital bed. I think Medicare would pay for it.”
“Not a hospital bed!” She is appalled, as if I suggested we install a ramp or convert her bathtub to a walk-in shower, all things you do for really old people.
I try to fluff up her smushy pillows to cushion my back, to no great effect. I finally just sit up, resting my back on the headboard. More creaking.
I pick up the book I’ve been reading to her for a month, Before Oprah: Ruth Lyons, the Woman Who Created Talk TV, and ask, “Now where did we leave off?” because I don’t remember, but I know she will. Her mind is so sharp, her memory so good, I ask her for phone numbers and recipes and addresses that she knows by heart.
“Ruth just had a stroke and she was in Holmes Hospital. They told everyone she was suffering from exhaustion. At a photo shoot, the photographer noticed her smile was crooked,” she says.
“Oh, yes. Okay.” And I open the book where it’s marked with a store coupon and begin reading.