Marty’s mother is 500 miles away and physically deteriorating. She is 86 years old and spent Marty’s stroke years in a nursing home in her home town of Dalhart, a long way from anywhere, a long drive from everywhere. We need to go because I think she is coming to the end of her journey in this life and time.
I met Jean in 1974, a life time ago. Marty and I were in college when I met this woman. She was barely five feet tall, smoked a lot and drank coffee all the time and she took me to a marvelous steak house in Lubbock that had the most fantastic cheese rolls.
To a small town, sheltered boy who was falling in love with her daughter Jean was an interesting mix of southern bell and eccentric middle-aged mother. She was the typical southern Baptist woman attached to a large burly man. She struck me as incredibly worldly and independent but my base view of the world consisted of west Texas.
In the 40 years I have known Marty’s mother I have never been able to really figure her out. She was loving, caring, smart, loyal and very passive aggressive. She grew up a pampered only child adopted by one of the first architects in New Mexico. She didn’t tell Marty she was adopted until Marty and I were in our 30s and Marty needed some medical history. She simply never thought it was important. That was Jean.
I learned pretty quickly that Jean and Marty loved each other but at times, many times they didn’t like each other very much. Jean was to her husband, “You’re right, you’re right, you’re right as rain.” Marty was, “You’re wrong and I’ll prove it.” Jean mastered the art of passive aggression, Marty got the aggressive without the passive part.
They were/are so very different. But they are both dogged determined survivors. Jean is so far away because we wanted her to live her last days close to her home and her friends and with her poor health we didn’t think she would be long for this world. That was eight years ago. Marty’s fight for survival, Marty’s instinct to live come honestly.
Jean has suffered from age related dementia for several years. The dementia was apparent even before her husband died, she had quit being engaged, she had quit being able to fully care for herself years before Arty’s passing.
When I first took Marty back to Dalhart after her 2nd stroke we went to the nursing home and I rolled her into Jean’s room. We hadn’t been there for two years because of the strokes. Jean, who was watching television in her room, immediately sat up in her own wheel chair, startled by seeing Marty, seeing Marty clearly impaired, seeing Marty in her own wheelchair.
It was the second time I had seen Jean, in spite of her dementia, in spite of her physical and cognitive frailty, respond as a mother. She was shocked and clearly dismayed that her daughter, her youngest was in a wheelchair. She looked at me for an explanation and wanted to know what had happened. As I related the stroke stories she reached her hand over to Marty’s, grasped, then patted her hand as they sat together, side-by-side in their chairs. It was one of her finest moments.
Any trip for us is hard because of Marty’s medical condition and overall frailty. This trip, 500 miles, nine hours one way, is best described as arduous. Marty wouldn’t have it any other way. She feels called, compelled to make the trip to sit beside her mother, to touch her mother, to whisper to her mother, maybe for the last time.
Me, I make lists of stuff, I gather stuff, I pack stuff, I load the van, Marty and her caregiver ride, I drive, and drive, and drive some more and then unload everyone and everything at your friendly neighborhood Holiday Inn. It’s a bone cruncher.
Like our other trips to Dalhart we will make a quick turn-around. I don’t like keeping our caregiver away from their family too long and motels aren’t a great place to care for someone who is incapacitated. We get the accessible room, but it’s not very comfortable for any of us.
On Saturday, tomorrow morning, we will get into the van early that morning with all of the associated tools, bags and stuff that are required for Marty’s care. We will turn the van north and I will drive as fast and far as I can without stopping or getting stopped.
We will go see Jean and while she may not know that we were there, she may not respond to me or her daughter, we will know we were there, we will know, Marty will know, she made the trip to reach out and touch her mother one more time.
Its nine hours across Texas from central Texas to the top left hand corner of the panhandle. Its nine hours back, it’s a bone cruncher, it’s worth the effort.