You never thought the day would come when you said this, but Mama needs to be able to speak her needs more often. If she can’t dial 911, she needs to at least be able to fuss at someone else to do it. This strong woman has never had a tiny voice in her whole life. Growing up as one of nine children and then later after having five of her own, she could have commanded a submarine, if necessary.
She aged after your father died suddenly, and then later was diagnosed with Parkinsons. Mama mellowed and became a wee bit less demanding. Your saintly sisters live in the same town and help take care of her, and there are angel caregivers now as well.
During her last visit to Atlanta to see you, some years ago, she was her usual bubbly self–wanting to explore, experience, discover: High Museum, Phipps Plaza, Swan Coach House, Lobster Bar. She had a cane, and couldn’t get around very well. We’d take her arm. Your husband was a dream, working with her; he is a master at taking care of the elderly. The kids told her funny stories and she gave off her rich chuckle.
Her final night at our house, you kissed her good-night as she disappeared into the guest room to change. Later, your son heard a constant sing-song as he went to bed. After awhile, he realized that it was a plea coming from the guest room.
“Yoo, hoo,” he heard a faint sound. ”Yoo hoo.” Almost owlish. Meanwhile, you and your husband, further down the hall, were sound asleep. Your son knocked on your bedroom door and said, “Mimi needs you!” He found her down on the floor. You all descended on the guest room and found that your sweet Mother has fallen on the carpet.
Mama was a lying in a tangle of mint green negligee, flat on her back; apparently she had stumbled over the bathroom threshold. You all helped her up; she was totally fine and alert–just sheepish. We tucked her in, and thanked our son for hearing her. Thank God.
The next day, you woke up feeling so worried. After helping her downstairs, over eggs and coffee, you announced, “Mama, you have got to learn to call for help!”
“Well, honey, I did call for help.”
“No, Mama, I mean call out, as in HELP!” you said, loudly, to get your point across. Your mother was always a dignified, discreet woman, but there was never a doubt who was in charge. What had happened to her beautiful bossy voice? Mama needed to speak up! Funny, this is something your mother told you, when you were a little girl. Had Mama gotten shy? But there’s no time for being shy, when your health is at stake.
The following summer, you all descended on the annual family reunion near Pawleys Island. Your older brother had kindly invited Mama to stay at his beach house with his family. She was now in a wheelchair most of the time; Mama couldn’t get around on her own anymore, especially from bed to wheelchair.
After a fun night of low country boil and charades, you all left and your brother and his family turned in for bed. Mama was all tucked in, and lights went out.
An hour or so later, your teenaged niece and nephew heard a tiny, “Yip, yip.“
Then a few minutes later, “Yip, yip.”
Finally they ventured down the hallway, and found Mama half hanging out of the rented hospital bed–she had been trying to spring herself out.
“Dad!” they yelled, easing her back up. Things were quickly remedied, and Mama was tucked back in with a gentle scolding. Thank goodness that neither incident was a serious emergency; from this point on, a caregiver will accompany Mama.
You sat down with her the next day, and fed her flounder and grits. Sometimes she catches the fact that you are sporking her stuff, and she gets all high and mighty, and turns away. But today, you were feeling fierce. Fierce about her being safe. How the tables have turned.
“Mama, you cannot just yell yip yip, if you are falling out of bed.”
“I was fine, honey–”
“No, you weren’t fine. I want to hear you yell, Help!”
No, I mean really. No more yoo hoo and yip yip. Yell out. You’re a strong woman. You raised three girls and two boys. HELP!”
“Help,” she said faintly, smiling. How you love her smile.
Today, Mama is doing well in her assisted living room, but is still working on uttering the simple word, help!
Lord bless her.