Maria begged this backyard barbeque would give her a break from her mother. For the third time in the last ten minutes, she had to remind Hazel she was her daughter. Surrounded by family members, she prayed that one of them would relieve her of her caretaking duties, even if just for five minutes. Once her brother announced that dinner was ready, she took the chance to get away. She loved her mother, but that woman wasn’t her mother anymore. She flipped her off whenever she was upset and failed to filter every thought she had about the mailman. During the two minutes away from her, Maria got her a plate of food and relished in small talk with adults who didn’t repeat themselves. She never enjoyed chatting about the weather, but she was now extremely excited to hear it was going to rain all weekend long.
Her niece graduated from college for the second time. She was the first in their family to get a master’s degree. Throughout the ceremony, Hazel asked where they were thirty times. “Your granddaughter is graduating.” At the end of the show, the sick woman faked smiles to blend in. She forgot her family members’ names, but she still knew the effect of a smile.
Maria had a degree and years of experience in nursing, so when Hazel’s condition worsened five years ago, she was called on to take care of her. At that time, she made sure she took her medicine and went to the doctor when problems arose. A few years later, she watched Dirty Dancing five times a day and remodeled the bathroom so her mom could have a walk-in shower. From checking the remote control batteries to preventing falls, everything she did nowadays anticipated a fast decline. The nurse in her knew it could be right around the corner, but as a daughter she wished to teleport back a decade.
Having been married and divorced, Maria always loved her pets. For the last twenty years, she always had a cat, dog, or multiple filling the void of loneliness. They meant even more, while her mother cussed her out for the house being too cold. She had worked with countless elderly patients, but none of them stung like this one. When the woman who raised her forgot who she was, her heart aged a few years in one second.
Back to the family gathering, she made her way around the kitchen counter. A spread of classics greeted her. Potato salad, watermelon wedges, brats, and burgers all invited her to return to the past, when her mother would laugh and share stories over piles of food. Her plate was filled, but the other looked fit for a child. Hazel’s appetite shrank over the past few years. To avoid the repeated comments of “I just can’t eat like I used to,” Maria hasn’t given her a full plate in years. Going to the local diner was a nightmare. “What is this? What did I order? I can’t eat this all. I can’t eat like I used to. Maria, what is this?”
Her family helped out by giving her breaks. They’d take Hazel to lunch or watch Dirty Dancing. During these times, Maria would run errands without having to drag alongside her mother. She could walk fast, just how she preferred. She could go on mini vacations. A weekend at her old house in Michigan. Once a home, now an escape. As her mother’s health got worse, her breaks grew shorter and more bittersweet. She couldn’t afford to be too far away for too long, and when she did take breaks, her mind swirled. “Did Mom take her meds? Did she fall? Did she remember to brush her teeth? Did she eat?” Even after her mother would pass away, she knew her thoughts would still spin. “I should’ve taken her on more walks. I should’ve been there since the beginning. I shouldn’t have vacationed so much.” If her mind never settled, could her mother’s soul ever rest? Maria’s freedom would never return.
She loved her mom, but love was becoming more difficult. She dreamed of the day when she didn’t have to make a plate of food for her mother. Going through a buffet line with both hands full and slowing it down for everyone behind her. She hated these thoughts. She wanted to be a resilient daughter. The woman who gave her life should’ve always been her priority. Alas, Maria was human and tired.
Last week, she learned her coworker’s husband managed a funeral home. Every day since then, she thought about planning her mother’s finale to life. She wasn’t about to become an angel of mercy, but she knew better than anyone how quickly Hazel’s condition worsened.
With more bathroom accidents and starting to forget where she was, Hazel grew more scared. The last few years of her life had only gotten worse and worse. Since she lost Denny, she had never been the same for reasons she couldn’t control. The day Hazel would forget her husband would be the day Maria gets her 24/7 assistance. Along with that, her mood would worsen, and she’d need help with basic physical activities.
Maria was tired and running out of patience to take care of a woman who was no longer her mother. Every day, she debated the mind-body problem, pondering which was more important to identify with. Ultimately, she pushed through, telling herself every morning and night that her mother was still there. Despite the memories lost, her mother was not gone yet. Instead, she was more distant. However, looking, talking, laughing, and smelling like the mother she knew had to count for something.
With two plates in hand and someone to open the patio door for her, Maria made her way back to her mother. Hazel thanked her for the food, asked what it was, and asked who the young woman across the table was. “That’s your granddaughter Melanie.”
“And who are you?”
“I’m your daughter, Mom.”