Went to the mall today. Partly, after overeating yesterday, I just wanted to get up and move. But partly, I needed to confront the mall on the mall-est day ever. I needed to stare down my grief, and the mall was my place with Mom.
I have been to the mall only a handful of times since 2007. 2007 is when Mom became unable to go with me. At first we struggled to get Mom in and out of the car, and for a while we could. It wasn’t mobility which was the issue. Back then, it was explaining getting into the car and finding the right words to convey that the ride was something non-scary. E would try to take Mom’s hand and joke and make things fun while encouraging her to sit down in the passenger seat. I’d get into the driver’s seat and smile and coerce from the inside. Little by little, we’d convince Mom to trust. Occasionally, plans were thwarted. It felt triumphant when we were off and rolling. Getting into the car might be a 45 min process.
Mobility became an issue after 2008, when Mom broke her hip. Then, it was impossible to take Mom in the car. There was just no way any of us wanted to risk hurting her. So, we’d ask Sunrise when they might be able to go to the mall, but trips were few.
Since Mom couldn’t go to the mall, I couldn’t go to the mall. When I tried, I’d wind up crying. Mostly, since the thought alone would make me cry, I didn’t even try. My mall trips were confined to Christmas shopping, one trip, pushed as far out as possible.
We did have a good mall trip in 2009. Mom rode on the Sunrise bus, so she stayed in her chair for the whole ride. We met her, with a caregiver, at the mall, after following behind the bus. Mom was so happy. We ate at Johnny Rockets for what was to be the last time. We ate our traditional fare, and I resented the caregiver for needing to be there, God bless her. She didn’t know. Secretly, she represented to me all the challenges stepping between me and my Mom, all the ailing health- my Mom’s physically and my own emotionally.
During that trip, Mom was so happy. I was flat broke and could not buy more than lunch. I told Mom we’d buy her anything she wanted, that money was no object. My plan was: nothing. No plan. Just spend now and somehow beg or borrow money afterwards, or go to prison, or whatever came. As it was, Mom didn’t want much. She reached out and touched everything from her chair. We stopped every few feet it seemed so Mom could enjoy just feeling the soft fabrics. I had five dollars in my bank account, and I spent all of it on socks for Mom. She had really latched onto this one set of socks, twisting and turning, really looking at it. The socks were white with blue embroidered flowers. Mom always loved blue. After all she had done for me, the sock purchase seemed pithy, but not to Mom. She held them, admiring like she had a bar of gold in her hands.
Years that followed, I would say to her as we sat at Sunrise, “What do you say, Mom? Should we go to the mall sometime? Let’s spend money we don’t have.” That was one of Mom’s favorite catch phrases for years, so when I repeated it, her eyes sparkled.
“Let’s go,” Mom would say, nodding her head towards the door. Smiling, she would try to get up from her chair.
“Well, maybe not today. We need the bus,” I’d explain. “And you know what else? I’m going to save up some money. When we go, I’ll buy you anything you want.” I hated that I could not afford to charter a bus and caregiver, so we might go every week.
Pretty soon, it was routine. I’d ask, and Mom would respond. Mom and I both knew. Sometimes, I would tell her, “Mom, you know, I don’t go to the mall anymore. I don’t go without you.” That was truth.
The mall was our place.
Back in the early 2000’s, I’d sometimes ask Mom to come over on the weekend. “No, honey, you need your time as a little family. You don’t want an old lady there.”
“Yes, I do. I miss you!” I’d explain.
“Well, maybe you do, but husbands don’t want to look at their Mother-in-laws all weekend,” Mom would counter. Then she’d add, “You kids do something fun today. I’ll be on your porch first thing Monday morning.”
And, when E might be too tired to do much, or the kids were too busy, loneliness would set in. I’d suggest, “Hey, let’s go to the mall.”
Off we’d go, my knowing darn well the eventuality.
We’d be walking down the mall, Disney bags in hand, or leaving the play area, when I’d look up and see Mom’s familiar face.
“Well, look who we have here,” she’d say, putting her hand on her hip. I’d hug her, so glad to find her.
“Since we met up here… you might as well come home and have dinner with us…”
“Oh, honey!” Mom would smile. The kids would resound with a million “Pleeeeease, Grandma??!’s,” pulling at her purse, asking to ride home in her car, or could she ride home in our car and E take her car back. They were like glue on her, as was I.
“Oh, okay,” Mom would say, “How can I resist my Grandchildren?” and she would thumb and index finger under their chins, or pat their heads.
Today, every corner I turned, I expected to find her. I expected to hear, “Well, look who we have here?!”
I cried several times. I’m crying now.
Mom wasn’t there. But I went and I stared grief in its ugly, God forsaken face and I sneered. Maybe that is step one.
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