You know which COVID-19 heroes aren’t getting enough attention? Seniors, that’s who. And that includes my mom.
I’m not saying this because it’s Mother’s Day weekend and we’re all supposed to say nice things about our moms. Nor am I saying this in some patronizing, “Old people are so sweet” way. No, I’m saying it because, Mom and a lot of other seniors across America are moving through these COVID0-19 times in ways I’m not sure I could muster.
There’s a t-shirt making the rounds these days:
Ain’t that the truth?
On March 11, the doors closed on Mom’s life as she and her fellow assisted living residents Sunrise Senior Living went on lockdown. Since then, none of the residents have left the property. Mother’s Day will mark day sixty of that life.
Can you imagine not leaving your house for sixty days? I’m not talking about “Not leave your house except to go get groceries, gas, walk around the neighborhood and go to the liquor store.” I mean not leave your house at all.
For sixty days? With no end in sight?
As I said, I couldn’t do it.
But Mom’s done it. Though in full disclosure, she did leave Sunrise once to go to the emergency room after a fall. When she came back, she was quarantined in her room for fourteen days.
“Solitary confinement,” Mom called it.
Now that quarantine is over, Mom can leave her room, walk the halls and chat with fellow residents. Twice a day, she meets her friend Becky for coffee in the lobby. Like all of us, they sit six feet apart (Sunrise’s activities director, left without activities to direct, measures the distance every day). They spend an hour or two together. Talking about the coffee, imagining the weather, saying “hello and thank you” to the staff. But that’s it. Other than those few interactions, Mom, Becky and all the other Sunrise residents sit in their rooms. They watch TV alone, check their phones alone, even now eat their meals alone.
It’s the meals that are hardest for Mom, I think. Not so much because of the quality but because they’re served out of styrofoam containers. As one who was raised to not even put a ketchup bottle on the table, it is this indignity that, more than anything, signals to Mom the end of civilization.
She may be right.
I admire Mom’s determination, toughness and resolve. Just as I admire those same traits in other senior friends and family members. I’m looking at you Vicki, Wayne, Carol, Sue, Calvin and Jo.
But it is Mom’s grace that makes her such a special hero for these COVID-19 times. For it is a grace that both calms and inspires.
I’m not talking about a divine grace in which bad things don’t seem to touch her or which Mom greets everything with a “love and light” attitude. I’m talking about a very human grace.
A grace that is affected by these dark times but refuses to be darkened by them.
The source of Mom’s grace is nature.
That may sound odd considering that Mom’s been cooped up in her room, completely separated from nature, for two months. But, you see, Mom has a window. And through that window, she can look outside and remember, inside, what it is to feel the grass under your feet, hear the wind blow and see the birds and bunnies and bugs go on as if nothing has changed. Because for them, for nature, nothing has.
Mom can’t see much through that window. There’s a plot of grass in front of it, a gated garden to the right and just blooming lantanas to the left. It’s on that plot of grass that I stand most every day I visit Mom. After sixty days, you can actually see my shoe print on the grass.
Each day, I pull up, get out of the car, find my spot in the grass and call Mom. As she appears at the window, I ask how her day’s been. She has two responses. Either “It wasn’t half-bad” or “Today was a great day.” Never has she said, “Today was awful” or offered any complaint. Well, other than the styrofoam containers.
From there, Mom will tell me a funny story from her day or talk about Sunrise’s resident dog, Mo-Mo. She’ll ask how my day was, tell me that she likes my shirt or ask if those are new sandals I’m wearing. Lately, she also always asks, “When are you getting your hair cut?”
With the pleasantries out of the way, Mom moves to nature.
“Will you look at those clouds? They look just like cotton candy. Do you remember how much your sister used to love cotton candy? And look at that cloud over there, right behind you. It looks just a like a big bird. Do you see it?”
“Yes Mom,” I do,” I’ll say. “What about that cloud to your right? You can see it moving.”
“It’s a very nice cloud,” she’ll confirm.
Mom will go on to point out each and every bird, squirrel and butterfly she can see. Her favorite obsession, however, are the rabbits that live at Sunrise.
“Here come the bunnies,” she’ll say soon after I arrive. “They’ve been waiting for you.”
And she’s right. I have now been standing in the same place outside Mom’s same window for so long that the Sunrise “bunnies” no longer consider me a threat. Instead, they come hopping over after I arrive. Some days it’s one, others it’s two. One day, there were five of them all gathered around me, munching and reclining and, I’m sure, pooping.
It’s all very Disney.
And very Mom.
When I was a little boy, Mom loved to point out the clouds. She was less concerned that I knew the difference between a cumulus and cirrus cloud and more interested that I see the possibilities in the clouds. That I left my imagination free to make whatever I wanted of the different shapes and sizes and movements. And Mom has always treated animals as if they were friends. She’s never been capable of just pointing out a squirrel or bird. She’ll have a story for it. “Look at that squirrel go. He must be late for dinner,” she’ll say.
Her stories continue to this day. She has one for every bunny at Sunrise.
Because I’m Mom’s son, I do, too.
And in these dark times, on those days when I struggle to get out of bed, much less drive the two miles to see Mom, I am so glad that I do.
Because it is the stories of the bunnies and the clouds that remind us of the eternal truths that sometimes get eclipsed by fear of these times.
The truths that life goes on. Until it doesn’t.
And the truth that grace and heroes and Moms are always there to help you when life feels a bit too hard. Help you look up, look around, and see the way forward. Because, even in the darkest of times, life isn’t half-bad. In fact, it’s mostly good. I know that to be true because, for almost fifty-five years, my Mom hasn’t just told me so.
She has taught me so. Which is why she’s both my hero and my mom.
And, so, Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.
By the way, you’ll be glad to know that you were right. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to eat rabbit again!
The Mom Chronicles is a blog series about a middle-aged son learning to care for his elderly mother.