Her old brown recliner had become her world. It was as threadbare as was she. A folding tray table sat beside the chair, minimizing the number of times she would have to get up or call for something to be brought to her. Staying put had become a type of staying power. The less she had to move the less she realized that she no longer could.
The television remote control and the remote portable phone were the most valuable tools of trade in this micro-world of the brown recliner. They were both instruments of connection in a realm of increasing discomfort and disconnect. There was safety and stability in the usual TV line up. The infrequent calls were at once welcome interruptions and irritating inconveniences. Perhaps the inquiries shined a light on what she herself didn’t want to see; a life that was growing smaller and smaller by the day. A retrospective sense of health, activity, and vitality. A stagnant place in a culture demanding relevance by accomplishment. A place where the only remaining control was indeed the battery operated remote control.
She was growing more and more remote herself. The diminishing memory added to the sense of a shrinking world. There were palpable voids in conversations, times when I pondered and searched for where she had gone. There were forgotten stories retold and reformulated and retold. Yet there were also stunning moments of the razor sharp wit and the limitless sense of humor that were so much a hallmark of who she was. . She was always a woman of profound paradox, and the ever-dimming contrast let me know the end was growing near. Even the recliner chair and the folding table were becoming too big for her.
In the final months the brown recliner was forced to bow to the hospital beds and the inability to navigate the stairs that led to her favorite perch. My most frequent salutation in the final year of her life was to ask whether or not she was in her chair? When I found that she was I would assure her that knowing where she was let me know that all was well in the world. I meant it. I embraced that for her life was changing and minimizing and that a trajectory had been established that no amount of control or resistance could change.
And now the threadbare chair is empty and Mom is gone. Though I have faith that she has re-emerged into a realm of Limitlessness and Radiance in this moment my world is the world that has somehow grown smaller. Oh, I know that this statement may be met with truisms and well meaning concepts. But in this precious moment of honesty and grief I feel the place where only the sound of her voice and the physical touch of her hand could fill this aching void in my chest. I reflect on the ways her own often painful path had hardened her, making her less accessible and unavailable. And then the beginnings of dementia had actually softened her. She was losing control, and yet she was becoming in ways less remote. More connected and more in touch with love. Her last words to me continue to resound through my being. They were somehow profoundly unlike her and yet indicative of the very depths of her.
My last days with her were spent in the ICU and she was silenced by a ventilator. They were the most beautiful conversations we ever had. There were long periods of direct and deep eye contact which was not her usual style. I could feel my heart entrained with hers, and the love expanding and circling in ways I had never experienced with her. We had moved beyond a need for control or words, and the remoteness of the past months had dissipated until union was our state.
And so this is the beginning of a new and ever-evolving relationship with the woman who gave me life. She is both onto the next great adventure and stunningly intimate within my heart. I both miss her and intimately feel her here. The chair is now empty but not my heart. It was time for her to move on, and I am still in the process of opening to let her go. Or more exactly to let her be. To relish the place where she will always live inside of me, not unlike the way in which I was once carried inside of her.