Something She Must Do Herself

Mom at 22.

Mom at 22.

She was weak before the accident and more severely weakened after it. The orthopedic surgeon said her arm was shattered and because she was an extremely high risk for surgery, he’d settled for Option #2 – putting her under for the 10 minutes it would take to reshape her arm and hold it in place while they cast it. It would not afford her the mobility she would otherwise have had, but she would have some use of it even if it didn’t work quite as it once did.

There was a time when her hands did what she wanted them to do. When we were kids, Mom didn’t have a lot of free time, but on Sundays she played games with us. Our favorites were Sorry and Monopoly, one game sometimes taking an entire afternoon to play, and a card game called War – so fast-paced we played it over and over again. Sometimes Mom made popcorn on the stove, put it in a big bowl, and we’d eat it as we sat around the game board on the floor in the living room. When she was able to set aside a few extra dollars, she took us to a movie and bought us milkshakes at Isaly’s or took us to the park to play and swim.

She was always busy cooking, cleaning, making our clothes, washing and ironing, keeping the shack we lived in as clean as possible, and making curtains for the scarred windows to make it look more like a real home.

When my sister came home from school with lice in her hair, Sunday game time was put on hold, and Mom spent the entire afternoon and evening going through my sister’s long, thick, black hair, one hair at a time, picking out the nits. It was a painstaking process, but her fingers were deft then. They could do anything.

But those same fingers that once pushed our clothes through a hand-wringer washing machine, now struggled to push the buttons through the buttonholes on her blouse.

Her hands ironed my father’s work shirts for his shift at B&W, and later, after he left us with nothing, they ironed a bushel basket full of white dress shirts each week for the men of other wives with easier lives. Each bushel basket contained 20 damp shirts rolled up like newspapers. Twenty white dress shirts to be starched and wrinkle-free. A pristine job earned her $5 for the basketful. If the owner was dissatisfied with even one shirt – Mom got nothing for her efforts.

Those same hands that made most of our clothes using material selected from the pile of remnants on the bargain basement table at Marshall’s in Barberton, now have difficulty pushing a button on the tv’s remote control because the arthritis in them is so bad.

Mom’s hands have wallpapered, cooked, sewn, crocheted, and knitted for far more years than they haven’t. There is a picture of a flower-patterned, intricately crocheted tablecloth on top of a lamp table in front of which my sister and I are sitting when we were about 4 and 6 years old. Mom had placed a small Christmas tree on top of it, and Christmas icicles were dangling from it behind our heads as the photo was taken. Mom made that decorative piece the year before I was born – it now graces my own dining room table.

Those hands that took care of us and did so many things with such ease falter now trying to push the nurse call button. They experience difficulty pushing her up from her chair or pulling a blanket over her in bed. She’s a little better after all the physical therapy, but not enough.

She tries to lift her left arm so she can use her fingers to utilize the utensils she needs to cut and pick up her food, but it proves difficult. She tries again and it’s hard to watch her struggle and not jump in to help, but we are told not to. It is something she must do herself. The fiberglass cast stretching from her shoulder to just below the first knuckles of her fingers is too heavy to lift with her good arm which isn’t strong either. Her fingers shake as she attempts to grab those fingers on her other hand which are semi-contained by her cast. I want to cry. Her entire life has always been a struggle.

She works hard to get strong enough to go home. All she wants to do is go home, but she will not have to do everything herself this time. We will extend our hands, returning the gift she gave us. We will take care of her now.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.





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