BY BETH MCLAUGHLIN
OCTOBER 22, 2023
When I was 35, I took a solo trip to Vermont. I spent a few days at a mountain top inn and rode horses every day. Up near Stowe, I hiked to Sterling Pond. Beside those still waters, I sat quietly. All alone, I contemplated the question I had come on this trip to answer. I was there was to decide once and for all if I was going to be a mother. “No” was the answer I heard on the wind and felt in my heart.
Eleven years later, I became a grandmother. This turn of events has become my life’s biggest surprise and even bigger joy. By choosing not to be a mother, I thought I had naturally forfeited the chance to be a grandmother. However, when I married for the second time, two grown step-daughters were part of the deal. That’s how I came to be at the hospital when our twin grandchildren were born. My choice at that mountain pond seemed very far away in a different lifetime. My surprising fortune came bundled inside a baby girl with long, slender fingers and a baby boy with chubby cheeks.
When the twins were one year old, I was on the floor of the living room playing with my grandson. He eventually got tired, and after changing his diaper and before putting on his pajamas, I lathered baby lotion all over him. He tended to have dry skin. As I finished, I noticed him looking at me and I smiled. He smiled in a sleepy way and made the sign for “more.” His tranquil expression from my touch reminded me of a past moment and in my mind’s eye, I saw my father’s face.
My father was slowly dying. It was as if he was simply giving in to the destruction of his cells. It was just him and me in his hospital room. I carefully washed his face and then lathered it with shaving lotion. His beard was still bristly and robust, unlike the rest of him. He moaned quietly in what I hoped was pleasure and I felt the smallest bit of pressure from his cheek on the palm of my hand. His way of asking for more.
Awhile later, my mother entered the room and sat down in the other visitor’s chair. She handed me a can of soda and patted my father on the leg. She indicated his freshly shaved face and nodded approvingly. She opened up her large purse and took out a box. She and I had stopped at the Verizon store for her to purchase a new cellphone. It had taken her a long time to choose one. It would take her even longer to get proficient at using it. My mother was not good with change.
While I gently massaged lotion onto my dad’s hand, she opened the box and took out the parts of the phone. She lined everything up on the bed beside my dad’s leg and began reading the instructions out loud. I tuned her out as I reached for my dad’s other hand.
Once she read the instructions three times, I told her to call me. She practiced opening it and dialing. Then I called her from my phone so she could practice answering it. Methodically, she put in all of her important phone numbers in her contact list. She worked on these tasks for the next hour, constantly seeking my acknowledgment that she was doing everything right. I knew she desperately needed something to focus on outside of this sad hospital room but her anxiety over something so easy was as irritating as the continuous beeps on the hospital machines.
Finally, she put the phone away. She wanted to keep the box in case she needed to return it. The three of us sat there quietly as twilight began to darken the windows. I looked at my father on one side and my mother on the other. I reached for his hand and held it. Then I reached for hers and she gripped mine back with a strength that was in stark contrast to my father’s. I closed my eyes and knew that my dad was letting go at the same time my mom was holding on.
As best I could, I was helping my father move from this life to the next. I was assisting my mother to prepare for a life that would not include her husband by learning a cellphone that she would never use to call him.
I bent forward to pick up my grandson and my father’s face still hovered in my inner vision. I signed the word for “Yes,” then rubbed more lotion on his still chubby legs. He fell asleep just as I lifted him. As I nestled him close, I thought that maybe the only balm for this life we choose and the one that chooses us is a gentle hand and giving “more” whenever we can.
Beth McLaughlin is a writer and narrative coach. She thrives on helping others uncover and tell their stories. This column is coordinated by www.learningtolivewhatsyourstory.org, whose mission is to create educational and conversational opportunities for meaningful intergenerational exchanges on loss, grief, growth and transformation.
Read more at: https://www.centredaily.com/living/liv-columns-blogs/article280758895.html#storylink=cpy