Widowed at 58, my mother refused to wear her grief. Fiercely proud, stubborn and independent, she permitted not one outward sign of change in her life. She had lived on the family farm for thirty-eight years, and ignored all entreaties to leave it, move into town, develop new social networks, and meet new people. Her replies were always the same: “This is my land. I’m never leaving it.“
A lover of current events, her daily newspaper filled a critical spot in her morning routine; she read it from front to back, saving the crossword puzzle for last. The nightly news was never to be missed, and in spite of her hearing decline, a TV in both her kitchen and living room ensured that she missed never a word. Regardless of her location, one of the TVs was always on: talk shows and game shows brought daily guests into her home. Late at night in her bedroom, the radio lulled her to sleep and gently coaxed her to awaken every morning. Shuffling to the kitchen on rising, the TV was switched on even before making her first cup of coffee.
Prior to retirement, my visits to Mom were rarely more than weekly, but quick and frequent phone calls between us were common. I enjoyed her wit, and her intellect. We had many lively discussions about politics, controversial social issues, and today’s ‘morally bereft’ youth. She was never wrong, refused to concede a single point and quoted the Bible when she couldn’t convince me I was wrong. Being the apple that hadn't fallen far from the tree, I could not be forced into submission but hers was always the last word and I knew when to let it go.
At the age of 80 and at my prodding, she finally engaged a family doctor. It gave her great pleasure to tell him she hadn’t seen a doctor in forty years and really only needed him now because she could no longer manage to irrigate her ears to remove wax build up. Mocking me, twenty years her junior, for the two daily prescription medications I took gave her much delight. She took no medications, had no chronic medical conditions, and was in perfect health.
It was a surprise then, when she admitted to me one day that she’d been worrying about her gait, afraid that her knees would buckle when she walked. Swallowing her pride, she began using a cane, but only when on unfamiliar terrain. Her driving patterns also changed: she no longer drove outside the three mile radius from farm to grocery store, church, and the nursing home where her sister lived. Driving after sunset was out of the question. I chose to believe her self- imposed driving restrictions were a reasoned act of respect and care for other drivers. Wishing so much more for her, it deeply saddened me to see what I identified as her very small life.