Over the past few months, it’s been harder to visit Mama. I don’t know how I’ll find her– if she’ll have that sweet smile we’ve come to expect, or if she’ll be bent forward in her wheelchair, at times with a forlorn expression. It’s difficult to see her that way and you don’t know what she’s thinking because she can’t express it. It’s unsettling to me as I talk with her and try to cajole a smile but little comes back. At those times I feel fortunate when she’ll at least eat– but even that sometimes requires coaxing.
Overall, I’m amazed at Mama’s resilience; she’s ninety-six and has lived past many of her family and friends. Physically, she has been pretty healthy fighting off illnesses that others have succumbed to.
On the days when she has that disturbing look, it’s hard for me to erase that sad image from my mind. When I leave Parkview to return home, I keep thinking there’s something I could do to relieve whatever has produced that facial expression. I go through my checklist: Is she in pain? Did something she see upset her? Is she sad? I fall short of any answer other than “I don’t think so.”
Recently I pulled out our family photos and searched for ones with Mama. What I was drawn to was her face. I looked at her expressions over the years and was reminded of the things that brought smiles.
I found a photo of Mama in her sixties when she took painting classes. That was the first time she produced art for ‘art’s sake.’ She’d always been good at sketching. I remember her standing in front of the display windows at Belk’s and drawing the dress on the mannequin. She took it to the Jonesboro Fabric Store and picked out a Simplicity pattern that looked most like the dress in the window, then adapted the pattern. She was an excellent seamstress– and while I think she enjoyed some of that, a lot of the time she was under pressure to meet a deadline– like Easter dresses for all three of her daughters.
With painting, she had no deadline and enjoyed working in oils, attending the class with her friend Hazel. She was proud of her work and enjoyed gifting us with her creations.
My photo albums had many pictures of Mama with her seven grandchildren. Now that I’m a grandmother, I understand the joy that brings. When each child was born, Mama was there to help and to hold that precious bundle. I love this picture of Mama holding my younger son, Ross.
Mama enjoyed time with my husband’s parents as they shared the joy of our two sons. After Mr. Riddle died, Mama and Mrs. Riddle, Mary Dell often came together to visit, driving from the hometown while talking about things back in ‘the old days.’
I also remember how Mama enjoyed her time with her ‘male friend,’ James whom she dated for about seventeen years. Mama flourished with his attention. They liked working together in her big yard, just as Mama and Daddy had often done. She didn’t want to remarry but liked James’s company. They went on church trips together and he made her feel special with presents and cards. She liked that he loved her children and grandchildren– even though he and his wife never had kids.
In winter of 2012, we were planning for Brooks and Emily’s wedding in the mountains of Tennessee near Knoxville. Mama was still living in her home with round-the-clock caregivers. When were were discussing the arrangements for family coming from North Carolina, Brooks came to me with his only request.
“Mom, I have to have Grandma Rosser at my wedding. That’s the only thing I ask– however you can make that happen.”
It was hard just to get Mama to her brother’s for a visit; how would we manage taking her to Tennessee and staying in an unfamiliar place? I knew she wouldn’t remember the wedding, but at the same time, she would want to be there and she would be in the pictures, forever.
I was so grateful when my sisters stepped up and said they would take care of Mama getting to the wedding.
The photos of Mama on that snowy February day are the most tender for me.
She liked seeing herself in the pictures and smiled when we told her how sharp she looked in her purple dress, that matched ‘her twin’ Mary Dell, who wore a rose-colored dress of identical style.
Now, when I look back at these pictures and think of Mama, I remember how people would say to her, “Mary, you’ve had a full life.”
Mama would nod in agreement and respond, “I’ve been blest.”
While there are times now, when her face doesn’t exhibit that smile, I know all those memories of her life reside inside of her. She is not forlorn; she is ninety-six years of fully lived experiences and the accumulated joy of seven children and eight great-grandchildren.
She is blest.
How About You?
Is there an image of one of your loved ones that has changed and is disturbing for you?
How can you bring a more full and accurate life-image to mind?