Recently, in my ninety-nine-year-old mother’s bedroom, I saw the best bridge of my life.
Like most people I have crossed many bridges. I have driven and walked across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge; marveled as I drove across the Verrazano Narrows and Brooklyn Bridges; studied while walking across the Mathematical Bridge in Oxford, England; and enjoyed the two tracks of trains crossing the Mississippi River next to Route 90 on the Huey Long Bridge as I ran along the levee. Other and lesser bridges I have crossed and even noticed during my crossing, but the ones mentioned above stand out; yet what I witnessed in my aged mother’s bedroom is the best and most beautiful bridge of my life.
My mother has suffered full-blown Alzheimer’s for several years, and she became bed-ridden a few months ago. Now she just lies in her bed; her brown eyes look, and her ears hear; but she does not speak. However, her appetite is good, so the wonderous bridge I saw two days ago was watching one of my mother’s grandchildren feed her lunch.
With her back to me, granddaughter Rebecca carefully fed Mother home-made chicken soup. Pausing to allow Mother to chew, she would respond to a question of mine or make a statement of her own. Sometimes, Rebecca added water to the soup. We shared our lack for understanding of how Mother was still alive and agreed that her state of life did not seem to us to be a very noble end for such a powerful life. Once while wiping Mother’s chin, Rebecca observed that her chewing was a mechanical movement from a long-lived life; yet, when wanting more soup, Mother would face her granddaughter and open her mouth. Patient and loving and respectful, Rebecca would spoon Mother small bites and wait for her to chew. Once, she remarked how one of her twin daughters along with a sibling of mine and me carried a strong physical resemblance to a facial characteristic of her grandmother. I told Rebecca her kindness reminded me of the photograph taken years before of Mother and her sitting in the front-porch swing-both of then smiling and happy to be close. We talked of car trips to 312, Mother’s little house on the Mill Hill, and how one late night after a long car ride, she greeted us with cheese biscuits. Rebecca recalled how, if a child was fortunate, Mother would take her or him from the large pallet in the living room where three or four children were sleeping and snuggle the child in her bed to sleep until breakfast. When she was the chosen one, Rebecca said, she was always surprised at how heavy the quilts on Mother’s bed were. Rebecca noted that today’s research supports the use of heavy covering for a better night’s sleep and said of the old ones like Mother, “They knew, didn’t they?”
Mother sat upright, held in the rented bed, chewing her small lunch of chicken soup as Rebecca lovingly fed her. Unable now to do anything on her own but to look and hear, Mother is now the child being cared for by her daughters and granddaughters and paid caregivers. Rebecca fed her Maw-Maw as she recalled some of her other memories, listened to a few of mine, and pointed out family genes and ways, such as walking in the yard while brushing teeth. Rebecca observed, “It’s Just Family.” And later, while driving home, I realized that just family is the best and most blessed bridge any of us can ever have for a crossing.