Mom was going to have to stay in skilled nursing until May since there was no way she could take care of herself. One of the hardest things I have ever done was to walk out of there and drive back to Oklahoma. She was fine with it though; she had her friends there with her most of the day and talking about who was at the latest dinner at the Moose Club was far nicer than talking to me about moving to Oklahoma.
Some of her friends tried to convince me that she would get better and, if given enough time, she would be able to return to her apartment. I know how bad they wanted that to be true but Bill and I knew that was never going to happen. The day she fell and was taken to the hospital was the last day she ever set foot in her apartment.
We set a date in May for the move. We hired a moving company to pack up her belongings and transport them to a storage facility in Oklahoma City. We got to Illinois two days before the movers were to arrive so that we could get the drawers and closets cleaned out and pregame the whole moving operation. Her living room, dining room, bedroom, and kitchen were all in decent order - except for all the digital cable boxes and remotes still in their wrappers on the dining room table - but the spare bedroom was unbelievable. Piles of clothes and stuff everywhere. There was a card table set up and on top of it was just…so much stuff; letters, bills, knick knacks, broken things, envelopes, gift bags, things from “gift with purchase” promotions. I didn’t know where to start.
There was a huge pile of purses in the corner; each layer of about five purses had a towel on top of them to separate the layers. At least a third still had the price tag on and, of the ones that had been used, most still had money in them. Not a lot, but by the time we were done we had several hundred dollars in ones. And that was just the purses. We found a major stash of cash in a basket in her closet and under the silverware in the kitchen. There was money in some of the weirdest places. Open a book and there it was. Look in a mug and there’s more. Every few minutes, one of us would shout out “cash!”. In all this crazy mess, we worked together and occasionally just sat back and laughed. We needed to find something to laugh about.
To make herself feel more secure, I guess, she had put a very large knife in the bathroom in between layers of hand towels. I found this out when I picked up the towels to put them in the wash. The knife fell out and onto my foot, thankfully not tip down. There was another layer of towels in her bedroom on the dresser which we approached like we were walking up to a bomb. By this time, we had learned to be cautious. Good thing since in between the towels was a loaded handgun. With a bullet jammed in the chamber.
We started wearing gloves because we began to come across mouse droppings. The deeper in we got the more we found; the closet floors were covered. She had a major mouse infestation that had been going on for a very, very long time. She had to have seen it. Or not. I guess that when day to day existence becomes so stressful and scary that kind of thing doesn’t matter anymore. From the mom that I had known to the woman who had occupied this apartment was a long leap. I was horrified at the thought of how scared she must have been for months. Maybe even years. She always came to visit me since this is where her grandkids are so I just didn’t know how bad things had gotten. Our strange conversations over the last months and the nagging feeling that something was “off” was beginning to make even more sense.
The moving out experience itself was far better than we could have ever hoped for. The guys that showed up were hard workers, and best of all, hilarious. They had a pop playlist from the 90s playing while they packed and they sang along to Britney, Christina, NSYNC, Savage Garden – all of them. We had a game of “Name That Tune” going and I sang along to a few (a lot) with them – knowing all the words is one of the many cool benefits of raising a daughter in that decade. It was just what we needed.
Everything was done in two days and we were told by the apartment manager that since mom had lived there for 30 years, they were going to be repainting, putting in new carpeting, and new appliances. We didn’t need to do a thing. And, best of all, any furniture or items that we weren’t going to take to Oklahoma could be left in the apartment and they would take care of it through donation or by taking it to the trash. Her kindness and the sense of relief she gave us - there really are no words to describe it.
I feel like it’s important to say that mom wasn't absolutely alone. She did have her friends and they did what they could. But sometimes we are lucky enough to find a friend who turns out to be more than a friend - more like a life line that keeps our head above water just long enough. The best part is that they don't do this out of a sense of duty, but from a place of genuine love and deep affection. Mom had that person and her name is MaLinda.
MaLinda – I will never forget your kindness and calm - you are simply wonderful. You took care of my mom like she was your very own - it broke my heart to see you cry. You took care of us and gave us a chance to breathe. I know you did much more for my mom than you told us about and I will never be able to thank you enough.