Last week’s Mother’s Day was a true example of how we don’t realize how much we value something until we can’t have it. Like being able to hug your mom. My mom lives in an assisted living facility. Like similar facilities throughout the country, it houses residents who fill COVID’s “at risk” criteria in multiple ways: age, health, ability to care for themselves and so on. And like most facilities, Mom’s place is quarantined from outside visitors.
Ironically, I visited Mom the day her facility was closed. I walked through the door and the woman at the front desk told me, “I hope you’re not here to visit anyone because visitors are no longer allowed.” Stunned, I blurted out, “But I just drove an hour to be here.”
The director came out of her nearby office and explained that within a few hours they would meet with state health department officials, and they expected to receive orders to shut down all outside visits until further notice. And then she gave me a gift. “We’re not officially closed yet. Go visit your mom.” I told her my plans were to take Mom for a drive. She hesitated, then instructed me to take her for a drive but not go inside anywhere. Gladly!
I practically ran to Mom’s room, helped her into her wheelchair and rolled her outside to my car before anyone could change their mind.
It was a bittersweet journey. I described the situation to Mom, explaining this would be her last drive for a while. “So tell me where you want to go and what you want to see.” She lives in northern Utah’s Cache Valley. We drove from one end to the other, northward into Idaho and all the way south to Avon. We rode up along the eastern foothills and down past the marshes to the western foothills of the Wellsville Mountains. I stopped the car many times to let her stare out over her beloved valley from all four sides.
We drove by the home she sold when she moved into the facility. We drove to the cemetery so she could blow a kiss to Dad. We dragged Main Street a few times while she reminisced about the way things used to be. We drove past the corner where the house I was raised in once stood, prompting a flood of shared memories that made us smile and cry. I stopped at a gas station, refilled the tank, and we were back on the road again.
We were gone for hours. Desperate to fill her memory, I packed our drive with mental snapshots of anything that would delight her. But finally we had to return. The meeting back at the facility had been held, and the place was officially closed. I worried they might not be able to take her back. But they met us at the door, and I hugged her goodbye, kissing her forehead repeatedly and holding her so tightly, not wanting to let go. I finally turned away, bawling my head off all the way to my car.
That was 10 weeks ago. I haven’t touched her since, haven’t kissed her wrinkled face, haven’t held her fragile hands, haven’t hugged her frail body. I didn’t know how much I would miss being in her presence until it was lost to me. The phone is all we have now. I can stand outside the front window of her facility while staff members wheel her to that window and hand her a phone so we can talk — so far away, separated by a thin glass that both protects her from a deadly world and keeps me from touching her. Grateful for it, yet sad it’s there.
So on Mother’s Day a week ago, I took her on that same ride again — via the phone. We talked a long time. She spoke of how the plants were just beginning to throw out their leaves and all the different shades of green she remembered from them. She recalled the vistas from the hillsides and the patches of snow that still lay in nooks here and there among the dead grasses. I listened, amazed at how much she recalled and the vividness of her details. I realized she didn’t have much else to think on. Of course, that last ride would still be treasured in her memories.
We seem to be focused on what we’ve lost to this pandemic. But loss refines our understanding of what is and is not important. That new awareness can guide us to cherish what really matters, and to act on it — while we still can.