by Beth Whitman
She pushes with her feet, pulls with her arms. Her feet push at the floor. Her arms pull at the air. Pushing and pulling. She moves backwards down the hallway in her wheelchair.
Her movement is like that pumping motion of a child on a swing set trying to go higher and higher and higher. Pushing and pulling. Pushing and pulling, retreating down the hallway . . .
If I’m completely honest, the image that comes to mind as I watch her retreat from me backwards down the hallway is some kind of sea creature, propelling itself backwards through the water with tentacles waving.
She doesn’t see me any more. Only occasionally does she focus on a face. And sometimes when she moves forwards rather than backwards, she’ll grab my hand and cling to it, not wanting to let go. She wants contact. She is pulling me in, like a sea anemone. I stretch out across her wheelchair, resting my butt on one arm and my elbow on the other, so that I can hug her. She pulls me in but then almost immediately pushes me away.
Hugs don’t affect her any more. They don’t relax her the way they used to. I am just another object. Everything at arm’s length.
Motion is her last connection with the recognizable world. Motion is all. She doesn’t stop. She doesn’t rest. In out. In out.
Until suddenly she falls asleep.
Today is Mom’s birthday.
She is 87.
She is no longer in her second childhood.
She is no longer a baby.
She is a sea creature. A beautiful sea creature.
A sea creature blowing bubbles. Propelling herself backwards down the hall, waving her limbs, in and out, pushing and pulling.
“b, bu, b, b, b, Bu, BU, BUUU . . . “
And sometimes in a moment of clarity, perhaps when I ask her if she would like some ice cream, she becomes human again. “Bu, bu, ye, y . . . yess, yes.”
And so I bring her some ice cream, and feed her a few bites.
“Isn’t it good?”
“Y, ye . . . yes”
Until, after a few bites, she pushes away. Feet pushing floor. Hands pushing away the ice cream in my hand.
“Bu, bu, b, b, b, bu, bu . . . “
Higher and higher in pitch she goes. Like an opera singer, or a nightingale.
My beautiful mother.
Beth Whitman lives in Maine and is a member of Belfast Cohousing and Ecovillage, a developing community on the coast of Maine focused on multigenerational living and sustainability.