A few weeks ago, I traveled to Northern California in order to attend a memorial for my good friend, Susan Rasky. I have already written a lot about Susan and will miss her terribly. Although the memorial was the reason for my trip, it was also an opportunity for me to see two of my mother’s very close friends, Sophia and Evelyn. And since my mother died only a few months ago, I was her “representative.”
I have a lot of pictures to share here, old ones and new ones. I love how pictures can tell a story just like words can, and that’s probably because I’ve been an illustrator for decades.
My post title is a line of lyrics from my song “My Shining Star.” It relates to my story because seeing them comforted me, and at the same time I was able to bestow comfort.
Sophia and Evelyn were 92 and 96 respectively. I shared a common bond with these two older women. It was something that only those who have experienced the loss of a child are well aware of – all three of us were bereaved mothers.
Sophia’s daughter, Liz, picked me up from the airport and together we attended the memorial. After it was over, we headed over to where she lived in Sebastopol. The drive was over an hour and I took in the beautiful scenery while she drove. I tried to forget about the pain in my eyes.
I felt comfortable with Liz. Her devotion to her mother’s care was familiar and she was very open about her life. Liz loved cooking. She was an artist creating unique recipes in her kitchen and eating at her home was a gourmet treat. While she made dinner that first night, I played my guitar in her kitchen as she did her thing. Her husband was also friendly and easy to talk to.
Their son and daughter were in college, so I had a choice of two rooms to choose from to spend my nights. I chose their son’s room because it had a firmer bed. The view from my window was beautiful. I especially loved the solitude and spaciousness that I didn’t have back home in my cramped apartment. As I collapsed onto the bed and drifted off to sleep, once again I was so glad I had made this trip.
At the memorial I felt so awful for Susan’s 96-year-old mother, Evelyn. She was in a stupor and I didn’t say much. On the third and last day of my trip, I would be spending more time with her and her son.
The day after the memorial, I was going to a senior luncheon where I would spend time with Liz and her mother, Sophia. Before our visit, Liz tried to prepare me. It was very important not to upset her mother.
It turned out that Sophia had challenging behaviors that dementia had made much worse. Liz told me she had hoped her mother would mellow out with age, but it hadn’t happened. Growing up, she hated to be told she was like her mother. It was embarrassing for her.
Early on, I told her she didn’t resemble her mother – I realized that was a good thing now.
The day before, I had also shared with Liz that my father had great difficulty being around Sophia because she was an incessant talker. Growing up, I saw Sophia more as a dynamic and fun-loving woman.
Liz said, “My mother has a short fuse. Be careful not to mention her age – she gets angry to hear anything related to that.” Then she added, “She probably won’t remember you because I mentioned that you were coming and your name didn’t ring a bell for her.
I listened carefully and reassured Liz – the last thing I wanted to do would be to add to her stress.
Sophia lived in a board and care facility not far away from Liz. Liz shared with me how difficult it had been to bring her mother to live there. She practically had to kidnap her from horrific living conditions where her mother was living in Los Angeles. Sophia was furious, but Liz had definitely saved her mother’s life. The level of trash where her mother lived was unbelievable. Liz said that simply picking up sheets and pillowcases caused them to disintegrate into clouds of dust.
It was clear that Liz carried tremendous stress due to her mother’s difficult behaviors and frequent angry outbursts.
Our outing was to attend a luncheon at a nearby senior event. Liz meticulously planned every detail and oversaw the transport. Her mother would go in a van while sitting in her wheelchair; Liz and I would follow in her car. Seeing her mother onto the van was important because it would alleviate her mother’s confusion about where she was going.
I followed Liz into a large, brightly lit home. It was definitely a cheerful facility, without the odor I usually associated with my parents’ former nursing home.
Sophia had her back to me and was sitting near a window. As I came closer, she was very recognizable to me. She had the same face I remembered only with white hair.
She squinted and studied my face as I gently sat down next to her. Then she said, “Do I know you?”
I told her; I was Shirley’s daughter.
For a moment she looked puzzled, but then she broke into a huge smile. Her eyes sparkled with recognition.
She announced enthusiastically, “You’re Shirley’s daughter, but you look just like your mother! Wow! I loved your mother so much and seeing you is like seeing her again!”
I grinned. Sophia was obviously delighted to see me. I could feel my mother hugging me at that moment.
The transport arrived and it was time to leave for our luncheon. As Liz pushed her mother’s wheelchair, Sophia continued to chatter about my mother. “Your mother was all about love – she was the most loving person,” Sophia said. “And you are just like her!”
At the luncheon, Sophia introduced me and continued to talk about how much she loved my mother. Her words caressed me over and over. For two hours we sat together and Liz was clearly delighted that her mother was having a good day. I understood about dementia; there were good days and difficult ones.
For certain, this lovely lunch with Sophia and Liz warmed my heart.
My mother might have died, but for a short while she came back to life again in my memories and heart.
The luncheon was held at a Synagogue and carried an Asian theme. I did like the fortune in my cookie, for sure.
But what was really impressive was the entertainment.
An elderly woman performed several pieces on a Chinese harp. Her name was Mary Parker. How did this woman become an expert at this unique instrument? Mary’s story touched me instantly. It turned out that she was living in China and was a professional cellist. But one day she fell and damaged her hand. Doctors tried to fix her injury, but her career as a cellist was over. Mary searched for another instrument to play and discovered she could somehow play the Chinese Harp, also called a “Gu-Zheng.” She fell in love with it and began a new career.
This was truly an inspirational story about how this woman turned a disaster into a beautiful new direction for her life. Mary studied with masters for many years, and eventually earned several prestigious awards throughout China and became a master teacher herself.
On the last day of my trip, Liz and I went with Sophia to a nice restaurant where Susan’s brother would be meeting us and bringing his mother Evelyn.
Susan’s brother, Louis, (I didn’t take his picture) had visited Liz and Sophia before. It had been probably a year since they had visited last. As they came into the restaurant, I was absolutely amazed that Evelyn was still walking with little assistance at the age of 96!
I didn’t hesitate to talk about Susan during our luncheon. Evelyn shared many memories about her daughter, and I loved hearing about Susan’s passion for journalism.
I was curious if Susan had ever been in a relationship and decided to ask her mother about it. Evelyn said plainly, “Susan was married to her career.”
Little was spoken about Susan’s death during our time together. The grief that was apparent was when Evelyn talked about Susan’s poodle, Lucy. It was very sad to hear.
Liz had hoped that Louis would bring Lucy; we would have eaten outside. But Louis explained that Lucy was not cooperative and he was already dealing with his elderly mother for this outing. He said, “Susan is gone and I can’t do the things she would have expected. Lucy will have to get used to it!”
This lunch was all about friendship.
Seeing Evelyn and Sophia reconnect without speaking much was very touching. Despite dementia, their affection and love was something to behold.
I missed my mother so much, but in a way I felt like I was standing in for her. Inside, I knew it was unlikely that I would see these two women again.
When Evelyn and Sophia said goodbye to each other, I felt a tear roll down my cheek. Both of them had experienced the loss of a child. Despite their circumstances, love shined brightly as they comforted each other.
I was thankful that these women had special children who made the effort to bring them together. Hopefully, they will see each other again.
© Judy Unger and http://www.myjourneysinsight.com 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Judy Unger with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.