The Last Leg



My Mom fell down yesterday. No one saw it happen, but when she winced while they were getting her dressed, they spotted the fresh bruising, all down her flank. Everyone wondered what had happened. Who knows?

I was in telephone contact with the nurse and the staff and in text contact with my son the MD. I answered all of his questions. Yes, she can bear weight. No, she was never unconscious. No, the doctor has not returned our FAX.

And so we waited it out.

I had to make some hard choices during that long night. If she broke something, would I authorize surgical treatment? No, I decided. I would not. At age 95, with only fitful eyesight, hearing and balance, and no working memory, surgery would wreak havoc with her diminishing brain cells. It would not improve either the length or the quality of her life.

So I decided. And I wept.

Today, when I went to see her, to assure myself that nothing had been broken, I carefully hugged and kissed her and said, “Oh, Mama, I am so sorry you fell down!”

“I did?” she asked, with an extremely puzzled look on her lovely face. “I have no memory of that happening.”

She was right. She has no memory. Of anything.


I remember—and still see—her beauty, her laughter, her deep commitment to her husband, her family, her faith, her church. I remember her curious intelligence, her careful reading of complicated texts, her fearlessness about asking hard questions, her care for her neighbors, her creativity in our home. I remember her simple and exquisite centerpieces when we welcomed friends to our table. I remember her early morning prayer times, bent over the Sunday school curriculum and remembering each of her students by name.

I remember so much fun! Weeks in a beachside apartment somewhere in southern California—never fancy, but sufficient for a family of five, with easy access to that great Pacific Ocean, which she loved so much. One of my favorite photographs shows her, mouth agape, face filled with wide-eyed, wonder-fear, barreling toward shore atop a boogie board.

I remember the stories of her childhood, the family’s move from British Columbia to Los Angeles when mom was barely two years old—grandparents, aunts and uncles all coming along to build new homes in the USA. She rode the streetcars all over town, or took roller skates to get to a friend’s house across the neighborhood, or hoofed it to the local movie theater for the Saturday morning matinees.

I remember how frightened she was of her father’s drunkenness and how she stood up tall as a 7-year-old and assumed the mantle of protectress and care-giver for her mother and younger siblings. I remember how she loved being dropped off at that old church downtown, and how the women there folded her in and called out her gifts. I remember how she met my father there, the skinny young man with the good mind and the fabulous skills on the piano.

I remember the stories of my birth, in a hospital in the middle of a great park in San Diego and how they proudly took me to their little home in Pacific Beach. I remember how carefully she sewed dresses for me from the time I was about four until I got married. I remember the automobile accident when I was six that could have killed us all, but her swift thinking and good reflexes turned us away from the speeding car in the nick of time.

None of these things remain in my mother’s memory. Not one piece of it. Every once in a while, she will surprise me with a name from the past, or a small detail of a story. But most of the time, there is only now—right this very minute.

Thankfully, music remains. We often sing old gospel tunes or big band songs. “I Don’t Know Why I Love You Like I Do,” “What A Friend We Have in Jesus,” and “Zippety-Do-Dah,” are current favorites.

And, best of all, her faith remains. Such strong faith. “Are you a Christian?” she asks me regularly. “Yes,” I always reply. “I am a Christian.” “I am, too,” she says, proudly, strongly, clear as a bell. “The Lord has been good, hasn’t he?”

Yes, yes, YES, Mama. The Lord has been good. He gave me to you.