Driving home from the hospital, from time with my mama, I think over the last moments with her that day and ask myself, When did you stop moving furniture?
I don’t know.
Time alone and I gathered together so often when I was a teen, time I’d spend in my room, alone, rearranging furniture and cleaning, keeping my space tidy and comfortable. If I moved it just right, I’d create a cozy nook just for me.
Mama would come home from work, eye my room over, and say, "You’re going to hurt your back."
Tidy and comfortable. Worth the risk.
A family member had an infection a year or so ago, and I didn’t go. I didn’t want to bring it home to a person with compromised health. Untidy; uncomfortable.
A family member went to the hospital, but I needed to stay home, because I couldn’t risk bringing COVID to dinner.
I hide away at home, in my safety. Stay home, I’m told.
And I ask myself on the way home: When did helping others become untidy and uncomfortable in your life, Shelli?
But somewhere along the way, things got out of sorts and I got really comfortable in the unforeseeable change. Somewhere … somewhere in the frightening news that my mama was terribly ill. She had MRSA, a staff infection of the blood, C.Diff, as well, which is very contagious. Pneumonia threw itself into the mix for good measure. So much untidy, uncomfortable.
Draped in the gown and gloves and mask, my body moves without thought to be with my mama. She’s so far gone that she can’t even say her name. The invitation slides out of my hands to anything, any disease that could harm me, bidding it to come alongside me, to bask in my tidy and comfortable, because all I care about is how can I keep from hurting her? What does it matter if I’m safe? How can I keep her safe?
On the night at the hospital when I’m told Mama can have no more visitors, after sharing that room when I can for a month with her, I draw near to her and hug her, tears pouring, and I tell her I love her and that I need her to keep fighting, that I need her to pull through this.
"I will," Mama promises.
Dread seeps into my soul through the wee morning hours … what if in hugging her, I drew too near, I hear … what if you’re carrying COVID, Shelli, and don't know it? What if you're sick and don't know it? What if you give her a virus that kills her in this weakened state? And worry deprives my weary body of sleep.
While each nurse stepped into Mama’s room with caution, when she initially moved to rehab, I wore no protective gear except my mask, and I sit there telling my mama why I won’t lower my mask. "The thought of getting you sick," I say, through tears, "is more than I can bear."
"Oh, honey," Mom says, in that tone that tells me her only concern is my worry.
And as the hour strikes for me to leave, visiting hours coming to a close, I search the flowers on the darkened shelves. Because finding the lovely in the unlovely is how one thrives in survival mode. Unlike the hospital room, the mourning windowsill at rehab is too narrow to hold them, too thin to shower them with light, so empty. My vision lands on the solitary bedside table, which has no remarkable use, only covered in chocolate Ensure. And I know what I need to do.
"I’ll move the table," I say, with a smile. "Do you think they’ll mind?"
"I don’t see why," says my mom.
From one side to the other, I move, tugging along the hunk of wood without rollers, inch by inch, over my toe, with barely a flinch from me, trying not to scrape the floor. Because I’ve never had a more brilliant idea. And there the bulk of the three-drawer chunk lands, between the chairs, centered in the window. The arrangements, incredibly still hanging on to life, line up perfectly in Mom’s view from the bed, the bright floral colors backed by her get-well cards.
Mama’s smile overrides mine, as the flowers bask in the sun. "If we’re here long enough, we’ll rearrange the whole room," she says, and we laugh together. Her face tilts, her thoughts off in another place somewhere. "I wonder if I'll ever sing again," she finally shares with me.
"You could sing 'Jesus Loves Me.' "
Slowly, our voices lift, together, until "the Bible tells me so."
"Thank you," she says. "I couldn’t do this without you."
"I’d never want you to," I say.
And there, moving furniture, my heart glows like it’s been sprayed with everlasting Pledge—and still does as I retrieve Ibuprofen at midnight for my aching shoulder—because it’s there … where the messy and uncomfortable becomes tidy and comfortable.
Are you finding yourself willing to take a risk during difficult days? Love will do it. Love brings courage.
(By the way, that table does have a use. It's for holding the phone and nurse call button/TV controller when the patient gets out of bed. And we have laughed about this every day since. And Mama is improving daily. She stood up from the bed to the walker for the first time.)
Update: I initially wrote this post in July of 2020. Since then, I lost my mother to a stroke back in August, and life has been a struggle since.