There’s a recent song by Ed Sheeran called “Visiting hours”. I’m not really sure about the story it tells, but it must be a sad one, and every time I hear it I remember my visits to Mom and the pain I feel to see her as she is, not to mention the pain she must be feeling herself.
Mom was an independent woman if ever there was one. She went to university, graduated, and took a job as a high school teacher, at first, and then as a university professor – something she loved. She must have had a gift, for her students absolutely adored her, and she loved them as well. As a child, I remember she was always devising some plan with them, some extra activity, such as school plays or radio emissions… she taught English, and later Literature, and this allowed her to be creative, and she was truly passionate about what she taught.
She was such an independent spirit that, when Dad wanted her to stop working and become a housewife, she never considered it for a minute, and maybe that was one of the reasons their marriage finally ended. But it was out of the question for her to leave her job. More than that, it was her career, her mission in life.
Throughout her life she was a restless, indomitable spirit; she lived abroad by herself when it was almost unthinkable for a young woman with children to do that; she never flinched, never looked back; she was adventurous and enjoyed life to the full. She was happy and carefree and, if not beautiful, a very attractive woman, with plenty of charm, who always had several suitors who would do absolutely anything for her.
In her early forties she was seriously ill. She fought her illness with such strength and determination that she overcame it, astonishing everyone, her doctors to begin with; and she went on to live a normal life, full of plans and activity, amidst her books, her literature, her poets, and her students.
Then she retired, and it was as if life suddenly ended. Soon she fell into a deep depression, and completely changed. She became a shadow of the vibrant woman she had once been; she began complaining about everything, withdrawing from the world, she became more selfish and isolated – and then she was ill.
She had several health issues, among them Parkinson’s disease. After a few years she could not live by herself, requiring constant care and she went to live in a retirement home.
It’s been years now, and she is a sad shadow of the woman she used to be. If she was already physically impaired before the pandemic, the forced isolation of the last two years has made her withdraw into herself; her focus is within, she does not really care what happens outside. More, she seems to resent the fact that, when we visit, she has to come out of her room – visits being in the living room, because of pandemic rules – and she just sits there in her reclining chair, eyes closed, barely replying and constantly looking at her watch to check of the visit’s duration of thirty minutes has elapsed so that she may withdraw into her safe haven and leave the world outside. I cannot imagine the pain she is going through, to see herself in this state, but it’s heartbreaking to see her like this; so pale, so thin, so withdrawn, her hands shaking uncontrollably, her mind wandering from the harsh reality of this life and necessarily away from us who push her back into it. It is so sad to feel she is not enjoying our visit, our company – and then I think I’m being selfish, because I must try and put myself in her position, understand the agony, the pain, the hopelessness, the urge to escape reality and float in a twilight zone between worlds… even if she is lucid, and perfectly aware, she seems to have withdrawn into a place of her own, a place where she is not a prisoner inside her own body, a prisoner of this cruel destiny life had in store for her.
Invariably, when I say goodbye and come out, I feel like crying. Mom’s visiting hours have become an ordeal, and mostly for her. And I feel so powerless – there’s absolutely nothing I can do to change this. But I keep going there, in the hope that, one day, I may look at her and have a glimpse of the person she was, and she may smile at me and make me feel that, if only for that day, she is happy to see me.
Photo by Mauricio Artieda on Pexels