Mama usually calls maybe once a day. Today she called four times. Her knee replacement surgery is next Monday. She’s concerned about her wardrobe, the low potassium diet her urologist has recommended, and the three weeks she’ll spend in post-operative re-habilitation.

2013-11-28 10.58.28“Your father doesn’t want me to go to re-hab for three weeks,” she says. “He says we can do everything I need right here.”

“Well, he’s wrong, and Dr. Shell wants you to go to re-hab,” I say. Dr. Shell is her orthopedic surgeon.

“I know. I want to go to re-hab, too. I need to do it.”

“You just want to know he’s going to be okay without you?” I ask.

“Oh, he’ll be fine,” she says, waving it off. “He just doesn’t want to be here alone.”

Mom and Dad married at fifteen and seventeen. I don’t think they’ve been apart any longer than a five-day stretch. To use the psychological term, they are “enmeshed”. In day-to-day operating language, their very breaths are one. Each needs the other to survive.

The anniversary of their first date is Groundhog Day, when Dad walked Mom home from church. He was most perturbed this year that he could not find the dark-chocolate-covered cherries that he always gives Mom for that special occasion. I promised him I would find some. I’ll look tomorrow.

I wonder what will happen when the first of them goes. From my current perspective, we pray for Dad to depart before Mom. Yes, it is true that my life, and Dave’s, would be easier, but we also think Mom would be able to take alone-ness better than Dad. Mom is more adaptable, more able to make something drinkable from bitter fruit, more likely to roll it around until she can squeeze out a juice she can swallow.

Dad says, “Your mom always sees the best in everything. I see the problems.”

Even now, she relishes a lunch outing, while Dad would rather heat up canned cream-of-chicken soup. Mom is the one who, even with painful knees, is most willing to perch on the front passenger seat of the Sienna to take to the road.

“Mom,” I tell her, “We’ll see that he eats and takes his medicine and doesn’t work too hard. We’ll bring him to visit any time he wants. I could even bring him over there first thing in the morning and he could stay all day. He could play his guitar, and talk to the other residents.”

“Oh, Lord.” She changes the subject. “Can you put buttons on that wrap-around robe?”

“Yeah, I’ll do that, well, uh, I’ll do that…before you go to the hospital. Did you try on your new moccasins?”

“Yes, they feel great.”

“Are you able to slip your feet into them?”

“Oh, yeah,” she answers.

“Without bending over to pull them on, I mean?”

“I think so.”

“Tomorrow you can show me.”

“Okay. Hey, I need to add a couple of things to my grocery list. I need three apples, some cherries, carrots, and a cucumber–just one. I see I can eat all those.”

“Dave’s doing your shopping. I’ll let him know.”

“Oh, he’s going to the store for me? How come he decided to do it?”

“We bargained. He said he’d do the shopping run if I gather all the things he’s asked for in order to do the taxes. I just hope he gets the right things.”

“He’ll do fine. Just tell him to call me if he has questions. He doesn’t mind calling. If your daddy went with this list, he’d get at least half of it wrong. He wants to do it, but he’s really not good at it.”

“Did you start taking your Bumex again?” I ask. “You start that again today, and then….”

She interrupts me. “…and then I stop it again after Saturday before the surgery.”

“Right. And the….”

“The spirolactone, too. I stop that after Saturday, too. I sure wish I could drink orange juice. I’m going to miss that.” She hastens to add, “But don’t worry, I’m going to do everything he told me to do. Are they going to let me wear Depends?”

“Oh, I think for the surgery, you might be au naturel, but the nurse at the education session said they want you to wear your own clothes as soon as possible. I bet you’ll put on an outfit the day after surgery.”

“Can you put a little makeup bag in your purse?”

“Sure.”

“You want to watch Gunsmoke?” she asks.

I hesitate. “Just for a few minutes. I might not make it to the end. I have to get over there and get some work done.”

“Well, I just don’t know what I’d do without you,” she says, pointing the remote at the TV.

“I don’t know…I don’t know what I’d do without you, either,” I answer.

My friend Inez Torres Davis posted on Facebook a few days ago: My mother loves to do jigsaw puzzles. I do not. Or, I will put it this way: I do not MIND doing them so much if the picture on the box is helpful and I have nothing else that needs to get done. This puzzle we are doing? The picture does not help one bit and it was clearly designed by a sadist! I do jigsaw puzzles with my mother because I can sit close to her. I love jigsaw puzzles.

Inez, I know exactly what you mean.

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