Skulls Blowing in the Wind

I used to hold faithfully here to my “Tale Tuesdays”. And I still have so many tales to tell.  The telling has become painful. I no longer seem able to keep much distance from the “scenes” that have been my inspiration for so much of my blogging. But  after some wine, plugged into Pandora, I find myself buffered enough to write. I will persevere. To do just that: write.

Post Halloween, there were plastic skulls blowing around on my front porch:


Windy but not too cold, I sat in our weathered rocker, sipping a glass of wine. Our  trees  looked different–not just because of the change of seasons, amplified crimson leaves. But because my life is no longer an entity I recognize. It is a plastic skull blowing around in a November wind.

My mother. I used to talk to her every day at lunch time. If I didn’t call her first, she’d call me. And we’d share reheated leftover rice and beans or soups, whatever was left in our separate fridges, long distance. I would complain about a new wrinkle and she would laugh.

She no longer calls me. I don’t remember exactly when she stopped calling me–when exactly she forgot my phone number. When she forgot where I live at all.  When she forgot I’m 20-plus years out of college, and that she has two grandchildren – that I no longer am taking “classes” and having “boyfriends,” or need to plan ahead to when I’ll be having “babies.”

Yesterday I visited. I lit a fire in her fireplace she no longer recognizes as a fireplace  in the same house she has been living in for 30 years. She as a crick in her neck, so that she no longer can move her head; her eyes darted around the room  as if trying to peer into distant corners. What astonishes me is that she doesn’t seem to mind. This. The stiff neck. The tremor now in both arms since her stroke. Being strapped into a wheelchair.

“I’m a lucky woman,” she said. “To have two such wonderful daughters.”


As this dementia reshapes, transmutes, I can’t help testing it, poking at it like a washed-up jellyfish: “Oh? And is there a sister I don’t know about?” I asked this jokingly, suggesting she might have some other child from a distant illicit passionate affair….

“Well yes…”

“What’s her name?”

“Well…I don’t remember at the moment but I do have another daughter…” She ran a crooked, arthritic finger across her dry lips, thinking. Or trying to think, to follow a single thought.

She giggled, as she can now, at her own confusion, when her thinking leads nowhere. Because this she does know: her mind is not right. This she does know: she no longer knows where she is at any given moment; she could be lying down to “rest” on her own bed before her “long drive,” worrying about the fact that it was raining and she’d left all her windows open “back home.”

At the worst of times, she’s been kidnapped. She will plead with me to go check on my long-dead father to be sure he is not kidnapped as well.  Or she’s locked in a cell at the police station and begs me to come get her out, railing at how unfair it is to be arrested just because she had been “volunteering.” Or she is being poisoned by her aide who is only trying to wash the sticky thickening stuff off her tongue as, since her aspiration pneumonia, she no longer can drink liquids.

Best of times: Well, I don’t know. When she’s calm, I guess. When she may not be oriented, but at least she is not afraid. She is not panicked. She is just…waiting. Sometimes “for hours” at the doctor’s office. Or sometimes, just sitting in a “lobby.” Or at church where everyone has left, and she is alone in a pew, wishing she’d caught a ride home with another parishioner.

And when she doesn’t have another daughter she has, besides two real cats, an imaginary fish tank. I’ve never known her to have fish. Except for the tank she surprised me with when I was a child.  I remember that, waking on my birthday to a tank of angel fish, rainbow fish..and one dead swordfish. But it was a tank of love.

When I talk to her, I can’t help it–I want to know what it feels like. This confusion. So when she tells me she’s been out and about, at an “event,” I ask where?

“Well, I’ve been so many places today…”

“Oh? Tell me about one of the places. The event.”

I want to know.

“Well, I don’t know, it can get confusing, but it’s nice to be  back in one place again.”

Though that one place rarely now is home; I am dumbfounded daily, that she no longer recognizes even the rustic old buffet holding the same china for over fifty years, back from my childhood in the house I grew up in.

“So how are things? What have you been doing?” She asks daily now when I call her.

This is how our conversations go now, general. vague. Flat barren fields.

What have I been doing she asks? I want to cry to her about my ten year old’s recent football injury that resulted in a displaced hip and surgery. Now 6-8 weeks homeschooling. Home physical therapy, then outpatient therapy.

I want to cry to her about how I have seen her mirrored in my tiny son getting up on a walker for the first time, in the hospital after surgery, crying in pain. My following closely behind him, tying up the hospital gown in back to cover his fanny, as I would tie my mother’s.

The way my mother had cried. After she’d fractured her pelvis. On her own walker.

I want to tell her about how the hurt of seeing my mother reduced to a wheelchair is tripled, at the very least, by the image of my own child in a wheelchair.

I want to scream and cry to her. I want her to hold me in her lap. To rock me, as I did my own son last night when he fell asleep crying, “Why me? Why me?”

Instead, when my 96-year-old mother asks me how I am,  I say simply: “I’m fine. Things are fine.”

Last time she was in the ER, for that aspiration pneumonia, she was sepsis. Blood pressure 50/30, erratic extremely low pulse rate. I had to sign DNR papers. I turned down “extraordinary  measures,” invasive IV lines into neck arteries. I settled for antibiotics which the doctors agreed to administer, really, only to appease me–they were frank  in their prognosis that she had 24-48 hours.

I sat in a private room alone with her. I held her thin veined hand. I stared into her wide-open mouth as she breathed loudly.

She rallied.

She rebounded.

“I love this earth,” she would always say, before her last stroke, what precipitated this pneumonia. That was back when she still could recognize the cherry trees outside her bedroom window as the ones in her own yard. When she still could express how much she enjoyed the simple but bright window box I’d made for outside her bedroom window.

“Oh I love, love, love love you so much,” she often says now. “I want to buy you something really special. What do you want for your birthday?”

She can obsess about my birthday–which is not until February. I showed her a new handbag I’d treated myself to, as we used to always enjoying sharing those shopping things, and she said, “Oh I want this to be your birthday present!”

It’s not my birthday, Mom.”

“But I want to give this to you for your birthday!”

So the handbag I’d bought for myself became my birthday present to me which she forgot all about within five minutes of my leaving.

“What can I give you that’s really special?” she still can ask.

I resist smoothing her thin grey hair back off her forehead as I do my son’s messy bangs, when I try to soothe him, when he wants to get out of his own wheelchair.

She doesn’t want me to muss her hair.

My son doesn’t want me to pity him, as much as he does, very much, want Mommy.

So I restrain myself. But only out of love.





About Sandra

Author;editor of The Woven Tale Press at; mother; weaver
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11 Responses to Skulls Blowing in the Wind

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Another thing we share. I longed to be able to talk to my mother about what I was going through with my mother. Not having her there to turn to, I felt as if I was learning how to walk, and like your boy, often crying at the pain. xo

    • Sandra says:

      oh my gosh I say that all the time, Elizabeth — I wish I could talk to her about it. I have this fantasy that when this is “all over,” we can sit down, have a couple of drinks together and talk about what an awful time that was and so glad we are passed it, as we have in the past together when we had to get through things…she will never have any idea at all what I’m doing for her and the hard choices I’ve had to make without being able to turn to my own mom for support.

  2. Amy Morgan says:

    The sadness you feel flows through your words so clearly. Having to say “all is fine” is so hard to do. This made me remember the three years after my mom’s traumatic brain injury, when conversation and communication was so difficult for her. More so was understanding what was said to her and she’d become fixated on ONE THING – so I never told her any of my troubles or worries over those three years, afraid that the ONE THING that stuck would be worrisome to her. How bittersweet to seeing your son and mom in the same situations but different circumstances. Reach out for help when you need it and I hope your writing brings a sense of release. All my best to you Sandra…

    • Sandra says:

      Thank you dear Amy. We’ve been so out of touch. But I know about that “one thing” too, it does stick in her head, although it can morph into something else. So yes I just tell her things are “fine.”
      Hope you join our Press community at the site. I’m about to change themes so maybe not right this second;) but do join. You’ll be able to cross-post etc.

  3. Heartbreaking, beautiful writing that reminds the reader of their own life-cycles, and hazards of loving fully.

  4. Mark Fine says:

    So powerful, so moving. Wonderfully written in a way that we can appreciate the bewilderment your are feeling and better understand your difficult journey. The irony of your son’s injury echoing similar patterns of your mother seems to be life’s sardonic humor; why you are challenged thus, who knows–but at least your writing craft is getting sharper and sharper. Sandra, my thoughts are with you and I’m grateful you have your artistry to exorcise those demons (and skulls!).

  5. I_B_Nosey says:

    Haunting, raw, emotional post. Nothing can be said to make this experience more bearable, so all I’d like to say is “thank you” for sharing these moments with us.

  6. Susan Kane says:

    It is so good to see you again. I have missed your writing and your courage.

    When the child becomes the parent is the worst time in life. That pain resonates in me still, even after Mom’s death in 2011. Caressing your mother’s face so tenderly brings those tears back.

    Hold on.

  7. Hi Sandra,
    So good to “hear” from you. I’ve been thinking about you – always with a little prayer. I am astounded by your ability to write about this time in your life and your mother’s life. You manage to express so many facets of this heartbreak.
    For me, my mother’s “passing” was condensed into a six month journey. Not till it was done could I write about it, and then very little. It’s a heart wrenching story absorbed into my being. I can’t find a way to extract it and to express it in words.
    But you have achieved magnificent writing in this post. So many of us recognize what’s familiar in it. Thank you. A big hug to you.

    • Sandra says:

      Thank you Mary. Yes it’s hard to write about this stuff; some rec it as therapy and I can see how that could work, in some way get it out of your system so you can move on. But I’m in the midst of it so cannot move on, can only keep waiting for the next shoe to drop, the next ER visit, just hopefully not for one of my children again. As to “condensed” that I can see now could perhaps have been a blessing. My mother has no diagnosis. Just old age. So a very slow, slow lingering, as her mind fades away.

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