58: Harvey, Mom, and the Bar

58: Harvey, Mom, and the Bar

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Caregivers

Harvey, Mom, and the Bar

Humor is the great thing, the saving thing. The minute it crops up, all our irritation and resentments slip away, and a sunny spirit takes their place.

~Mark Twain

My mother had an angelic face and a devilish sense of humor—quite the combination. When I was an adolescent, her unexpected puns and punch lines often left me rolling my eyes. Even as an adult, I found myself standing gape-mouthed at many of her sly comments on more occasions than I’d like to admit. However, in her final years, when her already poor health went from bad to worse to failing, it was her sense of humor that carried me through as her caregiver.

No one was off-limits where my mother’s biting humor was concerned, and one of Mom’s more memorable targets was an acquaintance I’ll call Harvey. He was pretty well known in the community—and a regular customer at several bars located throughout the neighborhood. Invariably, each time Mom and I drove out of her development en route to a doctor’s appointment or other errand, we would pass one of those old gin mills and spot Harvey’s bright red car parked front and center. Mom would always smile sweetly and make her assessment of the situation: “That Harvey. He’s not feeling any pain right about now, I’ll bet.” Then she would nod and wink at me, “All that ‘anesthesia,’ you know.”

Eventually, though, Mom became too weak to climb in and out of my car for even the smallest of trips. Her travels then were limited to medical appointments only, with transportation provided via ambulette where a trained professional could lift and position her and her wheelchair into the vehicle safely. From the back of the ambulette, Mom could no longer view her surroundings as she was driven. Thoughts of Harvey, his bright red car, and his favorite haunts were all but forgotten.

The time also came when even getting out of bed without help became impossible for Mom. Shortly afterward, even sitting up without assistance was difficult. Her doctor suggested some adaptive equipment, including a grab bar at her bedside that Mom could use to pull herself up, allowing her to retain one last bit of independence. I placed the equipment order with the medical supply company, and within a week, the package arrived—without the grab bar. Mom was disappointed, and so was I. That particular item really would have been helpful to both of us. Every few days, I phoned the supplier for an update on its whereabouts, only to get the same explanation: It was on back order.

One day, as I lifted Mom so that she could sit upright and sip some water, she questioned me about the grab bar once again. “Mom, it’s still on back order,” I explained. “We just have to be patient and wait.”

Mom lifted her soft, round face and looked up at me. “I don’t have much more time to wait,” she said.

I felt my eyes fill with tears. Though I didn’t want to accept it, I knew that statement probably was the truth. And in that moment, I felt true helplessness. The grab bar seemed like such a small thing, but still I couldn’t find a way to provide it for my mother. All my requests for a rush order on the item continued to fall on deaf ears. Once again, I grabbed the telephone at Mom’s bedside and started to dial. “I keep telling those people at the supply house how necessary it is for you to get that last piece of equipment,” I said to Mom. “I just don’t know what else to tell them.”

Mom looked up at me and smiled her angelic smile. Then she patted my hand softly. “Well, dear,” she said, “just tell them I’m like Harvey, and I need a bar.”

It took a beat before I caught on to her play of words, but when I did, I started to laugh so hard I almost dropped the phone. Then Mom started to laugh, and we kept laughing together for a good, long while. After I caught my breath, I wiped the tears from my eyes. “You know,” I said to Mom, “I think I could use a bar myself right about now.” And then we laughed some more.

~Monica A. Andermann

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