Monday, December 13, 2010

The Lost Sock

Long-Term Care, 2010

You come into life with nothing but potential. You leave with…well, who really knows? If you’re lucky, you’ve loved and been loved. Maybe your presence left a legacy of some kind. Along the way, you consume a lot of stuff, some of which probably seems very important at the time, but most of which won’t matter in the big scheme of things.

My mother’s quietly walking to the end of the line with fewer and fewer things. It started years ago when she moved from a house to an apartment. Then she went to a single spacious room in assisted living, then a smaller room and then a shared room. She’s transitioned in and out of hospitals and nursing facilities enough to be down now to where her sphere of interest extends little further than the end of her bed.

Each time she’s moved she’s let go of things. Furniture. Television sets. Window air conditioning units. Linens. Silver. China. The grand piano. Now she’s down to a dozen or so photographs of her siblings, her children and some of her grandchildren and great grandchildren. Aside from that, it’s mostly nightgowns, tops and underwear.

And even some of those things seem to be going on their own walkabouts.

When she admitted to the hospital about six weeks ago she had just one shoe with her. We don’t know what happened to the other one. By the time I arrived at the hospital, the shopping bag containing her personal items held but the one shoe. By the time she discharged to the nursing home, was readmitted to the hospital and was once again discharged to the nursing home, even the one shoe had disappeared. Not that she’s going to be needing it. But it’s the principle, you know.

When she was sent back to the hospital, the nursing home bundled up her things—some clothes, a desktop Santa figurine, a bag of hard candy—and promptly lost them. When she returned a week later, we rummaged around the housekeeping department and found most of it.

Yesterday we moved her things out of the assisted living facility where she’s resided for the past five and half years. Several things turned up missing there, too, not the least of which was her roommate. (Turns out she’s in the same nursing facility as my mother.) But how do you explain the missing left footrest for the wheel chair, especially when it’s the left one she needs? What about her world-class collection of nail clippers, tweezers and toothpicks? And her powder bowl? Like a lot of Southern ladies of a certain age, my mother was nothing if not well powdered.

Like that matching sock that never seems to make it back from the dryer, things disappear. Maybe they’re quietly gathering in some parallel dimension for a mismatched afterlife wardrobe. I don’t know.

Fortunately, none of these losses are noted by my mother, who even though her sphere of control is geographically short still has strong ideas about where things should be. We spent ten minutes yesterday afternoon deciding where to place the little desk clock we brought her to replace the broken wall clock in her nursing home room. We spent another ten minutes reminding her that the desk clock is accurate and the wall clock isn’t. I don’t know why it took us that long to realize we should just take the wall clock down and hide it behind the Santa figurine. But it did. Sometimes we just overthink the obvious.


  1. I noticed the same thing with my dad the last few years of his life although he spent most of those years at home.

    As far as the missing socks goes I'm convinced my wife has a hand in that. Every time she tells us she's "put something away" my daughter and I roll our eyes because we know we'll have to go purchase a replacement. Any item my wife "puts something away" it will never be seen again!

  2. What a touching post. I remember thinking with my grandmother, when she was at the end of her life, that she had become like my son, who was just starting his. We took my son on a glass-bottom boat once when he was less than a year old, and I remember thinking that he'd be fascinated looking down to see the fishes swimming around with reckless abandon, but he was way more interested in his own fist in front of his face than anything beyond that. My grandmother's world was shrinking as rapidly as his was expanding, and I was equally elated and saddened noticing each.

    I think your mom would be touched if she knew how beautifully you've written about her.

  3. When my mom was going, she lost the use of most of her body, including her voice, after several small strokes, so the the territory she could claim was even smaller than the edge of her bed. As a child, I never got much physical affection from her. She just wasn't that type of mother. But in her final days, I was able to sit beside her on her bed and allow her to stroke my hair, as there wasn't much else she could manage. She was never a great mom. She could never admit that, but she did a few things right.