No Longer on the Tree

sun-through-winter-tree-branchesI’ve often described my Mom’s concept of who I was by using the family tree. Although I was no longer a close branch, no longer her son, I was at least a brother or uncle. I took comfort knowing that while I had slid down the trunk of our family tree I was at least still clinging on. This holiday season however it was driven home that things have changed appreciably. I’m no longer on the tree. I’m in the yard now and I’m not alone. My sister is in the yard with me.

In the past while visiting with Mom, I would call my sister who lives out of state and allow them to talk together by phone. It was a tenuous but important way of keeping the two of them connected and I know both greatly appreciated it. This Christmas I had to warn my sister, “Mom will not speak to you over the phone, she no longer recognizes that the voice coming out of the cell phone is an actual person.”

What I did is call my sister but kept up a running conversation with Mom while holding the phone nearby. This way at least my sister could hear Mom’s voice and know for herself that Mom was alright.  Unfortunately, as anticipated, Mom did not acknowledge my Sister existence. I could hear my sister calling out and trying to talk to Mom, but for Mom, out of sight, completely out of mind.

What I’ve apparently become is this friendly, vaguely familiar man who visits regularly and plays with her. I hold her hands, we play footsie together, compliment her on her attire, let her play with my wristwatch or cap, I’ll walk her around the facility, I’ll buy her treats, we tease each other,  I give her hugs and kisses on her forehead… in short I love on her, even though she isn’t entirely sure anymore who I am. Because of that lack of recognition we have more and more days where she tells me to leave her alone and to get away. When those happen I give her her space. I know it won’t last. I also appreciate the verbal expression. That too is declining.

Between the two of my parents, Mom was always the vocal, articulate one even during this past year of Dad’s decline. In Dad’s final year, our time together often consisted of sitting together silently with me holding his hand. I’m finding myself doing that with Mom more and more. Not that Mom doesn’t try to talk but she is increasingly incoherent. I just nod and smile and she smiles back at me or breaks out laughing at a joke only she has heard. I follow her lead, and laugh when she laughs.

Trees need tending to even if they can’t actively contribute to the process. They need water and sun and protection  from extremes. Occasionally they have to be pruned of what is no longer needed and contributing, pruned of what is draining valuable resources.

Whatever Mom needs, I’ll continue to provide… even if I have to do so from the yard next to the tree.

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5 Comments on "No Longer on the Tree"

Profile photo of Kathy
Dec 30, 2012


You always know exactly how to carefully tend your loved ones.
I wondered if your mother and sister could Skype? If it was even a possibility. Hubby used to do a telemeds conference with a Dr via computer. It was very interesting to me and Hubby was able to understand he was talking with his Dr

In some ways I know that feeling of being off the tree. Here though, I’m a branch that was broken and is tangled among the other connected branches. The snow and ice have weighted it down yet it stays tangled, hanging on. The ferocious winds have blown and bent the branches, yet I continue to hang on, just hanging out. A part but separate.

You have a green thumb Jo. Love blossoms where you tend, be it from the tree itself or from the ground.

Continuing to pray for you and your family

Profile photo of Denise
Dec 30, 2012

Hi Jo–When I finished reading your post, I thought: How did we get so lucky to know you?

I learn so much from you; I truly have grown from knowing you. You take care of all the trees. You have grown a forest, which will grow forever, especially when it turns to care for you. :)

Profile photo of
Dec 30, 2012

Jo and Kathy, you both model how to feel caregiving. You seem to be able to instinctively know what might work to help your Hubby and your Mom. I seem to second doubt and feel guilty I’m harming my family rather than helping them. Even though like tammy said? It was good I am here. My psychiatrist says “S=S you don’t seem them rushing to move here to do to take care of your Mom?” And no. That is my job and I love it! I think I’ve mentioned before? When Mom dies I may die of a broken heart too.

Profile photo of ejourneys
Dec 30, 2012

Jo, you teach us that love truly is the bottom line. Whatever else falls by the wayside or fades away, love remains. Your souls continue to touch and to hold. Even though the dance becomes simpler, you are right there with your mom, following her lead.

Profile photo of Trish
Dec 31, 2012

Jo, I echo the others’ sentiments but I also just want to give you a big hug and tell you how important you are to so many. Your sister (what a gift you are giving her by including her in your visits!), your mom (who still knows on some level that it’s comforting to keep you in the yard/ neighborhood/city, your kids (who benefit from the example you set for them) and us (who learn from you, who admire your strength and are touched by your heart). Know you have us in the yard with you, Jo. Or, for that matter, wherever you end up! :-)