Sunday at 11 a.m., Jim and I settled into the car for a six-hour drive home from South Dakota. We spent the the first half of that drive, nearly three hours, without conversing, listening only to the iPod on the stereo. Mile after mile, we spoke barely a word to one another, both of us lost in thought, considering the weekend, absorbing what we'd learned.
We had left for South Dakota early Saturday morning, arriving that afternoon at the nursing home where Jim's mom resides. She was propped up in her wheelchair watching "Giant" on the tiny television on her nightstand.
We said our hellos, hugged her fragile body, taped together her broken glasses that had the lens inserted upside down, commenced a visit. "Giant" served as the primary focal point, fodder for filling awkward moments as Jim and I attempted normal conversation with his once vibrant, talkative, normal mother.
Our attempts were met with stories from Mom about her outings to various places from her past -- visits she believed had happened just days before, despite not having left the nursing home for about a year. She talked of how grand it was to have attended and be escorted down the aisle in her wheelchair at her brother's wedding, a wedding that took place more than 50 years before -- 50 years before the amputation that took part of a gangrene leg and committed her to a wheelchair earlier this year.
She talked about recently attending church at the church she and I attended together 20 years ago, when the girls were young and Jim worked on Sundays and couldn't go with us.
She talked about phone calls and visits from relatives who, in reality, rarely call, never visit.
She talked of how beautiful Elizabeth Taylor was in "Giant."
We wrapped up with a promise to return in the morning, to spend more time with her before heading back home after the quick trip. Then we went to Jim's sister's house. His oldest sister, his medically trained sister, his sister who visits their mother each and every day, his sister who best knows what to do about Mom.
My first question to her as we unpacked our bags was, "Do we go along with Mom living in the past?" Or do we call her out on such things, try to jog her memory, try to bring her back to reality? The latter was the original tack when Mom first suffered a stroke and mental impairment from violently hitting her head during the associated seizures. It no longer felt like the right tack.
Sue assured us it's not. "She's too far gone and that part of her brain will never return," she said. We learned it's best to play along, to not frustrate and confuse Mom. We learned it's best to let her reminisce about days when she felt happy, content and whole. Days now lost somewhere in time.
That's not all we learned during our too-short weekend trip. From the last boxes of Mom's personal items, the final remnants to divvy up between siblings, we learned of a few of Mom's prized possessions, things that mattered most to her.
We learned of hundreds and hundreds of photos Mom had saved in her cedar chest, many of them photos she rarely shared with the family. Treasured photos of her grandparents, her parents, her siblings, herself. Beautiful decades-old renderings of lives well-lived: births, parties, communions, weddings, new homes, new babies, new starts on life.
We learned teenaged Mom was an avid fan of the glamorous movie stars of the '40s, collecting -- and keeping -- old-time studio shots, postcards, autographs, from Dorothy Lamour, Lana Turner, Spencer Tracy, Humphrey Bogart, Gene Kelly and more.
We learned she still had Jim's baby book, achievement records, locks of hair.
We learned she had carefully tucked away the newspapers containing my very first published articles.
We learned she kept in a manilla folder in her desk every card, every letter, every thank-you note that Brianna, Megan and Andrea ever sent their beloved Granny.
We learned of these and many other things Mom held on to in hopes she'd never forget.
Mostly we learned -- during those hours of silence as Jim and I reclaimed the miles between South Dakota and home -- that we're not yet ready to fully consider the loss of Mom, of Granny. We learned we're not yet ready say the words that open the floodgates.
As we got closer and closer to Denver, we made comments here and there, turned up the radio a little louder. Jim sang. I whistled. Soon we were discussing the girls, the coming week, the never-ending to-do list.
We didn't discuss Mom.
Eventually we will.
Eventually we'll talk. Eventually we'll cry. Eventually we'll mourn.
What is among the treasured photos and papers you're saving?