My mom said I looked like the friendly undertaker. This from a woman dressed in a dirty sweatshirt, inside-out underwear and nothing else. She had just gotten up.
I arrived at 8:55, five minutes before the agreed-upon 9 a.m. She couldn't remember the time she had told me to come and help her dress.
After sloshing down her lukewarm coffee, she stood. The crumbs of her Thanksgiving-leftover breakfast disappeared between her dimpled thighs. They could still be there.
Supporting herself on her walker, she shuffled down the hall to her room and dug through her closet, looking for the pants she wanted to wear. They zip up the back, so I'd have to do that for her. She found a gray suit and set it on her bed.
"Here, sister. Take the pants."
"Just the pants?" It was a nice looking outfit. I didn't remember it. The top had short sleeves, and she wouldn't want that. The embroidered flowers she wouldn't mind.
"Just the pants. The blouse looks too summery."
She ambled around her little hospital bed. The mattress has been squashed nearly flat in spots. It can't be very comfortable, but she can raise the foot of it and drain the fluid from her feet and legs, something she doesn't do often enough.
Lowering herself onto her rumpled sheets, she groaned and caught her breath. "Here. Put my socks on."
Her socks are for male diabetics, black and gigantic and very, very stretchy. I'm glad she finally found some that fit, and I'm glad when she wears clean ones. Her feet are at once dry and flaky and moist and stinky.
"Do you think I should wear a brassiere?" I can't remember the last time she wore one. She is big.
"Yes." She knew she should, but I suppose she hoped I'd say she needn't bother. No such luck.
"Oh, I guess so." She heaved a sigh. "Get the new one that clasps in the front."
I held up one that clasps in the back.
"That's the one," she said.
She slipped her arms through the wide straps and started jiggling herself into the cups, which might be better called bowls. Mixing bowls. I tugged hard on the hooks, trying to stretch them enough to clasp them. I think I broke a sweat. Finally she was attached, the cloth digging deep into her skin.
"That looks like it hurts," I said, coming around to the front of her.
"I think I'm falling out the bottom," she said, pressing her escaping boob up inside the material. The cups were pointed to the sky. She looked like Madonna in her cone period. A really big Madonna. And old.
"You need a bigger one," I said.
"This is the bigger one! This is the 'Oh, my God' woman one." When she'd gone to get fitted for a new boulder holder, the fitting diva/mistress/technician took one look at her and said, "Oh, my God." They had to special order something.
"Well, it's time for her to call upon the Lord once again," I said.
She chuckled. "Don't make me laugh. Now I've piddled."
Looking in her drawer for new underpants, I saw more bras. 44DD. 46F. 50G. That's the one.
I handed her some clean undies and started unhooking her. She was happy to be out of the 42 we'd managed to squeeze her into, happy to be breathing again. I put the little mite of a brassiere in the trash. The 50G went on much more easily.
"Hell, we forgot my toe thing," she said. "Don't let me forget my teeth!"
We got her assembled in plenty of time. She sat in her chair for a while, fretting about what coat to wear and when to be there. Eric would meet us there.
We were soon off to the funeral of a friend. John had been our minister for a while. He married Eric and me. He was a gentle soul, and his wife, Margaret, was and is one of my mother's best friends. When Eric and I got home from our honeymoon, Margaret was the first person after my parents I went to see. As a minister's wife, she had a public persona. But we know the woman behind the smile, and we love her.
We came to honor John and give our love to Margaret and her family. It was a fine funeral full of mostly old people. You don't live to be 90 and have many young friends. There were a lot of white collars in attendance, and one of the ministers who used to work at the church came to participate in the funeral. I was happy to see her. She is looking older, too. We all are.
People said nice things, honest things. We sang and we prayed, and then we went downstairs to eat.
Watching my mother and Margaret together made me sad and hopeful. When I was a little girl, these two women were strong and smart and kind and jubilant and I wanted to be just like them. Now they are old and a little teetery but still smart and kind, though less jubilant. My mother has shrunk and gotten fatter. Margaret has shrunk and gotten skinnier. They both have white hair and wrinkled everything and gigantic glasses. How their bodies have changed, how their minds have not, how lucky they are to have gotten old together.
"We're both widows now," Margaret said to my mom, holding her shoulders. Margaret is actually a widow for the second time. It wasn't any easier the second time, she said.
They chatted about their failing bodies, the deaths of their husbands. They'll talk more later, they said. And they will.
I hugged Margaret's stooped, slight frame and wished her well, then my mom and I made the slow, deliberate walk to the church elevator.
At home, I unzipped my mom's pants and unhooked her bra. I took off her shoes and socks and cut off as much of the callous on the ball of her foot as I could.
"You should write about dressing Mother," she said to me.
So I did.