Photo by Brooke Estis Bleyl

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Letters to Mom



My mom no longer uses e-mail, no longer can use her computer at all.  She's 93, and her fingers are no longer as limber as typing requires, and she also tends to forget what she needs to do to turn on her laptop, to access an e-mail program, to compose and send.  It's been over a year now.  My brothers and I have tried several times to get her up and running again, but it just frustrates her.  So we've given up.

This has been sad for me to watch.  Mom had one of the first computers in the family, an early Apple, when she was still teaching at Drake University in Des Moines.  She had it hooked up to her IBM Selectric with some kind of interface, so when she wrote something, her electric typewriter typed it for her, a page at a time (she had to pause after each sheet, insert another).  Dad was dazzled.  He never did learn to use the Apple and just sighed and let technology roar by.  As I've written here before, I think, the last device he learned to use was the TV remote.

Mom was very proud of her computer savvy and was constantly updating her machines, her software, her skills.  She was a very early user of Quicken--did all their finances on her computer.  She continued doing this well into her eighties.  Then, of course, the inevitable ...  I bought her last laptop for her two years ago, but the changes in Windows and in other features of her programs frustrated her deeply.  She found she could not always figure out what to do.  And she was so proud that she would never ask anyone but my brothers and me for help.  Sometimes she would call and ask me something; sometimes I could help, but other times I just could not "see" her problem--see her screen--and both of us would hang up, frustrated.

She would never ask help from someone at the stages-of-care place where she lives.  No way.  She would rather sit there for two weeks, computer-less, than call the front desk and make a sort of public declaration that she was stymied.  Such pride.  Such touching pride.

So now we've been forced by circumstance to step back a couple of technological generations.  My mom lives in Lenox, Mass., and my two brothers are just a couple of hours away, so they get out to see her every week or so.  But we are about 560 miles away--about a 10-hour drive, each way--so we don't get there as often as we'd like.  Not even a half-dozen times a year.

So what do we do?  We use the telephone.  I call her 2-3 times a week, usually right after dinner while she's watching the news.  We chat about the news, about silly memories, about the weather.  We both laugh.

And I write snail-mail.  She can still make it--with her walker--down the hall to the mail room every day.  For a long, long time, she would not use a cane or a walker (pride, again), but she took a couple of falls, and her doctor told her that if she broke a hip or something she would be in the nursing unit--probably for a long time--and no longer in her independent apartment.  That cured her.

I write to her every Sunday and Thursday.  Newsy, frivolous letters--often with photos I've pasted in--about what we've been up to (which is not ever all that much).  I remind her of tales from my childhood; I write about my dad (who died in 1999 and whom I miss--fiercely); I write about her two great-grandsons, 3 and 7; I write about books I'm reading.  But when we call, she sometimes says she hasn't heard from me in so long ....

Mom can't write back, though she tries sometimes.  Her notes will arrive much delayed because of inaccuracies on the address.  And as her fingers have begun to betray her, her handwriting has become barely legible.  We got a thank-you for something we'd sent for her 73rd wedding anniversary a couple of weeks ago, and for the life of me I could not read most of it.  But it didn't matter: I wept anyway.

1 comment:

  1. This is a beautiful post, and it is so touching that still write letters to your mom. I email with one grandmother who does not enjoy talking on the phone, and talk on the phone with my other grandmother who insists the computer "will not let her on".

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