By Lisa Yorkgitis Nahach
When two women with ash-blonde hair — most likely a mother and daughter — entered the dining area of Panera Bread Co., I noticed them immediately. Four years fell away, and I was once again my mother’s caregiver. I tried not to stare as the younger woman pushed the other’s wheelchair under a table and arranged it at the optimal angle for eating.
“Oh, your sandwich looks good,” she said to her dining companion, a frail, slightly hunched woman in her 70s or 80s wearing blue dangling earrings and a tasteful blue flowered outfit.
I did not hear what the older woman said, but I chuckled to myself when she showed the apple on her plate to the other woman. She seemed to wonder why she had it.
“Are you okay with that?” the younger woman asked. “They try to get you to eat healthy.”
As the two women continued to converse and eat, tears pricked my eyes. I envied the younger woman; I did, I did. Sure, her life probably had its ups and downs, but I could tell as she leaned toward the older woman and rested her hand lightly on her arm that she cherished their relationship.
I thought about approaching their table, but I didn’t know what to say. I was sure they wouldn’t want me blabbering about how I had lost my mother and missed her. Perhaps, I could have said that they seemed to have a lovely relationship, but I didn’t want to seem intrusive. In the end, I stayed put because no matter what I may or may not have said, I didn’t trust myself to remain dry eyed. Furthermore, I didn’t want to make them uncomfortable.
Observing them made me think, of course, about the many times I ate a meal or shared a snack with my parents. One memory stood out; I wanted to recapture it the most.
On that particular day, I drove my mother somewhere — most likely, to a doctor’s office — and afterward, I realized we both could use something to eat. It was too late for her to eat lunch at the nursing home, and besides, I wanted to prolong our time together. We both were in a good mood; it was warm outside but not uncomfortable; and neither of us had any other obligations. We decided to take advantage of the drive-through window at Burger King.
She ordered a regular hamburger. I don’t remember what I ordered, but I do know we shared some fries. We didn’t want to eat in a parking lot — too ordinary — so I drove to a small roadside park, the size of about two parking lots. Only one or two cars were there. It was quiet and peaceful.
For once, neither of us was fussing at the other. She wasn’t telling me, “Lisa, you wear that jacket so often. Is it your uniform?” Likewise, I didn’t feel the need to remind her about anything or question her about any aspect of her life. We were just two friends who also happened to be mother and daughter. I wish I could remember what we talked about, but I don’t think it was anything monumental. I remember feeling relaxed and happy. Mom and I enjoyed our sandwiches, our fries, and our time together.
Since Mom’s death four years ago, I have thought about that day often; in fact, sometimes when I need to calm down, I picture us together and try to recapture the peace that surrounded us. The imagery works. My breathing becomes less shallow, and the tension in my shoulders melts away. I relax. Once again, life becomes manageable.