I wake in a panic, thinking for a moment that I’m late for work before remembering that I’m on annual leave after Mom’s funeral.
Despite having the next week to myself, I need to keep busy, because sitting around with my own thoughts isn’t an option, especially not today.
I decide to take a drive over to the care facility where I volunteer on my time off, which isn’t as often as I’d like. I haven’t been there in almost a month, what with Mom’s passing, and it feels like the right thing to do today
I dress quickly in leggings and a t-shirt with the slogan ‘All Life Is Precious’ across the front, stuffing my feet into my sneakers and grabbing a protein bar on the way out the door.
Twenty minutes later I park my little Honda outside Cherry Trees, a large, redbrick building that houses twenty-eight residents with varying degrees of dementia and cognitive impairment.
Once inside, I sign in, waving to a couple of staff I recognize before heading into the office.
Sonya, the home manager, gives me a big smile, her plump form rising from her desk as she pulls me against her more-than-ample bosom for a big hug.
“Hey, Sonya. I hope you don’t mind me coming unannounced, but I had a few spare hours and thought I’d come by and help out,” I say, pulling back to look at the older woman.
“Of course, I don’t mind, honey,” Sonya reassures me. “You know you’re always welcome here, same as your Momma was,” Sonya replies, her eyes full of sympathy as she looks at me.
My Grams had succumbed to dementia and spent her latter years here. Mom and I had visited often, often volunteering our time in whatever capacity we could, something we continued to do even after Grams had passed away.
“How’re you holding up, darlin’?” Sonya asks, breaking into my thoughts.
“It’s tough,” I shrug. “It felt like a good idea to come here today. I think Mom would’ve liked that, you know?” I say, feeling the sting of tears behind my eyes.
“She would, honey, she would,” Sonya says softly. “We’re all going to miss her happy face around here. She was a truly selfless woman.”
“Okay, stop now, before I ugly cry,” I say, laughing and sniffling at the same time. “I think I’ll go make myself useful.”
“You do that, honey, and give a holler if you need anything,” Sonya says, giving me a little wave as I make my way out of the office.
I spend the next few hours tidying bedrooms, helping to make beds and taking clothes to the laundry. At mid-morning, I make drinks, taking them to the residents who prefer to stay in their rooms and pausing to chat with those who seem open to a little company.
I finally get to the last room, knocking lightly before entering.
“Hi, Linda, it’s Jenna,” I say, moving into the room, my eyes falling on the woman sitting in the armchair by the window.
“I brought you a nice cup of tea, just how you like it,” I say, placing the bone china cup and saucer she favors on the table at her side.
I pull up another chair across from her, making sure I don’t block her view of the beautiful landscaped gardens with their water features, the water making eternal loops through various stone sculptures.
“How are you?” I ask, as I always do.
And as always, there’s no reply.
Linda’s glassy eyes stare out the window, seemingly oblivious to my presence in her room, the copious drugs she takes to keep her stable also robbing her of any spark of individuality.
“Sorry I haven’t been to visit for a while,” I say, softly. “Mom died a few weeks ago, so, uh, it’s been a tough time.”
I close my eyes, swiping at the tears that roll down my face, and when I open them again, Linda is looking at me, really looking at me, her usual blank expression replaced with a haunting sadness.
“Linda?” I breathe.
As quickly as it appeared, the expression is gone, her eyes glazing over again as she turns her head back towards the window, leaving me to wonder if I imagined it.
I leave soon after, saying my goodbyes and promising to come back soon.
Back in the car, I sit staring into space, feeling on edge as I think about Linda’s response to the news of my Mom’s death. These are the moments when the pain of losing her hits me like a sledgehammer, the moments when I think I’ll just call her and talk to her, tell her about my day and ask her about hers, only to remember that’s something I’ll never be able to do again.
The need to do something physical, to blow off some steam, overwhelms me and I decide a visit to Undercover Rock is in order.
I head towards home, swinging by the house to grab my climbing shoes before heading to the climbing center on the other side of town.
I haven’t been there since Tyler left as the place holds too many memories of the times we went climbing there together. In recent years, I’ve opted to use the climbing wall at the leisure complex where I work instead, but convenient though that is, I don’t really want to spend my time off at my place of work. Plus, there’s no bouldering section there, which is what I want to do today.
It’s not far and before long I’m pulling up outside the large warehouse building that houses the climbing center.
After paying the entry fee I head to Urban Rock on the top floor, the area dedicated to bouldering. I’m happy to see I have the place to myself - being a weekday, it’s blissfully empty.
After warming up, I lose myself in the challenge of navigating the complex shapes and diverse angles, relishing the adrenaline of climbing without ropes. My stress melts away as my muscles stretch and burn, my only focus on finding the next hand or foot hold.
“Nice grip you’ve got there!”
I’m so lost in my own world that the unmistakable voice startles me, and I lose my grip, tumbling to the ground.