I lost Mom more than a year ago. Wellwishers, trying to send comfort, say that she lived a long, good, life. And they are right; she died at age 90.

Her world had gotten small by then — much smaller than she wanted it, that's for sure. Grocery store trips with me were about all she could handle in the way of outings. She still lived alone, though, and was fiercely independent. I always offered to shop for her, but she usually wanted to go too. And, truthfully, I liked it better when she came along.


I knew it took her a long time to get ready for the big grocery store trip, even though her wardrobe was limited to elastic pants and the same blouse and sweater in those days. Her mobility had deteriorated to the point where she probably should have been in a wheelchair, but she soldiered on with a cane. At the store, I would lead her to a railing and tell her to carefully hold on while I got her a grocery cart, which served just fine as her walker, all the while glancing back nervously to make sure she was steady.

Mom gave me a list of things to get for her while she did some shopping herself; she knew her limits. Her body was going fast, but her mind, and wit, were 100 percent till the end. Still, I would sometimes find her in an aisle moving pretty slowly and looking tired, maybe confused. At the checkout, I would offer to put her groceries on the conveyor belt and suggest maybe she wait on the bench and let me finish up.

Often, while helping my mom, I would glance up and see a woman about my age, 60ish, making eye contact with me with half a smile, a wistful "I've been there look" on her face.

I guess I knew the time with my mom was coming to an end. I started doing crazy things like taking secret pictures of her in the produce department or as she was moving ever-so-slowly through the exit, balancing on that cart, which had gotten a lot heavier with all of her groceries. She'd leave her handwritten grocery lists behind, and I would take them out and put them in my pocketbook when she wasn't looking. I'd take her home to her house, talk to her while she sat and unloaded her groceries from the bags. Sometimes we would have coffee, but near the end, she just wanted to rest most of the time.

I had her for 60 years, going to her for advice and laughter right up until the end. She always made me feel happy when I was sad, confident when I was anything but, and safe and secure in this world. When she died, I felt vulnerable; my world is different now.

These days, I shop alone. I treasure those lists I stole from her shopping cart and made a book out of them along with all the pictures I took of her on the sly.

Today, when I see a woman helping her elderly mom through a shopping trip, I'm the one looking on with a half-smile, feeling both genuine warmth and intense sadness at the same time.

Ann Roberts taught elementary school in Baltimore Countyfor 30 years; her mom was Trudy Mugele of Lutherville. Her email is annmikeroberts@comcast.net.