Emotional Air Miles

By Michael C Kelly, 2021

I’ll never forget one 2016 Saskatoon wedding. Gail and I were invited, along with Dot, my mother-in-law. Dot’s health had been declining. She suffered from poor vision, hearing loss, and Alzheimer’s.

The wedding would be a festive affair, but we knew we would have an arduous journey. Two flights were needed to get there, and we knew we would be staying in an unfamiliar space from a Friday to the following Monday.

Still, we accepted.

The wedding was a late-night, Saturday blast. I decided I would try and let Gail sleep in on Sunday morning while I took Dot to mass at a nearby Catholic cathedral.

On Sunday morning, we were awakened by Dot. She was disoriented and wandering the perimeter of our hotel room. Gail dressed her for mass while I fetched her a breakfast snack. Then I took her arm and escorted her to the church.

Once inside, we approached the altar by the right side aisle. We stopped at the third row to take our seats facing a choir and the backs of a group of deaf people sitting in the first two rows. In front of us stood a choirmaster and a sign language interpreter, the first facing the choir, the second facing us.

Catholic masses are not like roisterous Cirque du Soleil performances. The priest moved little and looked small behind his altar. The sign language interpreter, on the other hand, was close, animated and easier for Dot to see.

Every time the priest spoke, the interpreter stood to sign his words. Thinking he was the priest, Dot interpreted his hand movements as the priest crossing himself. She’d respond with her own sign of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

I don’t know how many times she did this before I noticed. Given her hearing and wanting to be polite, I wasn’t about to frustrate her or disturb a mass by correcting the behaviour. I did remember the advice someone gave me about trying to alter someone’s reality. “Get into theirs instead.”

And I did. Together Dot and I pumped out signs of the cross with factory efficiency.

When mass ended, I celebrated by pointing out how efficiently we crossed ourselves. “And I’m sure every sign is like an air mile. Dot, you and I earned enough air miles to take us to the pearly gates – first class.” We giggled like mischievous children.

Dot, sadly, has passed. I often think of those signs of the cross and the air miles we ascribed to them. I like to think of it as a moment of joy that helped ease her end journey to first class.