How do you write about Mother’s Day when it stirs so many emotions? I think of friends who lost their mothers this year, others who went through it years ago, and still others, like me, whose mothers get more fragile with each passing day. Losing a parent, I realize, is one of those things you just don’t believe will happen until it does.
My mother’s name is Hazel and in her youth, she was beautiful and feisty and fun. In this photograph she’s about 16 and glamorous in a schoolgirl sort of way, the picture of health. These days, though, in old age, she’s becoming a shell of her former self. I can write those words and know she won’t see them because she doesn’t go online. Not ever. Except maybe when I put my laptop in front of her and find an image she can look at.
I did that the other day for a little project to keep her active. She adores birds, so I asked her which bird she’d like to draw and she said, “I’ve always liked robins.” So, I found the right image, brought out some colored pencils, and she proceeded to sketch a picture. When she was done, well over an hour later, there was a bird-like creature on the paper, but strangely elongated. It hardly resembled a robin, though she didn’t seem to mind.
A neurologist called it her loss of “executive function.” There’s no way, for example, I’d expect her to read my novel. Reading requires too much concentration. She still gets around all right, as you can see in this snapshot, but her comprehension isn’t there. Though her eyesight is fine, her brain struggles to process what she sees: a light post might be a tree to her or a jacket more like a pair of slacks. We all know it’s dementia, and we all dread that it’s Alzheimer’s, but there’s little we can do.
The Old Days
I remember my mother in healthier times, younger times, when she could draw with precision, when she had energy to bustle about the house. My sister Sally tells how she mouthed off to mom once until she took off chasing her with a hairbrush. Sally had to race outside just to get away because my mother was lightning fast. I have other colorful memories of mom: driving my older sisters to Marshall High School in her robe and slippers; tucking us tightly into bed at night; and, of course, standing at the stove cooking a big pot of spaghetti or, better yet, a roast beef with her dark and delicious gravy. What says “mom” more than that?
My mother has given up cooking–it’s too complicated and dangerous. She may not fully realize it, though, since she threatened to bake cookies just a few weeks ago. I bought the chocolates chips like she asked, but then slipped them in the cupboard where I knew she’d forget about them and not burn herself. My dad and sisters and I do the cooking now, and, thankfully, mom doesn’t seem bothered by it. On some level I think she realizes it’s just too much.
What the Future Holds
I don’t like to think about the skills my mother has lost… or about how little time she might have left. Dad either, for that matter, since he’s been to the hospital many times lately. On this Mother’s Day, I’ll think instead about the legacy my mother will leave when she goes. She wasn’t perfect when we were young, no, far from it. But who is? For the most part, she did her best with what she had. If I put it into words, my tribute to her, I’d say this:
When I came home from school or dirty and hungry from playing outside, I always knew she’d be there. I knew I could stand at the stove to watch her cook and that I could talk to her–chattering away–for hours and she would listen. Even when money was scarce, I knew she’d put my needs first, ahead of hers. She always did. We didn’t have fine china or fancy things growing up, but I always got new school shoes and a decent coat to keep me warm. No matter what happened or how bad things got–and they did get bad–I knew that she loved me and that she’d do her damnedest to be there for me. Years later, I honored her love by paying it forward to my own children. And she’s been so sweet to them.
When the End Comes
And here’s the final truth about mom. Even after she’s gone, she’ll be here still, in my memory. She’s my one and only, flawed and imperfect but wonderfully-original mom. On this Mother’s Day weekend as she sits with us and visits, I’ll say a quiet prayer of thanks for that.
If you have memories about your own mother you’d care to share, please leave a reply. I’d love to hear them.