In the Scheme of Things: Seeing Mom

I was haunted by the regret I’d feel if I didn’t at least try to see my mother. And so, with trepidation and fear of what that deepening pain might become, we left for California. The last few times I’d visited, she didn’t know me, mistaking me for her sister or not seeming to find a connection at all. While my brain understood, my heart didn’t.

It hasn’t always been like that, of course. Currently, my mother lives in a skilled nursing facility in northern California near my brother and his family. The impact of two strokes enhanced by growing dementia rendered her, at 97, fragile, quiet, and distant.

I knew the odds of reaching her were slim, but my soul ached to tell her, once again, how much I loved her before that opportunity was gone. That was the state of my heart when my brother, husband, and I entered the familiar place where mom has lived the last few years.

At first, I didn’t recognize the frail woman slumped in a wheel chair in the hallway as my mother. She was smaller and more “out of it” than I’d seen her; her head down, focus fixed. My brother, who visits often, collected her and we moved to her end-of-the-hall shared room.

In my brother’s hand was a chocolate milkshake, a treat he brings to nudge or “awaken” her. In my mother’s hands was a well-worn stuffed animal she cradled like a baby. It was well into our second hour of storytelling about growing up with her and Dad, showing her old photos, and holding her hands, when her eyes brightened a little and she seemed to see us a bit more.

Our talk turned to babies — that her babies were here to see her — and when it did, a lightly connected thread seemed to strengthen as we talked about her babies, our babies, our babies’ babies — showing her pictures of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren as we did.

Like a compact florescent bulb that takes time to brighten, slowly an understanding emerged in her expression. Our message seemed to reach her frequency as she looked at the pictures of those who will come after her and a small smile emerged, as if she knew her life mattered.

My husband, who she has loved since they met, nudged her further asking, “Who is this?” as he put his hand on my shoulder. She was silent while we locked eyes in a soulful embrace. Struggling for both clarity and words, eventually she slowly said, “You’re my daughter.”

There was grace in the room that day. “I see you, Mom,” I answered, “And I know you see me.” Our eyes communicating what my words spoke, “I love you; I miss you.”

Always the nurturer, unconditional-love-giver, sappy one of the family, even tending a baby crow who’d fallen from the nest, ultimately teaching it to fly, and my father’s caretaker for years during his Alzheimer’s demise, it was my mother who nurtured me that day. As we touched spirit to spirit — soul to soul — our eyes transferred love.

In the scheme of things, it was a love-affirming gift I received this Mother’s Day from my mother. After years of not being able to connect, this year, in a deep and profound way, I saw my mother and she saw me. At this time of year when we honor our mothers, and those who care for us and love us, let us always remember it’s the love, always the love that remains.

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