When I was growing up, it didn’t occur to me Mom would want to be anything other than what she was — a wife and mother. She worked hard from the moment she awakened until her day was done long after the rest of us had gone to bed. Maybe before she drifted off to sleep she thought of dreams she had nurtured as a young girl, but she didn’t mention them. It just wasn’t done in those days. There was so much work demanding attention in the house and around the farm, most women of Mom’s generation never had time to speak of their secret longings.
Like the rest of us, I took Mom for granted. She was Mom and that was all there was to it. She cooked our meals, washed and ironed our clothes, helped with the barn chores, wallpapered the kitchen and front room walls every three years, nursed us when we were sick, made sure we were clean and well prepared for school, helped us with our homework, and got us to church every Sunday. In other words, Mom was our slave.
She had the energy of an army, while I have the energy of a flea. She had the wisdom of a scholar, while I — complete with graduate degrees — have the wisdom of an ant. When Dad unexpectedly passed away, Mom bravely soldiered on although I knew her heart was breaking. Dad was her whole world as her children were grown and gone.
Rarely a day goes by when I don’t think of her. Because I live in her mobile home, her essence is everywhere. Every step I take in this place was taken by her before me. I look out the same windows. When I go outside, I walk down the same steps. I open and close all the same doors. Even the old straw broom I sweep with was held in Mom’s hands.
For the last few years of her life, Mom lived in a nursing home. I often visited her, but sometimes when I drove to the home, I couldn’t get out of my car. It was just too painful to see her in the wheelchair, going down the hallway until she found her room — B-4. It was an easy number to remember because it reminded her of Bingo. B4 was a number she always needed but was rarely called.
Visiting her made me realize that a lifetime can be condensed to fit into one chest of drawers, a night stand, and half a clothes closet. Our loved ones take so little with them when they leave their home. Sometimes I caught Mom counting her belongings. I stood outside the door of B-4 and listened while she conversed with herself. As she removed each item, she counted.
No. 1 was a bottle of cologne. No. 2 was her rosary. No. 3 was a Mother’s Day corsage. No. 4 was a pair of new socks. Even when I entered her room, the counting continued until she reached 31.
She counted all the tiny bits of discarded candy wrappers and all the ribbons from various presents. Everything from her night stand she placed in a little pile on her bed. She smiled at me and said she had more possessions than King Midas and all his gold.
If you are fortunate and your mom is still with you, treasure her. You may not understand her or her ways, but accept her as she is. As mothers, we try our best to make everyone happy — but that’s an impossible task.
Sometimes I think Alzheimer’s disease is God’s parting gift to those who are stricken with it if it’s not too severe. If we remembered all the mistakes we’ve made, how could we endure old age? As much as I despise that disease, I know Mom was more content living in a world of her imagination than in reality.
A few days before she passed, I called the home and asked for her. When she came on the line she inquired who I was. When I told her, she said she was sorry but that she had no children. Her last words were, “I hope you find your mother.” Those words still bring tears to my eyes and a sting to my heart.
If it’s possible, spend time with your mother on Mother’s Day. Even if she doesn’t recognize you, her spirit will know you still love her, and she will be happy.