My mother is having trouble remembering. At 87, that is not unusual. Names escape her and she guesses in rapid succession before getting the right name or giving up or deciding one is correct, whether or not it is.
'Tell Ted I love him,' she'll say, referring to my husband, Terry. It's just a name. The sentiment is what counts.
What has not gone away is mothering. My mother's first concern is for me. She is in a nursing home in her beloved New England, surrounded by family. Two brothers visit her constantly and her sister resides down the hall. I speak with my mother every day, sometimes more than once. I make the trip there less frequently.
I know my mother wishes I lived in the town where I was born and could visit her in person all the time. But what she says to me is this: Don't come up if you are tired. No need to make the trip when you have so much to do. Her primary concern is for her child. Amazing. Occasionally, my Mum longs for her own dear mother. 'I wonder if my mother is coming to see me today,' she said recently with such longing. 'Do you think she might?'
'Grammie is dead now, Mum,' I was sad to have to remind her.
'She is?' came the anguished reply. 'For how long?'
'Thirty years. You miss her very much, don't you,' I said gently.
'Oh, yes!' Her grief brought tears to my eyes.
I know no one other than Ann and I could understand what she is saying much of the time, but we do. In the often-jumbled words and sentences are thoughts that somehow reach from mother to daughter.
I have always known my mother loved me and that has always been a great gift. We are very different and never had the warm and fuzzy relationship some mothers and daughters have, but I always knew she was there for me and these last few years of her decline have brought us close to that warm and fuzzy place.
What stands out clearly to me is how appreciative my Mum is of any - no, every - little thing I do for her. I have a whole new look at this still fiercely independent woman who always valued motherhood more than anything else. 'My girls,' she says with such love and pride that it goes to Ann's and my hearts, in the midst of so many churning emotions.
Her independence and integrity were what people noted about my mother, but no one described her as sweet - until lately. The head nurse on her floor told me during last month's visit that she is so sweet that everyone loves her. 'She loves to be playful and kid around with the aides,' the nurse pointed out. She is making the best of a situation she had always hoped would never come.
Sweet? My Mum? Yes, sweet. It's sometimes hard to talk with her, or perhaps I should say, listen to her. I know no one other than Ann and I could understand what she is saying much of the time, but we do. In the often-jumbled words and sentences are thoughts that somehow reach from mother to daughter. Sweet.
I know the day is coming when I won't have Mum to call. There isn't anyone else in this world so thrilled to hear from me. Motherhood - it's the thing that outlasts everything else.
Jean Loxley-Barnard has been a writer all her life and studied both sociology and psychology at George Washington University where she earned a B.A. Her company, The Shopper, Inc., encompasses all the Loxley-Barnard family publications - The Shopper Magazines and Doctor to Doctor Magazine. She has been in the advertising, consulting and publishing business for 39 years.
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