I went to see my mom on Sunday.
Such an ordinary statement. Such an extraordinary event. Such a surprise.
I hadn't seen her in over two years. The last time she was on her death bed, in hospice, given only hours to live. My baby brother, Geoff, and I gathered at her bedside to send her off with love and forgiveness. And for me at least, to send her off with a sense of relief and release and completion.
Even the hospice people were surprised when she started eating again and rallied. Her body did anyway. She left most of what little clear-thinking she had left on the other side. She babbled, and talked to long-dead relatives. Some words made sense. Most did not. She seemed happy, peaceful, at ease - completely unlike her in real life.
I went to say goodbye to her on my way home. She would be moved back into a nursing home as soon as a Medicare bed could be found for her somewhere in the state. She was sleeping when I arrived, and continued to doze as I said my goodbyes to her. Suddenly, in the middle of my tender monologue, her eyes flew open and pierced my heart in the same way she had done to me as a child. Fury. Coyness. Control.
"I'm not in any hurry to go."
I fled the room, her words, the remnants of childhood terror awakened by her look.
And didn't go back until Sunday. I didn't intend to ever go back. Didn't need to for myself, and knowing my presence wouldn't make a difference one way or the other to her.
Just the week before, with the help of my precious Pat, the last of the girls that my mom so terrorized finally came to know that Mommy was wrong about nearly everything. Most importantly she was wrong about my worth.
Those girls finally got to know that they deserve love, and deserved love, and that Mommy was wrong.
So I went to see her on Sunday, with my baby brother, Geoff. The brother who has taken care of her and her needs for all of this time without complaint and with a grace and dignity and selfless love that I am in awe of.
She didn't know me. She hardly acknowledged my presence. She couldn't take her eyes off Geoff, who she thought was our older brother. Other times with Geoff, she thinks he's Daddy, or her brother, or our other brother. What she knows without doubt is that he is the nice man who comes to see her every week.
I'm no one to her. Even when Geoff said, "This is Debbie. Your daughter." She looked at me and said, "Yes, you look like her." Then turned back to Geoff with a look of simple adoration while she handed him the kernels of corn left in her toothless mouth from lunch.
It was a good visit. She babbled - a few words of English, a few words of something else. If the inflection was a question, both Geoff and I agreed heartily, safe in the knowledge that in a few seconds she would have forgotten whatever we might have promised. If the inflection was a statement we asked questions - not necessarily connected to any of her words - just to keep the conversation going. If she laughed, we laughed, and then she laughed more.
When we got up to leave, she seemed sad that Geoff was going, but he soothed her by saying he had to go to work. She hardly noticed me, but seemed happy enough when I hugged her and told her I loved her. When we looked back, just at the door, she was struggling to roll her wheelchair across the room - away from us, as if we'd never been there.
I went to see a woman on Sunday who is my mother.
We remain connected by the thin threads of the web that holds all mothers and daughters together. As battered and tired as it is, there is deep beauty in the silk of the remaining connections. I am a distant memory of daughter caught in the synapses of a dying brain. She is my mother. An old woman spending her last days happy, peaceful and at ease. An old woman who can no longer hurt me. An old woman who is my history and my future, just as I am hers.
Photo by Walt Shucka