Thursday, March 28, 2013

Remembering

It takes awhile for her to answer the door. While we're waiting to be let in, Tommy's running up and down the ramp and I'm shielding Tessa with my coat so the cold night air won't bother her. Our breath comes out in little puffs and hangs in the air like a cloud in the sky.

We can hear her moving around, the sound of her feet shuffling on the carpet, the creak of her wheelchair as she leans forward to unlock the door. We finally get inside and I welcome the warmth that envelopes us. I rub my hands briskly to put life back into them as Tommy runs to the stuffed animals she has leaning against her TV cabinet.

I look around at the now familiar living room and I can tell she hasn't been doing much today. She sets up everything she needs in a circle around her recliner at the beginning of the day so she doesn't have to go through the struggle of getting the necessities later on. There's stacks of papers, wadded up kleenex, a few plates with scraps of food on them. Despite all of this, everything else in her house is pristine and in it's place. Her computer is open and sitting on her side table. It still surprises me every time I see it--that a woman in her seventies knows or cares how to use technology, but I've underestimated her. I think a lot of people have.

We start with the pleasantries--how the weather's been, what our neighbors have been up to. She answers our questions, but I can tell she's distracted and living in another time. I'm watching her, but she's watching my daughter. As Tessa cries and leans into me, I see a smile whisper across her lips. I see days gone by in her eyes....and I know she's remembering. When her daughter used to sit on her lap. What it was like to be able to hold your whole world in your arms. Each curve in her crooked back speaks of years of lifting babies, pushing grocery carts, moving loads of laundry, picking up after her teenagers. Everything about her screams that she's a mom.

She tears her eyes away from Tessa and I can tell she's exhausted. She absently runs her fingers through her thinning white hair and leans back. Tommy asks for a cracker and I see her brace her hands on her chair to lift herself up to get one. Nick reassures her he can find them and she sinks back into the recliner, dissappointment flickering across her face, knowing she can't do what she used to be able to.

We talk a little longer and I feel my body relaxing as I listen to the musical lilt of her voice --the kind that comes with years of triumphs and heartaches and energy spent. My mind wanders to her past and I try to picture the mother that she was. I bet she was the kind of mom that disciplined frequently, but had to hold a hand to her mouth to hide her smile while doing so. Judging from the wrinkles around her eyes, I think she did a lot of laughing--at her children and herself. I wish I could have known her then--to be her friend, to share our mom struggles, to walk back and forth across the lawn that connects us to exchange recipes and laughter.

But as I pull myself from the what-ifs, I see a comfort in knowing that someone else has been where I am. She has raised children and survived. She has cared for her household and done well. She has lost a husband she loved more than life and made it through to another day. She has had cancer and is stronger than ever because of it. Our eyes meet for only a moment and I know that she sees her past in my future. She reassures me with the slightest smile that although life can be hard, it's not unbearable. She's lived a long, good life and knows that the best is yet to come in eternity.

I thank God that her children still come to see her. That they take care of her and love her. I know it has to be hard to reverse roles with your children in old age--to let them bring your meals, to tuck you in at night, to make sure your bills are paid and your house is clean. I'm guessing as they do these things for her, her mind turns to the hours she's spent in the kitchen, preparing meal after meal for her family. I'm sure she remembers the times her hands have pulled their blankets up to their chins....when she's smoothed back their hair and said their bedtime prayers. But too much time has passed; too many days gone by for anyone but her to linger on them.

And as we wind down our visit and gather our things to leave, I can see in her eyes that she's begging not to be forgotten. That somebody in the world realize the part she's played, the work she's done, the love she's given. That although by some people's standards, she was only a mother, she changed somebody's life....she was the reason somebody existed....she was somebody's world. With a nod of my head, I let her know that I will not forget.

 Because I, too, am only a mother.

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