It’s a convoluted celebration, isn’t it? Many are lucky they can celebrate with their mothers and the healthy relationship they are fortunate to have. For some though, there is grief from no longer having a mom on this earth, and others grieve the loss of children who made them a mom, or those who want to become a mom and haven’t been able to. And, unfortunately, for some, there are those who did not have a good role model. Then there are those of us who have had a mom alive, but not the essence of their spirit, fortitude, or personality. Even though the body is present with us, Alzheimer’s or dementia robs us of relationships we once took for granted.
My mom was one who experienced Alzheimer’s for six-plus years. I say, “experienced,” not “suffered from,” because she wasn’t suffering. She knew not what was happening to her. It was those of us who lost the essence of who she was that suffered. Someone who survived much in life shouldn’t have to endure a dreadful disease. But life does what life does. My dedicated dad kept my mom at home during her Alzheimer’s slow deterioration. She was well cared for by ladies hired to help, as well as me and my siblings spending our weekends helping take care of her. Often, I wondered where her spirit was. If we are spiritual beings having a human experience, like I believe, when our mind doesn’t know who we are, where is the spirit? She passed away in September of 2020. Now that she is gone, I can feel her, and I talk to her. It is a relationship that I missed.
For six years, prior to her passing, each May right before Mother’s Day, I stood in the card aisle of various stores looking at cards dedicated to loving moms. I glared at the many options of cards, unable to reach for one that would be appropriate. What is an appropriate card for someone with Alzheimer’s that knows not what the card is for; knows not that she is your mom? Standing in the card aisle contemplating the many card options was as much fun as dangling in shackles in a dark dungeon. Wishing. Wishing for the former celebrations that brought our family, my parents, me, my two siblings, and our children together celebrating with flowers, food, and fun pictures taken on a beautiful spring day in May.
For six years I struggled with this celebration and others: birthdays, Easter, and Christmas. For the first couple of years of her diagnosis, I bought her cards. But in the latter years picking out a card seemed futile, she was so completely oblivious to who I was or the role I played in her life–one of the three who made her a mom.
She was a great mom. I won’t profess that she was perfect in every way, after all, she was renowned for burning bread every time she put it in the oven, and because perfection isn’t humanly possible when you work full time, are financially strapped, and have three children with very different personalities, and microwaves weren’t invented yet, so putting meals on the table was time-consuming. But deserving of the “Best Mom of the Year” award? I vote a resounding, yes. She was a loving, strengthening, supporting person from whom I launched my life (and my dad too, but this is about her). The picture I chose to be attached to this blog is one of my favorites. I was a young girl leaning into my mom, fully enveloped in her hug. Supported. Loved. The picture was taken on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Asheville, where I grew up. A family outing, I think. All I remember is the cracked boulder we stood in front of to pose for this photo and the feel of her as I leaned in. This picture came to symbolize the many cracks in life I’ve experienced but always having my go-to-for-support, mom.
She had a tough life growing up in very rural western North Carolina, during the depression and World War II, in a house that didn’t have electricity until she was in high school. Her father died of a heart attack at the end of her high school junior year. Through the tenacity of her mom and older siblings they managed to keep food on the table, although that sometimes meant a wild turkey or squirrel, she and her mom hunted. There were 60 acres of woods, a plum tree with plums for picking, and ample apples on trees that she picked and sold from the side of the road to raise money for her nursing school tuition.
She became a registered nurse through a program three hours away in the larger city of Asheville. She was proud to leave her rural roots and move forward in life. She met her husband-to-be while he was in the Navy through a classmate. After she completed nursing school and he the Navy, they married, and with no more than the car he owned, and a suitcase full of clothes, they moved to California for ten years. Both working, bringing three children into the world, and then returning to Asheville, North Carolina without jobs because they wanted a life closer to family. She (and my dad) made big leaps of faith by going to California and then returning to North Carolina.
Like my parents who left California for North Carolina without jobs, when I was in my early twenties and single, I left small-town Asheville where I grew up, and relocated myself to Charlotte, North Carolina without a job. When I told my mom what I was going to do, there was a bit of panic in her eyes, but also her loving support, and belief in me. I don’t think either of us realized, I was patterning myself after her, making decisions by taking a leap of faith towards a better life. For my parents and me, our leaps of faith worked out, but as life often is, there were multiple obstinate obstacles that we navigated.
A relative recently said to me, “You look and sound like your mom. And that is not a bad thing.” As the saying goes, Acorns do not fall far from the tree, and I am her “acorn,” she, my tree. When times are tough, I feel her enduring strength that lives on inside this “acorn” she produced.
I am a mother of one daughter. I named her with my mom’s family name. A name I correlate with strength, endurance, and tenacity. My 27-year-old daughter is doing her best to find her way in this world. Recently, she quit a job without a job to explore her options because where she was working was toxic. The acorn doesn’t fall far from this tree.
As I celebrated being a mother with my daughter and husband this Mother’s Day, missing my mom was part of the day. But I am relieved as much as grateful my mom is free of Alzheimer’s and is of the spirit world where I can connect with her. I’m blessed for the many years of celebrations we did have. I’m grateful she instilled in me a big part of her, and she is now always with me. I am privileged that I can laugh, talk, or look in the mirror and I will hear and see her in me. But the essence of her,
I feel with all my being.
Those arms wrapped around me as I lean into her, filling me with strength when the cracks of life shake me.
Thanks, Mom for your many gifts.
Mother’s Day tribute 2022