Mother's Day, Revisited.
07/24/2008, 9:36 PM #
(I've been on sabbatical from here lately for lots of reasons, mostly things going on in my house these past few months. This is something I wrote for Quiblit a while back, and having just spent most of today with my mother, I felt like reposting it here tonight.)
Things seemed to take a sharp turn for the worse, after many months of steady deterioration. Her shallow breathing made us suspect pneumonia or pulmonary edema, or both. She knew it was serious enough to see the doctor again, but was stubbornly resisting our plan of going straight to the hospital.
My mother is dying. It is the reason she doesn’t want to go to the hospital, and why she doesn’t want to leave her house.
My sisters and I gently persuade her that it is the only recourse, and we begin helping her get a few things together to bring to the hospital. An ambulance had been called but hadn’t arrived yet. She sat on the side of her bed with an overnight bag open beside her, reluctantly directing us where to find this or that; "my blue nightgown in the middle drawer, the silk throw on the couch."
She gradually seemed calmer, sitting there on her bed, watching her four daughters attend to her. I could feel her gaze fall on me – maybe because of how I kept moving, forever swiftly moving; trying to escape what was hovering just below the surface. I kept focused on the immediate; Here, let me tie your shoes for you. But her feet were too swollen to fit into her shoes. I wanted to tell her how scared I was at the thought of her dying. How can this be happening? I’m not ready for this yet, I’ll never be. I love you! I wanted her comfort; I wanted to be the child again.
But instead of saying anything, I just kept moving. The lump in my throat was getting larger, more constricting. I couldn’t have spoken even if I knew what to say.
At my mother’s direction I went into her walk-in closet for the terrycloth slippers that would slide over her poor swollen feet. Once inside it felt like a sanctuary, quiet and safe. I began looking at all of her clothes. There were so many memories of her here, I couldn’t believe how seeing her familiar clothing brought them back so clearly. Pushing aside hangers of everyday attire, I reached for the lovely mauve evening dress she’d worn to my wedding, and to all of my brother’s and sister’s weddings. I should've known she would never throw it away. My mother loved this dress so much so that she wore it to seven of our weddings. Granted, we had all gotten married within a span of a few years of each other, but still - the same dress to seven weddings!
Up on a shelf was a very distinct John Wanamaker’s hatbox that I instantly recognized. I reached for it and it tumbled down onto me, spilling out a mink pillbox hat, one I hadn’t seen or thought of since grade school. Seeing it brought back such a rush of feelings - mixed with an utter stab of grief. I held the hat close to my face, feeling its luxurious softness, and I just remembered.
I began pulling back hanger after hanger of her clothing to get to the coat with the matching fur trim. I knew it had to be in here too. It was far in the back encased in a heavy garment bag, but I managed to drag it to the front where I was standing.
I have pictures of my mother wearing this hat and coat, from a time of my childhood when she seemed so glamorous to me. I unzipped the long tailored coat bag and pulled out the coat – and without hesitating I slipped into it myself. I wanted to feel my mother’s arms all around me and by wearing her beautiful coat, I did.
From outside the closet I could hear muffled voices calling for me, the ambulance was here and my mother needed her slippers. I began sliding off her coat, but then I changed my mind. Rummaging around on the floor I quickly grabbed the terrycloth slippers she wanted. Walking back out into the bedroom still wearing the coat, I popped on the pillbox hat.
Something I’ll never forget for the rest of my life: my mother looking up as I came towards her, catching her breath at the sight of me standing in front of her wearing her beautiful old coat and hat. My mother laughing, taking complete delight in the incongruity of it all, stretching out her arms to hug me, to embrace me.
…and how it felt at that moment, when she did.