It’s been nearly 20 years since my mother died. For all but a year and a bit of the decade before that, I lived seven hours away from her and my Dad. As a result, as an adult I only had a handful of in-person Mother’s Days with Mom, and for the final two, she was bedridden and didn’t recognize me.
I wish I’d been able to know my mom better as an adult. I was a student for her entire life, still largely dependent on her and my Dad for financial support even as I had moved to another country and gotten married. Before that time, through my childhood, my mom was special. We were inseparable through my early elementary school years, and after we moved, when I had so much trouble that first year in making friends, she was my companion. We did crafts together, and our family vacations were always special. I lived at home my first two years at Ohio State, and even after I moved on campus for the last three years of my undergrad life, I still visited home frequently.
I had envisioned a future, once I got married, of my parents coming up to visit my in Canada every year, perhaps to attend the Stratford Festival as we had for so many years. But my parents had lives, too. Dad retired around 1993, and he and Mom made one trip to Hawaii, along with a few visits to their own brothers and sisters. Our lives began to go in different directions, though I called regularly and there was certainly no estrangement. They only came to see me once–I think it might have been two or three years after I got married. We met up with Dave’s parents in Stratford, stayed in the same B&B that where I’d spent my honeymoon, and attended a couple of plays–I don’t even remember which ones. My parents never came to Canada again, though Dave and I regularly went to Columbus to visit.
That year was the final time I attended the Festival until rhis past year, and so there’s a bit of a bittersweet feel to the memory–and for other reasons. It wasn’t that long after that I first started to see the initial signs of my mom’s decline, although it took awhile to recognize them. We would go to Red Lobster, and she’d ask every time whether they had sweet and sour dressing. She ordered strange things through mail order, including wigs and sets of sewing scissors (she hadn’t sewn in years). She began to be taken in by any appeal for money that came her way. She repeatedly wanted to buy a new pair of black pants, forgetting the several pairs in her closet. And her physical appearance began to decline as well. She was diagnosed with Alzheimers around 1996 or 1997.
This diagnosis changed my life forever. Instead of staying in the Toronto area after I completed my PhD, I moved back to Columbus with my husband and, for a time, into the large house where I’d grown up. By that time, however, it was too late for me to be involved closely with my mom’s care. She’d slipped away from me before I could really get to know her as an adult. It wasn’t how I had pictured my final years with her.
And so it’s really been thirty years since Mother’s Day meant a card and a special in-person meal with my mom. This has never made me particularly heartsick–until this year, seeing so many mothers and their adult children separated, not by the course of my regular life as it was for me, but by fears of a deadly disease. Mom was one of the few people I ever felt completely at ease in hugging, and suddenly I miss her touch.
On this Mother’s Day, for me, there is just a sort of numbness, the realization of words that were said over the years–I did say all of the right words–but I only now know what they truly meant.
I know she knew, though. And that is enough.