Mothers Day Gift

May 13, 2012

Real love

It’s Mother’s Day and my hand traces the necklace I now wear, a smooth silk strand threaded with beads and sparkling stones. I’m remembering a Mother’s Day 13 years ago, my sons Spencer and Miles with huge grins, handing me the sweet little gift bag, which seemed outrageously feminine and frilly in Spencer’s large, worn carpenter’s hand. They knew they had scored when they saw the look of joy on my face as I unwrapped it and held it up. It’s been broken and rethreaded twice. And I ALWAYS wear it Mother’s Day. I also have a token my son Jake gave me in first grade for Mother’s Day that says he will give me “five bucks when you need it.” I’m saving it.

This holiday can be a tough one. I’ve thought of my friend Terri, who went home, heaven-home, last fall and her family all day – three kids faced again with her huge absence as commercialism screams “Happy” for a month. And for my friend who lost her son last August. It hurts deeply, the loss magnified again. I guess that’s why I’ve learned to turn from tradition and forge new expectations for most holidays. One of the ways I do this is I go to work. Being around sick and hurting people kills self-pity.

As I entered the rooms of my two “mother” patients today, I saw the flowers, balloons and chocolates left by family. Despite their cheerful voices as they took calls from far-away children, I could tell they were beat, exhausted in the battle. It reminded me of when I used to go out in the yard and hide behind a tree if I had to cry. I couldn’t let the children see me broken. I’ve wondered at times if this is good and I still don’t know the answer.

My own mom has been saying goodbye slowly for about five years. Dementia has crept in, sometimes taking large, noticeable objects but mostly it’s subtle, her brain a mass of circuits that are quietly shutting down. My sister and I were reflecting that her speech, although mostly unintelligible, has waned and almost disappeared over the last year. She told me she brings a Cadbury bar when she visits and mom has always enthusiastically devoured it. Last visit she wouldn’t eat it. My sister even tried to feed it to her like a little bird. Shutting down.

Today I thought back to my last visit, and how even though I knew she would not recognize me, I still felt my heart sigh when I turned the corner and she looked up at me. The visit was short. Frustrated by my inability to communicate with her, I played with her hands, which she seems to like. I felt the smooth little pads on her fingertips and the thin bones clearly outlined behind her sheer skin. Purple veins run across the arthritic joints now and I tried to imagine those same hands 50 years ago changing diapers, combing my hair, washing my face, baking biscuits with flour all over them. She was not affectionate then. I would close my eyes at night and pretend sleep so that I could feel my mother’s soft kiss on my forehead. Now it’s all I can do: kiss her face for maybe the last time and hold those hands that held me. Odd that a relationship spanning years of awkward distance and miscommunication boils down to holding hands and making funny faces at each other. But it feels okay, like that’s where real love finally lands and rests.

My sons Miles and Jake are grown men now and I rejoice in who they are, in all that God has given to us and that they love me, despite my brokenness and craziness at times. God has mercifully filled all the empty places, the awkward moments with His love. Honor thy mother and father. Simple design and not too difficult when we follow the Designer of it all. Before your mama slips away, hold her hand and tell her you love her. It may be the last time and it may be the best time of all. And to all you moms, it’s okay to be vulnerable. Not so strong. God will fill in all the empty places. And your children will learn real love.