Thirty-three years ago today, my mother celebrated her last birthday on this Earth. She was 60 years old. We lost her a month and a half later.
On my next birthday, I will be the age at which she was diagnosed with the heart disease that would kill her. And between her 57th and 60th years, she and I shared in the grief that I had to become parent to my mother. She had no choice but to understand what was happening and to accept it. It was a hard place for us to be.
Six months after I lost my mother, I met the man who was to become my husband. It took about three years for us to get around to marriage, the same amount of time it took for heart disease to steal my mother.
About three years ago, my mother-in-law began to have problems with memory and cognition. Yesterday we took her to her new home in a memory care facility.
In the three years since her diagnosis of the cognitive disorder which developed into dementia, I have become her mother, full circle again from that young woman of thirty-three years ago. She does not understand what is happening, and she has no choice but to accept it. It’s a hard place for us to be.
But while this post could be about the ravages of two different terminal illnesses, witnessed by a daughter at two different places in her life, it is really about memory.
On my mother’s last birthday on Earth, we made her favorite cake (angel food) with white icing out of the box (her favorite), and decorated it with her favorite flowers from the yard (Bachelor Buttons).
I remember she had an appetite that day. The cake was studded with flowers. We laughed.
When my mother was sick, my best friend got married, and I remember sitting on Mom’s bed sewing the maid of honor dress. It was surrogate for the wedding she would never see me have. We held that time very close. I still do.
When I got married, my mother-in-law gave me advice and loaned me her sewing machine to make the wedding dress my mother would never see. I remember that when it came time for mother of the bride pictures, she rather reluctantly stood in, reluctant only because she didn’t want to intrude. I knew it was right, though. I remember her scolding afterward, saying she had managed not to cry until I gave her a flower during the ceremony. She can no longer hold the memory of dress or ceremony. I hold both very close.
I remember that my own mother taught me to bake bread, and I remember that my mother-in-law taught me how to find my way around a kitchen. To handle a knife. To taste the food while I was cooking. To feed a crowd. To comfort and bring together all who sat at the table by the caring act of cooking a meal to be shared.
So today, I’m remembering my mothers. I’m mourning them. But mostly, I’m holding them very close.