Guilt, sorrow, remorse, regret. Companions, all, whenever I remember my mother.
They entered my consciousness en masse, bastard feelings, the evening of October 13, 2002, while my husband and I awaited a cop with the key that would allow us to enter my mother’s apartment three days after she turned 67. Silence and the smell of death escaped her door and permeated the hallway.
The men entered her apartment. I am grateful they wouldn’t let me enter with them.
Shouts of, “She’s alive!” and “She’s conscious!” came quickly.
Thank you, God.
Soon enough, she was wheeled out on a gurney. Eyes wild, left cheek bruised and swollen, hair matted to her head, Mom looked through me. She’d been found on the cold-tiled bathroom floor, no telling how long she’d been “down.” A series of tests and ultrasounds in the emergency room revealed the cause behind her fall: Stroke.
Our lives quickly transformed themselves into new roles, where I became guardian and mother to my mother, who was now almost child-like. The stroke destroyed her cognition and memory and assaulted her physical body, too. Simple tasks, such as dialing a phone or using her television remote, escaped her.
Power of Attorney. Long-term care facilities. DNR. I was suddenly knee-deep in all matters of elderly health care and concerns. I became my mother’s voice and protector. God help those who mess with my mom!
For nineteen months, we adjusted and adapted to our new relationship. I considered her tragedy and hardship my blessing, a time to make amends and atone for our adult relationship I’d failed to nurture and appreciate. I loved her up, and I loved her well.
All the while, I grieved for my widowed and once fiercely-independent piano-playing mother gifted with an ornery Irish sense of humor, now replaced by an old woman in a wheelchair surrounded by other old women and a couple of old men in a Catholic nursing home a few miles from my house.
Eventually, Mom was diagnosed with lung cancer and died some 30 days later in the arms of my baby sister. It was easy for me to memorialize her and create a shrine of sorts in my bedroom, with pictures old and new, lighted votive candles and statues of Jesus and his Blessed Mother.
Then, a few weeks ago, we moved.
As I unpacked the post-stroke pictures of my mom, I gave them one last and long look. They make me sad to look at them, and they return me to a time Mom and I despised.
I believe it is time to put them away now, the pictures that captured the memories of our last journey together, the stuff of which my nightmares were, for many months, made. Lord knows she left me with plenty of pictures of happier times when we were young, all of us, and smiling. I now choose to surround myself with those instead.
As for the guilt, the sorrow, the remorse, the regret? Why, I believe I may some day be able to shelve those, too.
And as I write this essay and listen to her beloved senior Hank Williams croon from my computer speakers, I honestly believe Mom would want me to.
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