This I Believe

Joanne - Gainesville, Florida
Entered on September 26, 2006

March of the Daughters

I tried my best to soften the end of the circle that began with my arrival in Mom’s life and concluded with her departure from mine. It was what I needed to do. It was what I wanted to do.

I was one of the many daughters [it’s almost always daughters] hurrying toward the large, pale pink building housing the final moments of independence for our mothers. We were usually carrying plastic sacks and plants and soft canvas bags filled with amenities. These were the gifts of self and love, to make our mothers’ final months or years a little nicer—a little better than mere routine.

As one of those daughters, I knew the look in the others’ eyes as we paced the familiar hallways, passing with brief smiles of recognition. We belonged to a sorority of hopefuls. We wished for more healthy time to share with our mothers, dreading the phone calls that might announce another illness or fall. We tried to manage each stomach clenching crisis with brightness and optimism. We resisted noticing the signs that our mothers were winding down: the slower steps, the letting go of tasks they once could do.

Now, my visits are over, not just to see my mother in her apartment, or to take her on an outing, but the scary ER trips and the tedious hospital stays where I was a monitor of the caregiving for this person I knew so well.

I visit Mom’s silent rooms with an inward apology for invading her privacy. The remaining bits of her life are exposed to me, and I feel guilty for the intrusion. As I sort and choose what to keep, I encounter possessions I never saw before, or can’t remember.

“What value did these things have for you?” I wonder. “Why did you keep this? Was there something special about these letters that only you could know?” That’s the worst of it: no longer being able to ask. But I also realize that she deserves some secrets, and the need to know is mine alone.

As I retreat through the corridors and see the other daughters who still march to the drumming of their mother’s lives, I know I have left the membership of a legion of women who treasure and fear those final days. And it crosses my mind to wonder, since my husband and I have no children . . . will there be someone to walk for me?