I believe in knowing my 90-year old mother. I believe in placing face cream on her face, in delicately dabbing every wrinkle, line, curve, and knobby bit. I believe in smoothing the richest cream over her dry forehead and through her eyebrows that are almost dust-colored now. I begin from the top, tracing the cream from her brow down through her cheeks, lifting the oxygen tubes so that every dip of skin is coated. I move to her nose, softly sliding cream along the bony ridge and sloping sides of her nostrils. Down around her chin and mouth I go, wondering how many words she still has within her. She wants cream on her eyelids she tells me; they flutter closed for a few seconds so that I can pat just a touch of cream over the quivering eyes I feel beneath. I loop down under her pale blue eyes, and find the place most in need of cream, right beneath her nostrils where the oxygen tubes chafe her skin. I give her extra dabs on her upper lip, leading up to each nostril. Then, I stand back to see her shine for a few seconds before the cream is absorbed. I realize she needs lip salve too and rub some into her disappearing rosy lips. She looks soft, creamy and comforted. I believe in this split second of comfort, for both of us.
I don’t stop there. I lift each bruised and weakened arm, folds of deep blue crepe paper skin, punctured over and over in vain. The skin is crackled, like shale or a lizard maybe. There is a leftover hair or two growing. I tackle these dry arms with large pink vessels of lotion. I cradle each frail arm between my hands and rub its length, again and again, leaving nothing untouched. Her elbows, wrists, slender fingers, and nails – all putty under my fingertips.
I notice her legs, more purple bruising from medications or unnoticed falls. I lift each leg, coating it with all the love I can pour from that pink plastic bottle. She gives me a weak, grateful, partial smile and says she feels good now. I wonder if I should start all over, if there is more comfort to find or give anywhere, under the glare of hospital lights.
I believe in taking these moments to explore and know my mother’s face, perhaps for the last time. I trace her skin in detail, memorize her lines with my fingertips, memorialize her while she and I can still see one another. Skin to skin solace. This I Believe.
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