When we were little, my mom made all my cousins laugh. She created a game by dividing us up–April, Amy, Erin, Carrie, and I. The team that didn’t laugh at her antics won the prize. Of course, Mom always assigned Carrie and me to opposite teams. She knew. The second she opened her mouth or made a ridiculous face, my cousins were rolling on the floor in sidesplitting fits. Carrie and I sat–equally stoic–eyeing the $1 prize we both so desperately wanted to win.
Forty years later, she still does it. She still makes everyone laugh. The nurses, aides, cooks, and assistants at her health care center (because we’re not allowed to call it a nursing home) adore her. Even on the days her body betrays her the most, when you can see the pain in her chocolate eyes, she’s witty and wise and wonderful.
She is the same in so many ways, even though she’s also so different. It is surreal, to visit your mom in a home that is not her home, after so many years of living by her side, in her presence, with all the things she’s loved so well surrounding her… and you.
She’s always been my biggest cheerleader, my number one, my go-to. Whether it was a basketball championship or a softball double-header or a college vocal performance or a coming out, she’s never faltered. Not once.
Her love is unconditional. Her support, unmatched.
As my kids grow up, my mom grows older. It is the inevitable march of time.
And her wheelchair, her immobility, the handfuls of pills and shots she receives every day, the soft cotton of her hair… they are all reminders that I will not have her forever.
But what I will have forever is the imprint of her on my heart, the knowledge of who she’s helped me become with her famous tuna casserole and her unparalleled wisdom and her shared Keoke coffees. We don’t look alike, but we are alike in so many ways. I am a mirror of many parts of my mom… irreverent, sassy, fun, a little bit impatient, a lot of balls-to-the-wall love. The wrinkles of our hands are similar, the shapes of our fingers.
She taught me by beautiful example how to raise my own kids with love and compassion and understanding and high expectations and a cherry chip birthday cake and everything they need, but not necessarily everything they want, and always–always–a soft place to land in this sometimes harsh and jagged-edged world.
Living four hours away… with two kids still at home and two making their way through college… and freelance work to juggle… and a long-distance relationship to grow… and dogs to tend… and grass to mow… makes visiting a challenge. If George doesn’t have a recital, Mary Claire has a concert. If I don’t have a deadline, the dogs have vet appointments. There is always something that makes the 8-hour round trip an impossibility.
But there she is, waiting. Living. Growing older moment by moment.
Just as we all are.
And when my Navigator is parked outside the door of her health care center and I walk into her shared room, her eyes inevitably light up. “Trinks!” she says, her voice growing a tiny bit smaller and weaker with each passing day. She might be in her bed or in her chair or playing Bingo with her sisters, but she never fails to give me that radiant smile and welcome me home.
Because whether she’s in Weston Village or Bowman Acres or Springhurst, she is always home. My home.
I am so very grateful for all the love.
And the laughter.