Saturday, January 22, 2011

January 22, 2011 ~ Day 44
The Most Beautiful Woman
In The World

I felt a surge of excitement as I kissed my three precious children and my husband good night and headed out into the cool darkness. I was late for a date with the most incredible woman in the world - my mother.

Since my father passed away in June 2009, I have taken very seriously the importance of spending quality time with my mother. I wish I could say that I have been strong for her since his death, but in reality she has been strong for me. When I look back upon June 2009 through August 2010, my immediate and overwhelming impression is of juggling three children - including a premature newborn, stress and autoimmunity. During that time, my mother was for me (as she has always been) a rock of kindness, generosity, love and compassion.

She is the mother who makes all of my sincere attempts at excellent mothering look, well, feeble.

Despite my many failings as a daughter, my mother still manages to overlook my self-centered, exhausted monologues about how challenging it is for me to be a mother and how I don't know how she managed to make the job look so easy. She continues to give me unconditional love as only a parent can... seeing in me all of the promise of my past and all the potential of my future. She expresses pride in my life choices, which is especially gracious considering how stridently my former teenage self frequently vocalized opposition to her chosen role in life - homemaker and writer.

"I will NEVER turn out like my mother. I will NEVER be a financially dependent, stay-at-home wife and mother! No house frau for me!!!" (Me, age 17-21)

How my mother must have chuckled quietly when I ate those words with a big slice of humility a decade later. To her credit, she has never yet uttered the words "See, being like me isn't so bad..."

My mother is so much more than just a homemaker. She is the strongest woman I know, always there to lend an ear or a hand to her friends, family and even folks she has never met. She is a gifted artist ~ the woman beads jewelry so elegant it is sold in local stores; she embroiders, sews, sings, paints in oils and ~ before becoming a mother ~ she acted and modeled for almost 20 years in Hollywood.

She is the woman who will singlehandedly paint and wallpaper a bedroom by herself, at age 70+, because she likes working hard and "It beats aging". She is the matriarch that wove our Yours-Mine-Ours family together to the point that my father's sons, who were both adults when our parents married 36 years ago, now call her mother and mom and truly think of her that way.

Mom is the verbal 'heavy hitter' of the family that we unleash upon insurance companies trying to deny payment for medical claims and all other bureaucratic nightmares. She handles them with such grace and savoir faire! Mom always reminds us that "You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar" but wow, can she pour on the respectful vinegar when it's needed. She is one heck of a strong woman, especially when defending her family. A tigress!

I am really nothing like my mother. She actually reminds me much more of my husband. She is calm, laid-back, confident, connected to the world and full of faith. I take after my cerebral, anxious dad. Mom has always been the force of reason and optimism propelling our family unit forward into gratitude and peace.

We are all human though, and there are a few things that have been a few decisions my mom has made over the years that were bitter pills for me to swallow. For the first four years of my oldest son's life she wasn't around much as a grandmother, due to the highly understandable fact that she was busy caring for my dying father as he declined rapidly from Alzheimer's.

In the few moments of free time she had to unwind from his very intense need for high-level care, mom wasn't that excited about spending time with my often-fussy toddler and infant sons. "I have been a wife, mother and grandmother for over 50 years," she told me candidly. "It's important to me to spend at least some of the time I have left learning and growing; writing, traveling and doing a few fulfilling things for myself."

I understood this, and still do. Still, I would have loved my own children to benefit from the incredible mothering and grandmothering ability my mom possesses. Since my dad's death though, she has been a lot more available to us as a grandmother, which I really appreciate. My kids adore her.

The most difficult time I have ever had with my mother came when she agreed to move my father out of our family home and into 24 hour nursing care. There were a million reasons to do so and his physicians were pushing her.

For months and even years, my father had stopped sleeping through the night ~ and would wake up and do strange, potentially dangerous things while she was sleeping. He hallucinated and fought with imaginary creatures. There were lots of messes to clean up, messes of all kinds. He needed help using the bathroom, dressing, eating. He jumbled his words and sometimes made no sense at all. Taking care of him alone was horribly debilitating and at times my siblings and I wondered if we would lose mom before we lost dad.

Despite this, I was crushed beyond belief when my father was moved permanently out of his home. My mother had been told by his physicians that once out, he could never return to the house without it causing tremendous pain and psychological hardship for all involved. I don't know what I think or feel about this, but it was the advice she received from his neurologist.

My bewildered, cantankerous, lost father left his home one day to go to the doctor's office, ended up briefly hospitalized and then sent to assisted living. He never returned. He literally never saw his home again. Thinking about this continues to break my heart a little. Dad spent the next year or so in two group homes, where I visited him almost every day with my sons until I was placed on bed rest with my last pregnancy. My mother also visited him daily, spending most of her day with him each time.

At the time I was so angry with my mother for agreeing to move my dad away from the house he had worked two jobs to afford, away from the ocean view of which he (a Nebraska farm boy) was so proud. I was so angry in fact, that I boycotted Christmas that year. "If Dad can't come home for Christmas, I'm not going to be there either." We spent Christmas that year with my brothers at their hotel near Dad's new home.

Despite my frustration with the situation though, I always remained close with my mother. She, my brother and I were a team sharing the most intense experience possible, the protracted loss of someone we all loved deeply.

Eventually my father passed, which is another story for another time. Since his death almost 20 months ago, it has been a genuine joy to watch my mother's health - physically and emotionally - spring back into full blossom. She is a superwoman once again. She is the same vibrant, gorgeous soul that my father first fell in love with. I love any chance I get to spend time in her company, to benefit from her wisdom and also her absolute sweetness. She is teaching me by example how to age with spirit and zest.

Yesterday evening, I spent a wonderful four hours with my mother... cooking, chatting and watching a chick-flick, just as we might have done when I was growing up. I love our conversations which range from the philosophical ("What do you think happens after we die, Mom?") to the practical ("When did you start getting grey hair?").

Now that I am an adult and a mother, my mom often surprises me with anecdotes from her youth and acting career. She has stories about the time when she was briefly a Vegas showgirl running with a crowd that included the likes of Sammy Davis Jr. or about her best friend who married David Wolper, the creator of television sagas like Roots and The Thorn Birds. There seems always to be something new to learn about my mother's unusual life, and I never fail to be amazed and delighted.

At the end of the evening, my mother sat quietly at the counter while I finished clearing up the dinner dishes. Out of nowhere she spoke. "I only wish," she said, "That your father had been able to stay in this house. I don't know though. I loved him so much ~ I think it would have killed me to watch him die here."

Like a burst of light illuminating some dark recessed part of my heart, I finally understood - fully - why my mother had not fought to keep Dad at home. The many years of caring for him physically and emotionally had at the time made her fragile, vulnerable. Now that she has returned to full strength, it is easy to see the toll his sickness had taken.

Looking over at my mother with her soft brown hair and sparkling eyes sitting at the counter and staring into the void beyond me, I realized that having her still HERE, NOW is the most crucial thing. I am so grateful that mom *didn't* become one of the many caregivers who are outlived by their patients. On the spot I finally forgave her, 2000%. My mother is human. I love my mother.

Having a mother and being a mother. Arguably the two most important things that have ever happened to me. I am grateful for every moment and every conversation we have left.

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