Today would have been my mother's ninety-second birthday. Twelve years ago today, she was in a nursing home having suffered a massive stroke. Unfortunately, she wasn't found for a while, so there was a lot of irreparable damage to her brain. She could no longer walk or talk. She could barely manage to sit in a wheelchair and for only a limited amount of time. She no longer knew what letters were and had no means to communicate. She had always been the life of the party, with friends of all ages. At eighty years old, she had still been working part-time. She was the matriarch of the family, the dominant member of my parents' marriage. She and I had never gotten along. I always knew that she loved me, as a mother should, but I was sure she didn't like me very much. When she became so disabled, I spent everyday reading to her, bringing other family members to visit and helping her to achieve whatever level of recovery that she could. Maybe I was able to do this because of our detachment. Or maybe I did it out of guilt for not turning out the way she wanted. Whatever the reason, it turned out to be monumentally healing for both of us. I was able to be myself without being afraid of her criticism and disapproval, which was constant. When she died, I was no longer afraid. It felt like someone had flipped a switch and all of my shyness dissipated.
On her birthday in 2010, I brought my son and his family to visit. Their son was just four days old. I put him in my mom's arms and watched with tears in my eyes as she held him tightly for a full ten minutes, gazing lovingly at him. Then I realized that she was tiring and took him back. At the end of the summer, just around my birthday, she had another stroke and was not going to recover from that one, so we had to let her go. She was a strong woman, full of fire and lingered longer than anyone expected. But, she finally gave in. Although, we struggled in our relationship, I miss her. I often want to call her for some advice about one thing or another. After she was gone, I realized that she had probably always done the best she could, having come out of her own tumultuous childhood. Both of my parents were very involved, though I often felt as though they were too involved, especially Mom. It's hard to feel resentful about the horrible things that happened when there were also so many wonderful things mixed in. My dad gave me music, writing and an artistic eye. Mom taught me things like gardening and healing arts. They both taught me how to parent and how not to parent. But most of all, my mother taught me to be strong and resilient in the face of overwhelming odds. I wish I could tell her that now.