She doesn't know that it's Mother's Day. She still remembers that she has children, but doesn't always remember how many. She never remembers how old we are.
She loved the yellow roses, but she doesn't recall that she got them. Even when she sees them there in their vase, they mean nothing. When I call her, she won't be able to carry on a sensible conversation, but I'll call anyway. It doesn't mean anything to her, so I'll call for me. And I'll hang up feeling worse, but I'll call anyway.
There are thousands upon thousands of people like me in the country: people whose mother is still living, but who no longer have the mother they once had.
Who was the mother I once had?
She was complicated. She was strong willed, stubborn, creative and intelligent. She kept her feelings closely guarded and didn't generally allow people to get too close. She had her sister and her mother, all of them having gone through the war together, and so she never felt the need for any friends. She was both thrifty and extravagant. She was both selfish and generous. She was honest, and yet she was manipulative. In other words, she was just like all people: full of contradictions.
Mom taught me how to cook, sew, can and bake. She taught her children to not be wasteful, to try new foods with an open mind and be grateful for all that we had. And yet, she is one of the pickiest eaters I've ever met. We were allowed to walk in after school and tell Mom we were hungry, but say "I'm starving" and you'd get a lecture about what real starving was.
She left religion up to Dad. She also left breakfast up to Dad. She could pull off a Thanksgiving dinner for 40 people and no one brought anything, but she made the worst cookies. She was the tenderest nurse if one of us were sick, but I can not recall my Mom ever telling me "good job" or "I'm proud of you". Mom taught me how to look for the intent behind the actions, rather than having to hear the words. She taught me to do things for my own sense of accomplishment, rather than for the praise of others.
She was a formidable woman, who kept a sense of balance in her life that was worthy of a high-wire act. She was the strong one, the wise one, the one who wasn't nervous or full of anxiety. She was the best cook, the best seamstress, funny, witty, wise and bratty, too. She was an indoor girl of the first order. Going for a walk or tending a garden held no interest for her at all. But she loved to dance. She still loves to dance, come to think of it.
She insisted on excellent table manners, but she would sometimes tell a dirty joke. She never wore makeup but dressed to the nines for a dinner date. She had amazing legs (still does for an 87 year old woman) and exquisite nails, and hated the cowlicks in her hair.
In these late years, she focuses a lot on saying that she was a good mother. She has also said that her children think she was not a good mother. Is that dementia talking, or does she question her own parenting so much that it even affects her dementia? None of her children, to my knowledge, has ever said she was not a good mother. She was a good mother! She was not like any of my friends' mothers, that's for sure. Even with all the many years of hindsight, I still don't know if Mom intended to teach the lessons we learned, or if she was working out her own demons. She was complicated. She was profoundly affected by the traumas of her life, but buried those things and got her balance back. Somehow.