Seldom did I see my mother cry. She shed tears in predictable moments, my Grandparent’s funerals, her sister’s funeral and when her beloved Great Danes, Rex and Michelle, passed on. It’s not that mother didn’t feel like crying or had nothing to cry about; I know that now…
A month had passes since I last saw Mom. For over a year I had asked my parents to come with me to visit Carol, my counselor. Finally, they agreed. The hour with Carol was excruciating, about the worst in my life. It was second only to hours of waiting for my two-year-old daughter having open-heart surgery. We left that session with an appointment five weeks later, but no hug. I didn’t know what to expect today at this family gathering.
I glanced around the room full of people and I noticed mom, right up in front, in the classic navy dress she wore to my brother’s wedding. She looked gaunt, resembling a sick child, her frame shrunk from the ravages of diabetes. With my own daughters surrounding me, as if I needed protection, I approached my mother.
“Oh, Grandma looks pretty good” eldest daughter Colleen declared. “Yes,” came out of my mouth, when inside my thoughts were of mother as she looked in old photographs, after spending a year bedridden with a bone disease that nearly took her at the age of nine. She looked like Anne Frank, then and now.
As we approached Mom the anger swelled within me. “How had we come to this, the distance between us, the trust broken, the sides drawn?” In the preceding days, in anticipation of this moment, my mind wandered to a few conversations with mother, the only two I remember which gave me insight into her life. She spoke of her childhood and losing her mother.
Most of us have those few, critical conversations in life that for some quirky reason stick in our memory. Two of mine were with my mother. Oddly, both took place in a car. I assume these have a place in my memory because both revealed her to me, the mother I didn’t know, the mother who was a hurt little child, and a hurting adult.
It was a very typical outing for us, we had been out all day shopping, shopping, enjoying lunch and shopping. How the conversation came down to this story I don’t recall, but mother relived the time her whole family took a vacation, leaving her, the youngest, at home. Tears were flowing, remembering their return. She ran up to the family expecting to hug them all tightly. As she approached in tears, they laughed at her, “Audrey, you have nothing to cry about, only babies cry.” She was again weeping for that little girl, longing to be picked up; held and loved on. I cried for Audrey.
Another typical day of shopping and lunch and the second unforgettable conversation happened. As my Grandmother got older, near the end of her life, she was in a nursing home for a short time. On November 1st, mother visited Grandma and as she left, mom grabbed Grandma’s toe as she lay in bed. With regret in her voice she told the story. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Mother, and we will celebrate your birthday,” Mom declared as she left the room, “I’ll call tonight and we can make plans.” Mom didn’t call. Mom received a call. Her mother had died in the early morning, on her 77th birthday.
“Donna, I will always regret not hugging Grandma that one last time…I only squeezed her toe.” Mom choked. “Don’t ever let those you love get away without a hug.” Again, I cried for Audrey.
The last few days were full of memories of my mother, the mom I missed, the mom before the family crisis, the mom who never let me get away without a hug…
So, there we were, face to face, but mom didn’t respond. As anger swelled within me I asked, “Mom how did this happen?” No response.
“I’m so angry at you for not settling this before now?” I wept. No response.
As I hit her shoulder in anger I could feel the deadness, the hard, cold shoulder. I cried for Audrey. I cried for me. I cried for what would never be.
Thank God, my mother was in the presence of Jesus. I can only imagine the great big hug mom was giving…and receiving.
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