I missed my mother’s last Mother’s Day. That was ten years ago. I still feel badly about that, but not just that. She had just gone off to live near my brother. He was looking after her, visiting her often in a nursing home. When she lived near me, as she did for almost all of her last fifteen years, I helped her move along life’s inevitable path, from living happily alone to having someone come in a few days a week to wondering why when they came into her little room in the nursing home the caregivers talked among themselves as if she were not there.
I did my best, that’s what I tell myself. I left the daily care to others, but I kept her affairs ship-shape and went to doctor’s appointments with her and made sure she was getting good care and visited her often and brought her over for Sunday brunches and walked and then wheeled her though the park or drove her around in my little convertible with the top down. I drove a little too fast, just so she could remember what it was like. She wore a straw hat and a long scarf that fluttered in the wind like the tail of a kite.
I shopped for her and left supplies in her kitchen and bathroom, but I didn’t take on much of her personal care. No baths. No helping hand getting to the toilet. I thought she would prefer the privacy of a caregiver. Or maybe I just knew I would.
When I think of her now, I think sometimes of those moments of lost intimacy and wonder if it would have made her happier if I had bathed her the way she bathed me when I was a child. I wonder if she wanted the touch of my hand on her shoulders, the warm water from the washcloth in my own hand.
There is one thing I didn't do that I’m sure now I should have: sing to her.
She sang to me when I was a child. She had a lovely voice. She sang “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” and “Bye, Bye Blackbird.” Other songs too, but those are the two I remember best. Once, late in her life I asked her to sing Bye Bye Blackbird the way she used to sing it to me, and I recorded it. I listen to it now and then when I want to remember her gentle sweetness.
I sang to my first girlfriends as we drove down a million country roads. I sang to Meg at our wedding, spontaneously, joyfully, perhaps drunkenly. I sang to my children almost every night. I don’t know why I didn’t sing to my mother. Maybe, even when I was trying to be the adult and take care of her, I was still the child, the one to be sung to.
A song I sang to my youngest sons at bedtime would have been perfect for her as she lay in those last beds. I could have run my fingers over her forearm as she closed her eyes and listened. I could have touched her cheek as she drifted off to sleep. I could have switched off the light and slipped out of her room, knowing that she felt the warmth of that song as I did, knowing that she knew it was the way I felt about her.
The last lines of that song, “The Rose,” are,
“When the night has been too lonely
And the road has been too long
And you think that love is only
For the lucky and the strong
Just remember in the winter
Far beneath the bitter snows
Lies the seed that with the sun’s love
In the spring becomes the rose.”
I was that seed. She was the sun.