72: Still My Mother

72: Still My Mother

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Amazing Mom

Still My Mother

Where we love is home, home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.

~Oliver Wendell Holmes

A winter storm was moving in, and I was anxious to get back to my warm home and family. My list of tasks and errands was almost complete. I had just one last stop to deliver supplies to the assisted-living cottage where my mother lived.

As usual, the day had been full of responsibilities, and I was beginning to get a headache. Keeping up with four teenaged boys, a busy husband, and a mother with dementia was taking its toll on my own wellbeing.

I keyed in the door code and the cozy country décor of the foyer welcomed me as I blew through the door. Soft strains of old-time music wafted from invisible speakers, but no one was in sight. It was still late afternoon, but with eight women to bathe and get to bed, the caregivers tended to get an early start on their bedtime routines.

The cottage was nearly as familiar as my own home. I was delighted to have my mother living in my hometown after being apart for nearly thirty years. Dad’s recent death and Mom’s progressing dementia had led us to find a place for her to live nearby. The atmosphere and the caregivers of Cottage Seven were all I could have desired, and I truly loved spending time there.

I planned to quickly drop off this bag of supplies and get going. It was too late to stay and visit, and I really wanted to go home and unwind.

With a cheerful knock, I entered my mother’s room, which was mostly dark with just the otherworldly glow of a small old-fashioned table lamp. The sweet fragrance of lavender bath soap added to the ambience.

Bathed in the twilight softness, I saw my mother, Grace, and her roommate, Ruth. Side by side in their rocking chairs, their faces turned toward me in unison. My heart nearly filled my entire chest.

My mom, in her long, flowing pink nightgown, and Ruth, in her aqua one, were the most beautiful sight I had ever seen. Soft white curls crowned each head. Their faces, lined with decades of smiles and tears, were angelic. Their skin seemed translucent, and they each had perfectly polished scarlet fingernails. Their eyes lit up, and they smiled when they saw me.

Despite the cruelty of dementia, the scene before me on that stormy evening radiated joy and satisfaction. But there was something more. The atmosphere glowed with a deep serenity, that elusive quality which all crave, but few attain. Serenity wrapped its arms around these two angels in the twilight of the day, in the twilight of their lives.

I dropped to the edge of the bed and drank in the blessing, which poured silently from Grace and Ruth. The serenity I had prayed for was all around me. I would carry this sense of peace home with me.

“Have you come to sleep with us?” Mom asked.

I was sorely tempted.

“Oh, no, Mom, I can’t sleep here. There isn’t enough room. You only have two beds.”

“That’s not a problem,” Ruth said. “If you’ll help us, we’ll just push our beds together, and you can sleep in the middle.”

How many times had my mom crawled into my childhood bed and cuddled me to sleep? Surely Ruth had done the same with her child. What would it be like to feel the arms of these sweet mothers enfold me as I drifted off to dreamland?

Two angels in the twilight, one in pink and one in aqua, smiled invitingly at me. I felt all my responsibilities melt and slide off my shoulders. In this unlikely place, with a snowstorm on its way, it became clear to me that God had not abandoned these two women. They smiled contentedly, almost mystically, at one another, and awaited my reply.

“I would so love to stay here with you, but remember, I have a husband and four boys waiting for me at home. They’re hungry, and I have groceries in the car. I need to go home and cook supper.”

Understanding dawned on the angels’ faces. Of course! They knew the importance of cooking supper for hungry families. Dementia had not stripped them of their motherhood—they would remain mothers to the core right to the end.

“Well, then, you’d best get going. We can manage here. After all, we have each other.” Grace and Ruth nodded reassuringly at each other.

With a renewed lightness in my step, I pulled on my jacket and prepared to bid the ladies farewell.

For some time, I had doubted whether my mother still recognized me as her daughter. Yet now I waited for the motherly question with which she always sent me on my way. She asked, “Do you know your way home?”

With my usual delighted laugh, I assured her that I knew my way home.

Yes, Mom, thanks to you, I always know where home is. Of course, it is in a nearby house with my wonderful family, but I know that I also have a home here in Cottage Seven, where two angels in the twilight, one in pink and one in aqua, will welcome me and fill my entire being with serenity.

~Cynthia Siems Carlson

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