Two Mothers

 

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Mother’s Day is coming up this weekend.

Our relatonships with our mothers are supposed to be complicated.  We depended on them, but we needed them to set us free.  “How is your relationship with your mother?”  keeps thousands of therapists gainfully employed.

In my journey, my relationship with my mother and with the mother of my children is not so complicated anymore.  Today, I feel awe and gratittude towards these exrtraordinary women:  my mother Winifred, who is still alive at 91, and to my wife Molly.

My mother birthed and raised 14 children who are all still alive.  Every time I mention these facts to anyone nowadays people are astonished.  Yes, families were larger back in the 40s and 50s and, yes, my parents were Catholic, but 14?!  It was a big family by any standards at any time, and it was seemingly impossible hard work for my mother or any mother.

I remember especially how mother cooked all the time.  She even made us cookies and cakes and biscuits to have as after-school snacks.  She cooked special mini-meals for some children:  meatloaf without onions for Chris, chop suey without vegetables for Gloria.  I cannot image the time and effort that went into the simple, fundamental, essential work of feeding all of us.

Mother also cooked a bland diet so that even the smallest child would eat what was offered.  Now when I visit, I go to the German sausage shop and get her what she really likes and seldom got when I was growing up.  Mother loves pickled things, including herring and beets and dill pickles (the big ones in the barrel).  Her children would have turned up their noses at sour and bitter foods so she didn’t buy them back then.

The exception was on New Year’s Eve.  Mother had always celebrated this holiday at home with her parents (she was an only child).  So we had Rhine wine and herring on New Year’s Eve with her in our home, even when were young enough to think the wine too tart.

I have realized with 20-20 hindsight that the greatest testimony to Molly’s love for me was her choosing to become a mother again after her chidren were grown.  When we met Molly was 45 and I was 35.  Molly had three children from her first marriage, and the youngest was already away at college.  I had no children from my first marriage, and Molly knew that I wanted a family.  She said early on, “We’ll just adopt.”  “OK,” I replied with absolutely no understanding of what it meant for Molly to recommit to raising chidren.

My mother worked very, very hard at being a good mother.  Molly worked just as hard.  Molly held a full-time job as an English professor.  Her position gave her flexibility in setting her work schedule so she was always there when the children came home from school.  It also gave her the opportunity to work overtime by taking on extra classes both during the school year and in the summer “vacation.”  Molly never had a summer off while we raised Mae, Reynor, and D.J.  They came from the Philippines illiterate and unschooled.  She paid for their private school tuition with her overload teaching and by serving on the Board at the school.

Looking back I see why Molly needed to take “early retirement.”  Molly worked full time as a professor for twenty-nine years and raised six children.

One of my friends says that Alzheimer’s must seem very restful for her.  Molly doesn’t have to care for anyone.  Now it’s her turn to have others cook the food and wash the clothes and nurse the sick and do the driving and pay the bills and . . .

To whatever extent Alzheimer’s seems like a break to Molly, she deserves it big time.  I hope she enjoys the peace and quiet and letting go of all the I-have-to’s.

I notice that she tires easily now.  I’ll bet she’s been tired for years.  Motherhood doesn’t allow you to get tired or let being tired stop you from doing the next thing.

Thank you, Winifred.  Thank you, Molly.  You are two of the greatest mothers ever.

May you thank your mothers this Mother’s Day.  If you are fortunate to have them still alive, call or visit.  If they have passed, pray for them or write them a thankyou note.  Share your note with your siblings.  

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Touching and Feeling

 

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My friend Laurinda asked, “Does that cause you pain to talk about when you and Molly did things together?’

Sometimes it does create loneliness, which can be painful.  There is only one person with whom I shared that experience and she cannot remember it at all.  That makes me feel sad.

Yesterday, I heard a piece of music on the Pandora at the facility.  I said to Molly, “We heard that in Paris, in France, at a place called the Madeleine.”  It was new for me to speak the memory as though she could still understand and it would mean something to her.  It felt right to say out loud to her that we had shared something beautiful together.

I am weeping now.  That answers my friend’s question.  Yes, I feel sad.  Does that mean “pain?” I guess the pain comes with loneliness and isolation.  No one else can share that memory.  It was ours. Now it is only mine.

But, of course, it is still a memory of something beautiful, something “memorable.”  Do I still treasure and appreciate all the beautiful memories of the life we had together?  Yes.  Do I want to forget?  No.

My time with Molly is so different now.  I try as much as possible to stay in the present moment and too share Molly’s experience of the present moment.  The simplest way is to observe what she does without trying to control her in any way.

Sometimes sharing the present moment means participating in her experience.  If she is feeling my skin by touching and exploring my hand, then I relax and let her do it.

In such a moment I feel close to her: I sense a connection that is still alive.  Does she have similar feelings?  Maybe, maybe not. Perhaps she is just momentarily fascinated by the feel of skin. It seems so when she moves on to the feel of the napkin on the table and of the fabric of her dress.  She is curious about the world and exploring it through touching what is nearby.  My hand was available for exploration.

Other times she reaches for my hand and it is clear Molly wants to hold my hand for safety, for comfort, for togetherness.  She hangs on tightly when she is confused or fearful. She holds onto me while she falls asleep.

Either way I am grateful for the moments we have together now.  They are also memorable.