Beautiful Ugly

October 18, 2014

So much has happened in the past four months, I have hardly had time to process it all. Instead, the thoughts are crowding my brain, bumping into each other, making so much noise that they wake me up at night, interrupt me at work, and threaten to ambush me at any time, leaving me with not one moment to rest. What I wrote about last time, my mother’s diagnosis of cancer, is only part of the story. The other part is everything else, everything else that really matters.

My mother is very beautiful. She has always been beautiful, the kind of beautiful that was annoying when you’re her awkward, less beautiful teenage daughter, but I’m over that now. When my mother was diagnosed with cancer, I made up my mind that the last part of her life would be beautiful. That she would come to live with me and she would be surrounded by her loving family, and that would bring her comfort and make her feel safe. That is not what happened, but we had our moments. My mother and I had conversations I will never forget, filled with tears and hugs and kisses and sweet words. My mother forgot those conversations within three minutes. Still, there is a part of me that believes, that knows, she felt them and the love seeped into her mind and her heart and if she could not recall the moment, she could at least recall the feeling.

It’s a blessing, some people say, of my mother’s lack of short-term memory, of her inability to remember she has cancer. It is not a blessing. It is not a blessing to feel sick, to feel weak and confused and not remember why. It is not a blessing to wake up in your daughter’s home and not know where you are, to believe you’re already in a nursing home, or worse, being held prisoner. It is not a blessing to not remember that your brother or your daughter or granddaughter or grandson or niece or friend spent the day with you. It is not a blessing to be losing your mind and to know that it is happening.

And so, I am sitting here feeling all the ugliness of cancer and dementia and loss in so many forms and my mother, my beautiful mother who I felt was leaving me a long time ago, offers me a gift in a moment of my complete despair.

I visited my mother at the nursing home, after I had been away for a few days. I found her lying in her bed, very sick, nearly unconscious, hooked up to oxygen and looking like she was dying. I crawled into bed with her and silently I wept. I had not cried in front of my mother in a very long time. I had shed some tears when we told her she had cancer, but she quickly forgot, so I could not stay in my sadness. But this time, because I thought my mother was asleep, I allowed myself to weep, and soon I was trying to stifle my sobs, gulping them down so as not to wake her, but she woke. My mother put her arms around me and held me and told me not to cry. She told me that we would be together again some day. She told me that we had so many blessings in our life, so much joy, but that we also had to have some pain. She told me that we had to take what was ugly and make it beautiful and that we could do that by loving each other. To have my mother back, to have her comfort me and hold me and love me, like a mother holds and loves her child, was a blessing, and it was beautiful and it was only a moment but it was everything.

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