Five years ago, I got the phone call. I was at the movies with my husband and embarrassed that I forgot to turn my cell phone off. After muting it, it continued to buzz. I stepped outside the theater doors to call my brother back, believing it was a trivial annoyance. Spencer got through to me first, just as I closed the heavy door behind me.
Spencer just had his twelfth birthday. He told me he loved me and that he was sorry. Uncle Myron had just spoken to him first on the home phone. Grandma Thurston had passed away. I fell to my knees on the stairs outside the theater. My heart was that of a mother and a daughter. It broke a bit more than I imagined it could.
Eric drove us to the nursing home where the body of my mother was waiting for a goodbye. My siblings were already there. They stood beside her bed. The staff had folded her hands across her abdomen. Pulled the blanket up just so, and closed her eyelids. My mother’s mouth was slightly open, but their efforts managed to give her an appearance of peace.
We all stood around her. The woman who had loved, cleaned, and sacrificed. Her husband and children had lived in the security of her unconditional love. When Connor and Xander were diagnosed with autism, she had tried with her last bits of mental and physical strength to help. I talked to her everyday on the phone until she couldn’t listen. She then passed the phone to my father.
The dementia took Mom before her body gave up. I tried to convince her that snakes were not coming to attack her from the phone receiver. I had to become used to her not believing me. I visited her in the nursing home. She stopped acknowledging my presence long before, but like the rest of the family, we continued talking to her.
Maya was only four, but already dancing. When Mom seemed to ignore me, she would become alert in Maya’s presence. Her eyes would abandon their focus on the ground and a smile would twitch as she watched her grand-daughter twirl and laugh. Mom saw something in her the rest of us had forgotten.
One time when I was visiting, my father asked her if he recognized their little girl. She frowned up at me and told him I was not their child. She had never seen me before. Her smile came back though, watching my daughter dance around her wheel-chair. My mother’s best memories came from a laughing, spinning blonde girl who was generous with and receptive of hugs and kisses. I wasn’t her girl. Yet, my own girl, brought something back to her. Something I had forgotten how to give.
A few weeks before her body lost the fight, she reached a hand toward my leg. Her fingers adjusted my sock. They traced my ankle like it was fascinating and beautiful. My fight in coping with my sons’ autism was comforted in that moment. I had needed her touch. Those soft, little, accepting fingers could make any monster in the night make haste.
Standing over her body, it was suddenly my turn to say good-bye. Mom was gone. Really gone this time. All I could manage, was to lay my head on her knees. They were already cold and stiff under the pink hospital blanket. I remembered the Christmas when I was eight and snuggled next to those little legs waiting for Santa and a snowstorm raged outside. How she always looked at me like I was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. How she talked to me like the best friend she’d ever had. How I had failed her dealing with the unexpected struggles the diagnosis of autism when she needed me most.
She’s gone. Body and mind together on this five year anniversary. Everyday, I hold her in my heart. I look at each of my four children and hope they see what she saw in me. That when I look at them, I see perfection.