I realize I am a week late for Mother’s Day, but this has been a very, very, very hard week. My grandmother is under 24 hour Hospice care and I have been by my mother’s side with her as much as possible. It has been the longest week in the history of eternity, I do believe. I have cried myself sick, mended fences, and run the gamut of emotions. I have also learned that my mother is a pearl of very precious price.
I am an oldest daughter, and say what you will, I get the toughest of mama’s love because of it. I know my mama loves me just as much as she loves my sisters, but I guarantee you, swearing an oath on a stack of Bibles, that she is harder on me. I don’t know why this is, exactly, and I have no daughters of my own to prove I will be the same, (except in my imagination and imaginary Paloma already has high standards to live up to) but it is absolutely so. Ask any oldest daughter and she will give you the same story–including my mother, an oldest daughter herself.
My mama, or Marmee, as I affectionately call her after Marmee March, is a wonderful woman with a very kind heart. Her big blue eyes brim over with tears very readily in good times and in bad as she is very hyper-sensitive–a trait I inherited (the sensitivity, not the eyes–mine are little and green). She has the biggest smile this side of the Mississippi and I have always thought her a very beautiful woman. Until lately, however, I have never thought of her as terribly strong. Physically strong, yes. I have seen her run for miles and miles, dig a backyard swimming pool seven feet deep, build a 20 x20 foot wooden deck, and push and pull heavy furniture across the house singlehandedly. To be honest, though, I always thought was a bit of a pushover. She is not, entirely; she is just a nice person that chooses to believe the best out of others, which takes a different kind of strength. Perhaps her hyper-sensitive nature swayed my thinking previously, I am not sure, but it feels like I have only just noticed her strength in recent years. It seemed to me, when I was a kid, that she reserved her strength to “get my goat” all the time, but that isn’t true or fair.
My parents married very young–my mother was just a month over seventeen–and were desperately poor for a long time. Baby after baby came in rapid succession. Although I love my parents deeply, I always thought growing up that they should have waited. I thought it silly of my mother to obey her mother’s request to get married and drop out of high school and get her GED when she was at the top of her class. Maybe if she went to college, we might not be so poor, I thought. Maybe she would be happier. Looking back, I am ashamed at how hard I was on her, as it isn’t necessarily weakness to bend to the will of another. It can take immense strength to obey, and certainly it takes lots of strength learn to live on love and take on an adult role before you are perhaps ready to do so.
My daddy was under immense pressure to care for his wife and expanding family as the sole breadwinner with an electrician’s salary. This, coupled with him being quite young himself, led to a drinking problem. I am a daddy’s girl through and through, but I have a healthy fear and distaste of a drunken man, and wondered why my mother put up with such shenanigans. He never struck any of us, but we had some strategically placed pictures in the house covering up holes in the walls. I thought her weak for staying with a man that had so little self-control, when he came home drunk again on what would have been the last straw for me. Marmee took her vows seriously though, aside from loving him to distraction, and her years of prayer and faith in the marriage brought around a miraculous change in Daddy’s behavior and he quit drinking. I realize that not every marriage is salvageable, particularly if there is addiction and especially if there is abuse involved, and it takes strength to realize that and leave if necessary, but it also takes strength in situations like ours (which didn’t involve either, but was generally stressful and unpleasant) to know when to stick it out and pray for change rather than throw in the towel. I am proud of my mom for her faith, and my parents’ happy marriage is a witness and a model for my own.
Perhaps because she did marry young and had to leave school early, my mother made damn sure her girls went to school and excelled. Nothing less than our absolute best would be tolerated or acceptable. College was expected and obligatory. When I got pregnant as a teenager, I thought my mother would kill me like she always promised she would if I did such a thing, but she practiced the right balance of tough love and nurturing to put me on the right track so that I could become self-sufficient and care for my baby. My mother taught me how to be a mother, and thank heaven I had her give me some hands-on training because I might have been a miserable failure without her.
It is somewhat expected, I guess, that a mother should be an example to her daughter on how to be a wife and a mother, but it is my mother that is teaching me how to be a better daughter that has been her surprising lesson for me. My Mamaw–my mama’s mama–is slowly wasting away with Alzheimer’s Disease. In fact, the Hospice nurse doesn’t expect her to make it through the night. It is not as physically painful as cancer, perhaps, but it is just as heart-wrenching and horrible. Marmee has faithfully visited her mother every single day, rain or shine, for the past year or so, feeding her lunch (when she used to eat), changing her, bathing her, and generally soothing her. Mamaw has been quite cranky and sometimes downright mean with my mother in a way that she never was when she was in her right mind (can’t say I blame her, either–for being cranky, not for being mean to my mama). My sweet, sensitive mama tries not to take it personally and just lavishes love and care on Mamaw even when she is at her worst. She has a strength I never hope to HAVE to possess in her care of her mother.
This past week has been a real turning point in the way I view my mother’s love. I have seen her at her most vulnerable and at her strongest. As my grandmother lays in bed practically comatose, my mother has not left her side–for a week. She has been living in a nursing home for a WEEK with her mother, relentlessly praying for a peaceful passing and making sure she is comfortable, with all the general unpleasantness that comes with caring for a person that is on their deathbed. I have had to take turns with my sisters to beg her to eat and practically pry her away to get a shower. She has had perhaps two hours of sleep a night since Mother’s Day, curling up next to her sister on a twin hospital bed in the back corner of the nursing home. It is heartbreaking to see the exhaustion and pain in her eyes, but so inspiring at the same time. She has never looked more beautiful to me.
So, a week late and with nothing to give but my undying love and wholehearted awe, I want to tell my mother how much I love her and admire her strength. She may have been hard on me at times, but she is whipping me into shape because someday I may have to face something as scary and devastating as she has. I pray not, and I certainly hope that nothing ever happens to my mother to make her suffer so horribly as my Mamaw has, but I will always remember to draw from her strength, whatever my lot. Thank you, Marmee for being a shining example of how I should be as a wife, mother, and a daughter. I love YOU a bushel and a peck.