By Elizabeth Miles —
At 17, when I was told by my Uncle Paul that I was “just like my mother,” I cringed. Why would I want to be like her? At that time my mother was down on herself. She would spend days without leaving the house or even the couch. She wanted to have a job or be involved in clubs or charities but she didn’t know how, and she would always procrastinate getting started.
Why would I want to be like that?
But my uncle wasn’t talking about that side of her. He hadn’t seen her in several years. He was referring to “my attitude.” With a hand on the hip and a roll of the eyes, I could emulate her perfectly. He remembered the dramatic version of my mother. The bright colors she wore and the engaging smile. Her energy. She could light up a room at a party… when she felt like it.
As early as kindergarten, I remember other kids saying to me, “What’s wrong with your mother?” They meant, “why does she walk funny?” I was ashamed and a little mad that I was shortchanged. Why did my mother have to be so different from everyone else? She tired easily, physically and emotionally. “I’m tired. Let me rest a minute – the world does not revolve around you.”
So she couldn’t go shopping. That was probably better for our financial health anyways. What she could do was bake the most amazing homemade bread.
She taught me to read, and shared her love of reading with me as we read A Wrinkle In Time and many other books together, long after I could read on my own.
She rubbed my ears and sang to me until I fell asleep, long after I could have gone to sleep on my own.
She wasn’t big on hugging, but I know that in her own way, she loved me.
After my mom and dad were divorced and my mom moved to Dayton, my mom was lonely and bored and sad. She would call and ask me when I was going to come visit. I would visit her but I felt she wanted me there just to wait on her and I couldn’t wait to leave. Still, while I was still there, she would say, “When are you coming back?”
I would say, “I’m tired. I’m busy. I’ve got school and work and friends and a life of my own.” My world did not revolve around her.
But then her health got worse. And her sister died. And I knew she could no longer take care of herself. Suddenly, I knew that my mom was going to have to become a bigger part of my world.
In 1999, I moved her to an assisted living place in Columbus, where I lived, called The Inn at Chestnut Hill.
Unlike many residents when they first move into an assisted living facility, my mom didn’t seem to miss her old place. I think she was grateful that she didn’t have to worry about cleaning or bills anymore. She could just spend time socializing and playing games. And she did.
“I’m sorry, I can’t talk right now, I have bingo in ten minutes.”
“Wednesday isn’t a good night, I have to run the store. Can you make it Thursday?”
She even got out more in Columbus than she did when she was living in Dayton.
“Don’t bother renting Seabiscuit – I saw it in the theaters.”
Ironically, as my mom’s physical health declined, her emotional well-being improved.
It wasn’t all roses though. Sometimes she would cry because she didn’t win at bingo.
But for the most part, my mom was happier in the assisted living facility than I ever remember her being. And it’s because of the loving care and the attention that she got from the entire staff that I was able to become closer to her than I ever had been before.
I finally got to know what my mom was like when she was sweet and happy and loved life. She enjoyed running the resident store, passing out the newsletter, bingo, name that tune and all of the other wonderful activities. From what I could tell, staff and residents adored her and I saw how she could light up a room.
My mother passed away in 2004, but I still think about her every day. Today, if you were to tell me that I am just like my mother, I would be proud and I would say, “Thank you.”
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.
Elizabeth Miles lives in Columbus Ohio and has a Master’s degree in Communication from The Ohio State University. Elizabeth has faced numerous losses in her life, most recently her mother four years ago. Inspired by her experiences with hospice staff, she became a hospice volunteer. The volunteer work lead her to feel that her life’s work was meant to be in hospice. She quit her marketing job and returned to school to become a hospice social worker. She is currently a first year MSW student at Ohio State and loving every minute of it. Elizabeth is a member of ADEC (Association of Death Education and Counseling) and NASW (National Association of Social Workers) You can visit Elizabeth’s blog at: http://www.followthesigns.blogspot.comTags: grief, hope