There, in a plain manilla envelope, I find a sheath of eight by ten black and white copies of the head shot my mom had done in her 60’s. Her short hair is full and wavy with just a bit of salt sprinkled in among the pepper. The photographer captured her energy, vitality, and openness to life. Her smile is broad and unselfconscious. I see the hope, the enthusiasm and the zest for what is to come in that single frame. It is the best of my mom, jumping out from amidst the reams of explanations of benefits and credit card bills that I am preparing to shred a year and half beyond her death.
These qualities had become papered over with the last several years of her life, when she gracefully acquiesced to her mind’s anesthesia, and she lost some of the flexibility of her earlier years. As the inverse proportion of her abilities to manage dovetailed with my picking them up, the details of her care took more time. I fought from three and a half hours away for old fashioned, corded phones that did not involve the fuss of voicemail, and worked with staff to create a FaceTime which allowed me to show her our dogs which always made her chuckle, and some of the details of my life: what I might be cooking for dinner, or even the clothing I folded when we talked.
But her portrait catapulted me into an earlier time, when she spear headed her learning and ever willingness to expand her repertoire of possibilities since her early childhood teaching days had finished in her fifties. I was not care taking her, but was the recipient of the tales she told of her travels, her trials with dating, her questions about my daughters, my husband, and my life. It was her experimentation in Playback Theater, the many workshops she attended to sort through and try to understand what drove her life choices. I can hear it differently now. With less interference from her cardiac procedure, her broken knee, and the move to memory care, my mind and heart are free to drift back to her time in musical theater, in the concentration on her face as she created the chocolate roll with whipped cream, and when she might sing a personally created birthday blues for a friend, accompanied by my dad on piano.
I realize with a start that I am so close to this age in my life. And interestingly, I recently had my own head shot taken. Have I even shown these to my own daughters? Existing only in digital form, I need only to forward them. What would occur to them were they to come upon them after death should I be fortunate enough for that to occur at 93, as it did for my mom? Would they remember me now, our laughter as we recall my Most Embarrassing Moments at work, or the mountains we have hiked, the music we have enjoyed?
This line that we populate and celebrate, this tether to which we are genetically linked provides ample nourishment in its various forms. The jolt back to these earlier times surfaces both greater connection and another wave of loss. And it serves as a powerful reminder to focus on the now to mine it for all the beauty and abundance contained within these precious moments. Not all mothers are kind, or generous, thoughtful or present, but for the parts of us that appreciate any positive connection with our maternal line—I’m sending out wishes for a Happy Mother’s Day.