Melancholy on Mother’s Day

I’m used to hating Mother’s Day at this point. The marketing was the first thing to get to me when Mom was no longer a candidate for a gift – because she couldn’t understand the concept of a gift anymore. The marketing gets more obscene every year so I just try to dismiss it. I don’t know why this year has been sadder than usual for me. But I haven’t enjoyed the Mother’s Day season and I’m glad today marks its end. (I acknowledge that many people enjoy this holiday and I am hardly the only person who finds it difficult. I also acknowledge I am a big downer. That’s why I waited until bedtime to post.)

It being Sunday, I fed Mom her lunch. This has become a routine, though it is still somewhat new. I was late and an aide was feeding Mom when I arrived but she was happy to be able to tend to something else. Mom dutifully accepted bites of pork, cooked carrots, hot cereal and fruit cocktail. I dribbled water down her chin only once. I noticed that she would pick her teeth with her finger whenever the meat got stuck. She also scratched her ear. She barely acknowledged my presence, and she made only a few minor reaches toward her tray as if there were still some muscle memory there about what it means to be eating. But she knew how to remedy that sensation of having something stuck in her teeth. And she knows how to scratch an itch. Her cough reflex is in good shape, too. She had a minor choking response to a bite of fruit cocktail and she was able to cough her way out of it. I was watching pretty intently, wondering if I was going to have to help her. She ended the coughing with a very big sneeze. Taking all this in, I couldn’t help thinking that her physical decline is distressing, but its unpredictability is also sort of fascinating. I just don’t understand how some abilities still exist while others don’t. But nobody understands these things, which is why Alzheimer’s is such a disaster of a disease.

A nurse who knows me came by and tried to pep Mom up, patting her back and nudging her shoulders. She asked Mom what my name is, and told her repeatedly to wake up and have a visit with me. Mom did show some signs of life – she laughed a few times and spoke a few nonsense phrases. I don’t know if she ever says Emily anymore. She barely opened her eyes. I appreciated the nurse’s effort. But I don’t like the idea of having to convince Mom to be lively. I did move my chair to her other side because her focus seemed to be directed that way. I talked to her a lot, telling her about my brother and sister and nieces and how they’d all like to be able to talk to her on Mother’s Day. And I mentioned that Patrick ran a marathon. Shortly after the nurse walked away, I said, “Hey, Mom, are you in there?” And she said, “Yeah.” So interesting. And a little bit later, she said, “I like you.” I was getting ready to leave, and I said, “I like you, too. I love you.” She was starting to drift off.

I couldn't get Mom to open her eyes. She did just once while I was there - to scratch an itch on her nose.

I couldn’t get Mom to open her eyes. She did just once while I was there – to scratch an itch on her nose.

2015-05-10 13.13.41

We did hold hands from time to time. And sometimes she gave my hand a little squeeze.


And then, she dozed off. This is part of the routine.

It was a teary week leading up to this day. Many of my friends have lost their mothers, and Facebook was full of posts about daughters and sons missing moms who have passed. I can relate. And not. The toughest thing was a conversation with a friend over breakfast on Saturday. Her relationship with her mom is complicated. But she talked about her mom’s insights into some professional relationships my friend has, and it struck me how much attention her mother is paying to her life. She knew names, events, emotions, all kinds of things. My mom was an intellectual. She liked a good conversation. I’ve missed out on 10 years of her listening, and asking questions, and offering support. And just knowing me.


6 comments so far

  1. Laura on

    I’ve been feeling sad today too. It’s just so hard knowing there is nothing I can do for my mom.

  2. joolzmac on

    My Mum had been doing great of late. Happy to see us when we visit and not too sad when we go to leave. She is mobile and can feed herself.
    My sister and I visited on Saturday and she was miserable. Cried when she saw us. She had no recollection of her 85th birthday which was 2 weeks ago – none at all. On that day, she was made a fuss of by staff and family, ate a huge lunch in the cafe and had a visit by her 82 year old brother who lives 500 kms away and had a really good day. No recollection! She cried and said ‘what’s wrong with me, why can’t I remember things!. It was terrible seeing her so distressed. We gave her some chocolates for Mothers Day and said her other daughters would be visiting the next day with another gift (a warm vest and 2 nighties and knickers). I doubt she’d remember we’d been there in an hours time.

    I can understand your feelings regarding Mother’s day.

  3. Sayte Holland MCCOMB on


    Mothers Day

    It is a “Mothers Day” rose, or that’s what my Mama always called it.

    “Why?”, I asked.

    “It always blooms on Mothers Day every year. Your fathers’ mother gave it to me to plant at the top of the stairs right after we built this house. She loved roses, especially this kind and she wanted me to have it.”

    “How does it know when Mothers Day is?”, my childish curiosity trying to understand the things a child rarely understands.

    “I don’t know the answer to that, but every single year it buds out by Mothers Day.”

    I guessed that it did that so that I could travel down the concrete path, scissors in hand, to cut my mom enough to fill the same vase that she chose for them, every single year. I suppose that I have been performing this ritual for fifty-plus years, the first ten or so of them, learning how to avoid its thorns that were worse than needles. I always thought that the beauty of that particular flower did not justify such pain when the thorns broke off, leaving their tips embedded in fingertips where they would stay for days. The palest of pink petals began dropping from their stems, within one day. For me, that was truly an underrated payoff for such effort.

    Still I spent many a year, anxious for the first greening to appear, apprehensive followed waiting for the buds, then wondering if blooms would come too early or too late. The rose bush that stood over the stairs, standing over all of this time never once failed me. Spring forcing its way into summer, I checked the bush when I checked the mailbox or looked for the hand-thrown newspaper that stopped being delivered an eternity ago. I calculated in advance how I would scale down to its blooms, blooms budding on a sandstone hillside.

    Yet, in my mind, it was tradition. It was part of that yard with few flowers, that made it my goal to see that Mom had a vase each year, never imagining that one day I might become too old to perform the feat.


    Mothers Day.

    Adulthood and the events of such, mixed in with the mountain of responsibilities, habits that have to be acted out for ones’ self and for those cared for, seem to eat away little things like fresh cut roses for your mother…almost. Time abet aging, does that. It steals memories and erases the importance of simplicities.

    I cherish my secret rituals that are embedded so deeply in me that they are unknown to anyone other than myself. They are like the green kite that I bought for ten cents with five rolls of string, with bed sheet tails torn lovingly for me by Pearl. I sailed that kite through four rolls of string, secured by a stick… I sailed that kite with such expertise that it amazed me. It made me feel like somebody important, someone with talent. I watched my emerald green diamond disappear into the sky, until I could no longer see it. I was left standing in a field of wild grass swaying to the rhythm of the wind on my face, blowing my untied hair. Not one other person saw it, that day, that special day I seemed to send a kite to Heaven. I am certain that if I told any one soul, that it was Pearl. Impressed or not, I would be sure that she would have made me feel special.
    Winter was too long and too hard this year. Autumn seemed to make its preparation for it to be so. Spring seemed to last almost two weeks before the pollen settled in, making anything done outside, unpleasant. Temperatures so perfect, you could hear the windows begging to be opened. Then the pollen came in and still, it sits solidifying on any flat surface. I will get to that cleaning, once the responsibilities are met, the habits are performed, and all of the adult things are in their proper order. I have been preoccupied it seems as if by the devil himself. Yet,
    I have not been taken completely under siege, for through it all, I did recall, as days warmed, and leaves greened, …i did remember the Mothers Day roses.

    As I raked straw from pathways and planned the rock gardens that I am no longer physically able to build, Moms roses were in my mind. I pruned, I dead-wooded, and I analyzed what the thorns might be plotting in their stabbing little minds.

    I cleared part of the pets graves and planned to plant more perennial memorials here and there. I gathered my tools, my gloves, and all of the heavy things I always carry, yet rarely use. One day… It was one day before Mothers Day when I would pre-select today’s cuttings.
    Already, I had located the vase and cleaned it.

    Executing carefully planned steps, I made my way carefully down Mom and Dads home of sixty-five years. I placed the heavy tools down, put on my reading glasses, to select the best of buds.

    Like a faucet, turning ever so slowly, I felt a tearful stream begin. For after promising myself I would not cease my ritual, one among hundreds that are my heartstrings to my home, where my kite story secrets are all housed and hidden away…. I saw that the pale pink bush, at the top of the dilapidated stairs, I saw that the bush had died.

    My Mothers Days of roses were over forever.
    I gathered my things.
    I made it to the car and then to our house, where I realized that my days of giving were gone,
    but the real hurt came from realizing

    she will never receive them from me again.


  4. momsbrain on

    Laura: I’m sorry you were sad, since you should be celebrated on Mother’s Day!

    joolzmac: Thank you for commenting. It is extremely hard to comfort a patient who is aware of the memory loss. My mom could sometimes joke about it, but it has got to be so scary. At some point, we caregivers can just hope to offer joy in the moment since it won’t be remembered.

    Sayte: Wow, what a story, so beautifully told. That is an impressive ritual to maintain for so many years. And therefore, such a significant loss. Thank you, Sayte, for reading this blog and for sharing your own difficulty with the holiday!

  5. foodhoe on

    That is a sweet exchange you had with your Mom, a nice memory!

  6. momsbrain on

    Hi, foodhoe – nice to hear from you! I’ll take any interaction I can get these days since Mom is so limited with speech. She gave me a nice smile today out of the blue, which also gave me a lift. I hope your family is doing OK.

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