“But there’s a story behind everything. How a picture got on a wall. How a scar got on your face. Sometimes the stories are simple, and sometimes they are hard and heartbreaking. But behind all your stories is always your mother’s story, because hers is where yours begin.”
– Mitch Albom
My head has been buried in The Past while I work on the final edit of my memoir before I send it into the world to find an agent. My mother plays a big role in my book, so I’ve been thinking about her a lot.
My mother and I held hands in a complicated dance throughout her long life, often out of sync, often stepping on each other’s feet, often moving to completely different music. But sometimes the dance was beautiful.
At ninety my mother moved from Tucson into an assisted living facility near my sister Mary’s house in Florida. With the umbilical cord stretched thin between us, we both learned to breathe on our own. She stopped trying to fix the unfixable story of her past, and I stopped trying to save her from herself.
Over the next two years, as my mother lost her memory, a different story came together. One of a mother who lived only in the present moment, a mother who sang songs of her youth about doggies in windows, bicycles built for two and God Bless America, a mother who softened and loved like her heart had never been broken.
She became the hero of her delusional stories fighting in the trenches in WWII, running into the World Trade Towers on 9/11 to help people get out, and rescuing wrecks from storms as a lighthouse keeper. Always saving lives, finally able to forget about the one life she couldn’t save.
The last time I saw my mother she didn’t know who I was. But I could tell she remembered I was someone she used to love. We sat on her couch. We watched Animal Planet. We ate ice cream.
When I said goodbye I kissed my mother’s cheek. She smelled of chocolate, mints, and old age. She stood up, held onto her walker tightly and looked at me with sad, ancient eyes. “Don’t go,” she said. “Don’t go.”
I put my hands on top of hers, hands that radiated warmth, as we shared our final breaths together through the umbilical cord of love.