My mother was diagnosed with bone cancer in late 2005. She made the decision that she would only take treatment if the odds were in her favor for survival by 65%. After the new year, 2006, she was told her chances were only 40%. The reality of what this meant did not hit me then. In my mind, all that mattered was that I would care for her. Less than a week later, my husband and I took her out for Chinese food. We sat down at the table and ordered our food. When dinner was at our table and we were about to eat, I moved to lay my hand on the table, but instead I had rested my hand on my mothers. I immediately pulled my hand away and apologized. She proceeded to eat her food, while I with my head down, glancing repeatedly at her hand as I moved my food around with my fork.
In that moment that my hand was on my mother’s, I had felt the softness of her hands and now that I was seeing her hand as though for the very first time, I realized how beautiful they were. Elegant, with long fingers, the hands of a woman and that is when it hit me. For the very first time in my life I looked at my mother and saw another woman. A woman just like me. A woman who had experienced love and loss, hopes and disappointments. One with thoughts and passion of her own, a woman with a life of her own. She was not just my mother, she was another woman and it was then that it hit me that she was dying. I didn’t want to cry in front of her. I knew it was important for her to know I would be strong for her, and so I got up from the table, made some excuse and went back to the car. I sat and I cried. I cried for her yes, but I also cried for myself. I cried not only that I would lose her, but that I had never taken the chance to know her as a woman. To know her as a person, an individual, human just like me.
In the three months that followed, until her passing, my mother and I said more to each other than we ever had. I don’t mean that we spoke more. There were less words, more said, if you understand.
My mother was a fiercely beautiful woman, from the inside out. She felt and expressed everything intensely. She fought the hard battle of a woman with a difficult life and she did it with integrity. She gave more of herself than most people have to start with, she did it without anything in return. She was sharp and complicated. She was a wife, a mother, a sister, an aunt, a grandmother, a friend, but before anything else, she was a woman with a life force of her own. She was her own.
My mother passed on nine years ago today. In the wee hours of this morning I wake to look in the mirror. I look to see how much of her I can see in myself. Do I measure up to who she would want me to be?
I remember as a teenager, she and I, we would argue. She would tell me,
“What you do, what you wear, how you speak, it is a reflection of me!”
I would tell her in an exasperated teen voice, “Ma, I don’t care what people think of me.”
She would say, “What you present to the world, it makes a difference.”
If my mother were here today, I wonder how that conversation would go. I know I don’t feel much different then I did back then. Would she? I hope so. I hope she would see that the people that judge don’t matter. What is will always be more important than what appears to be.
When she said I was a reflection of her, she was right. The woman that I am, the strength and the fortitude, the values and beliefs. The courage, honor and integrity. What I am willing to give of myself to another human being. That is the reflection of my mother that I want to be.
One rose, in return for all the flowers she gave to me…