When they laid my mother’s body to rest, she looked hideous. Not only in comparison to her beautiful self, but in comparison to my father, who had been brought to his eternal rest merely nine months earlier.
My mother took a long, long time to die. I am not referring to the 30 months of ups and downs, tiny increments of progress, followed by further deterioration of her abilities, her functioning and her personality.
I am referring to the week-long process of dying that started when the hospice staff determined that she could no longer tolerate the tube feedings, and that she was destined to die. By the time my dehydrated, nutrient-starved mother’s soul was released from her physical presence, she looked hideous.
People tried to comfort me; they said that it was inconsequential, not important, only her body. ONLY HER BODY.
Those words haunt me. I grew within the body of this woman. It was the first place of connection between my soul and my body—within her body. Her arms were the first to cuddle me, her lips the first to kiss me.
My mom WAS her body. Her eyes twinkled with such a brilliant blue color. Her bright red hair was her trademark until the day she died. My earliest memories are of watching my mom apply lipstick to her perfectly shaped mouth.
Her arms provided comfort, warmth, sometimes even a sharp stinging slap. Her hands prepared nourishment to feed her family, night after night. I can picture the curve of her back as she stood over the sink, leaning on her elbows.
My mom did not love her body; she was not pleased with her proportions or size. I can picture her wiggling and contorting, struggling to constrict parts of her body within the confines of “support garments”, then called “girdles”.
As she aged, I think she appreciated the grace her body provided. She was light and delicate on the dance floor. Her heart may have protested a bit, but it kept beating within her chest. I think that the love that pulsed through her overwhelmed that organ and did not allow it to surrender to the stents and valve replacements and other cardiac procedures that she endured.
She begrudgingly accepted the aches and pains of aging. She did not want to be old. After the first battle of her body against itself, she became a very physically active woman, participating in exercise programs, dance classes and sports. Her body started to conform more to the image she desired.
It surprised me that even when her brain fogged over, when her personality became entrapped within a physical mold that no longer cooperated in tandem with her inner being, I found comfort in her body.
Seeing my mom, touching her, looking at her dainty fingers and perfectly manicured nails, glimpsing the little space between her front two teeth that always irked her—these things all gave me a sense of connection to my mom. She was still here, she was still my mom.
I am grateful that we live in an age of photography. I find such pleasure staring at photographs of my mom; trying to see in her eyes a hint of what was going on in her heart at the moment that the photograph was snapped. My mom was a poser; she always stood with one foot at an angle to the other; hands held just so.
It wasn’t just a useless outdated container that we buried last September. It was my mom. It was HER body, and it meant so much to me.
I go to sleep every night, hoping to dream of my parents. In my dreams, I get to experience spending time with them—to visit, to feel and hold, kiss and touch them. I know her spirit is free and happy, and it understands more than I can how unnecessary a physical presence is to her right now.
I am working on it…