“This is our purpose: to make as meaningful as possible this life that has been bestowed upon us…to live in such a way that we may be proud of ourselves, to act in such a way that some part of us lives on.” —Oswald Spengler, German philosopher
Tonight as I leave the hospital, driven by love and hope, I try to hold on tightly to my connection to my mother. After all, it’s been there since my birth. I try to imagine my mother holding me in her arms, cradling me, rocking me and singing me sweet songs. I try to imagine my mother loving me. I can’t. I don’t remember sitting on her lap reading bedtime stories. I don’t remember good night kisses or the feel of her arms hugging me. I don’t remember if she comforted me when I was sick or sad. So now I’m wondering which one of us really has the memory problem.
It’s funny what I do remember of my childhood. I remember how my grandfather gently placed me on his stomach to take my stomach pain away, telling me he was transferring my pain into him. I remember how much better that made me feel. It’s funny how I remember my paternal grandmother holding me on her lap, jiggling me up and down, singing songs such as “She’ll be coming ’round the mountain when she comes” and some silly song about a lady riding a high horse. She taught me how to look for four-leaf clovers, and my grandfather made me laugh at his silly jokes. I can remember all these things, but I can’t remember what my mother did with me. I know she taught me things—how to love music, how to play the piano, how to work hard, how to care for others, but I don’t think she taught me how to be strong. So now when I most need strength, I think about my father and my sister and try to pull from them enough strength to face the coming days. I think about my grandparents’ love for me, and I remember their resilience and acceptance of aging and the loss of their homes and finally facing death. Maybe I can gather within me the courage of my father, my sister, and my grandparents, all of whom had to find strength at the end of their lives, and maybe if it’s cohesive enough, I can then move it from me to my mother as my grandfather once took my pain into him.
It was hard to leave her tonight, sitting alone in her wheelchair, confused and afraid, clinging to me every moment. Maybe I really will be able to give to her the strength and courage I never got from her but had to find elsewhere. And maybe I can give her all my love even though I don’t remember if she ever loved me as a child. Maybe I can love her enough to help her through this end stage of her life and still have within me memories of a childhood when I felt loved.