Janet Sheridan: Moments with my mother
May 5, 2011
I awoke late at night to a crescendo of crickets as a fever surged through me.
Mussed bedding trapped my limbs. Pain entangled my body. When I heard a whimper, I wondered who was crying.
A shadowed presence appeared at my bedside, palmed hair from my forehead, freed me from sodden sheets. I was offered sips of warm liquid, then soothed until I found sleep.
My earliest memory is of the comfort my mother gave me that fevered night.
When I was 13, I again formed memories of my mother around moments we shared.
We were asked to be the featured speakers at a Dear to My Heart Night for the mothers and daughters of our church. I don't remember working on my tribute to Mom, or what I said, but I do remember fussing endlessly with my bangs, gluing them in place with Brylcreem and hair spray, more concerned with my appearance than my words.
I still have a hand-written copy of Mom's speech. She began with startling news: "Janet, from the moment I first held your warm, perfect body in my arms and gloated over your dark, curly ducktails — I actually had a baby with hair! — you've been a source of joy and delight to me and the entire family."
The entire family? Even Bob? Did they get to vote?
Later in her speech, another surprise: "I enjoy leaving your younger sister and brothers in your care. I know that even if the dishes are sketchily done and the furniture pushed awry, the little ones will be well cared for and have fun as you create games and stories for them. You'd be a good teacher, Janet."
With those words, she directed me toward my future.
Mom made my heart soar that night. Then, driving home, she returned me to earth.
"Janet, we have to do something about those shaggy bangs stuck to your nose. As soon as we get home, I'm cutting them. You look like a greasy Shetland pony."
She made no attempt to control her amusement at her own cleverness, and we laughed our way home.
Shortly after Mom turned 77, I spent a week with her. Most of the time we talked about anything that popped into our heads, worked on projects, and teased Dad.
Other times, I sat with a book in my lap and watched her sleep in a recliner, her hands unusually idle in the middle of the day. Soft window light bathed her lined face, and her breath seemed slow and faint.
Not wanting to bother her children, she admitted she'd had some heart problems, but said her medicine was working. As I sat with her, watching her drift in and out of sleep, I refused to recognize the truth.
She died six months later.
With time, I recovered from the emotional turmoil of her death, funeral, and burial — a poignant week I moved through with my father and siblings, united in grief and love.
Then the long-term ache of her absence began.
More than a year later, in Carson City, I absentmindedly drove a street of golden leaves let fall by tired trees. My neck tight with stress, I worried about personal choices, professional puzzles, a life littered with busyness.
I glimpsed a woman on the sidewalk who reminded me of myself: face touched by age, long flowing skirt, and heels working-woman high. Her head inclined, she walked in slow stages toward a nursing home, tenderly holding the frail arm of a stooped sparse-haired woman.
Both were slender and tall with identical smiles.
As I watched, they paused and commented above a bed of purple asters. Without warning, my heart collapsed like a butterfly caught in a net, and I mourned: I never walked my mother through her decline; I lived far away, thought I'd have time; others were there. And she died so quickly.
I grieved that I hadn't found time to make more memories.
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