A couple of weeks ago I was sitting in my dad’s chair next to my mom. I looked over at this woman who I love so much and saw that she was watching me intently. I didn’t know why and I couldn’t ask her. It was one of her bad days and she was struggling with her speech right then. My mom has dementia and is most affected by this disease in her ability to communicate especially when she has a UTI, which she had again that day.
I looked at her, wasn’t sure what I saw in her eyes beyond pain, and without thinking said, “Mom, you are such a beautiful woman.” And my mom smiled a small smile as she wiped a tear away. And I sat there pondering how truly beautiful she is.
My mom had a tough childhood. Raised by an alcoholic stepfather who could also be abusive, life wasn’t easy. She spent summers at her mom’s parents, helping on their farm. Those summers were the best part of her childhood, according to my dad. She had uncles and aunts not much older than she was and they were her best friends along with cousins near her age.
She has told so many stories about the farm, about her Uncle Charlie and Aunt Dorothy, her cousin, Sonny. She was able to ride horses, something she loved at the farm. Her nickname with her family came from a treasured horse, Toots. She helped with all the chores, butchering, haying, whatever needed to be done. She was loved and protected by her grandparents.
She grew up in a loud and boisterous extended family that was also very reserved with affection. My mom didn’t get hugged as a child. No one told her they loved her. It wasn’t that she wasn’t loved, she was. It was just their way not to express their love in this way. I believe this was part of her nationality.
As I grew up, I witnessed my mom loving her relatives, not through hugs and words, but through actions. She regularly took aunts to their medical appointments and shopping. She talked to them on the phone multiple times a day. She took her own mom to medical appointments. Raising six kids, she still made time to help family. And my dad worked two jobs most of the time I was growing up so that she could stay home and help us and others.
Mom loves flowers and had a beautiful flower garden for many years until it became too hard for her to maintain. Years later, many of those flowers still come up each year and bloom each summer. She also loved to go to thrift sales. She outfitted us throughout our childhood and into our young adult years with finds from these sales. She would search all over to find a particular item we wanted but couldn’t afford brand new. I remember my excitement when she found me the tennis shoes I had been asking for that were so popular when I was in high school. She has so many talents, sewing, crocheting, decorating, collecting and more. She has crocheted afghans for all of us and made tie blankets for every child, spouse, grandchild, grandchild’s spouse, and great grandchild and even great great grandchildren.
She is a wonderful and caring grandma. To save she loves babies is an understatement. She adores them all. We have watched her love on our kids and our grandkids. When I graduated from college as a single mom, and found a job two hours away but couldn’t find housing right away, she took care of my three kids for several weeks until an apartment opened up for us. The bus dropped the kids off and she had treat bags ready for them to snack on every day. She was always looking for ways to make her grandchildren feel special.
Mom and Dad have a special relationship. As kids, we saw them hug and kiss daily. We saw Dad pull her onto his lap quite regularly. They rarely fought in front of us. As kids, though, I think we wanted some of those hugs too. I know I did. Rarely were we hugged. Rarely did we hear we were loved. We were loved and Mom showed it in many ways every single day; just not with hugs or words. But I still wanted the words and the hugs. The first time I remember Mom telling me she loved me; I was seventeen years old, had just been in an accident in a city five hours away and was at the hospital. I marveled for days that she had said those three words to me, “I love you.”
As my siblings and I grew to adulthood, by silent agreement, we started working on Mom. She didn’t hug us and tell us she loved us because she didn’t learn that herself as a child. She repeated the pattern she was taught. We wanted more. We began hugging her even when she pushed us away. We joked and just hugged her more until she was comfortable being hugged. We told her we loved her. I never ended a phone conversation with her without telling her I loved her. Eventually, she said it back.
For decades now, Mom has been the one to reach out and hug us first. She is the one who will say the words, “I love you” first. We have always seen the love for us in her eyes. Now we feel the love in her arms and through her words. She has always been a beautiful woman and nothing will ever change that, not old age nor dementia. Her beauty is heart deep, not just skin deep and the love I have for her isn’t more because she now tells me she loves me and gives great hugs. I do treasure those moments of affection though and they are outstanding memories for me of the great Beauty that God has blessed my life with. I love you Mom.