“Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.” That’s one line from an old song written in 1970. And like a lot of songs, it’s the only line I remember.
This one line brings one person in particular to my mind. My mother.
My mom lived and breathed for her children. There just was not anything she wouldn’t do for her four daughters. I was her baby, born when she was 40. Born when her other daughters were teenagers. And I was the living definition of what it means to take a parent for granted. The word “spoiled” comes to mind. Although I prefer the words “deeply loved.” Because that’s how it came across to me.
She didn’t have money, so it wasn’t a matter of spoiling me with frills and unnecessary purchases. No, she gave herself. She was there. I expected nothing less from her.
One time I spilled hot water on my hand while mixing up formula for my youngest baby girl. Nothing life threatening, but of course it didn’t feel the best. Mom worked downtown Minneapolis (Ks) in an auto parts store. When she found out what happened, she left work and came to the house to check on me. She discovered that I didn’t have any topical treatments for burns and neither did she. So she got in her car and drove 36 miles round trip to her sister’s house in Tescott. Her sister Gladys had a greenhouse and several aloe vera plants. I’m not sure how fast she drove but in a flash she was back at my house with some aloe vera to put on my hand. (and a plant of her own from Gladys) Ordinary burn ointment that she could have purchased downtown wasn’t good enough for her Bunny. And, side note, the aloe vera did indeed ease the pain and speed up the healing process.
Mom was a loyal and well loved employee, but if one of her girls needed something she was out the door. She would drop everything to help us. Without complaining. When I returned to work after my youngest was born, Mom went ahead and retired so she could babysit for me. Without pay.
I came to just expect this sort of care from my Mom. I just expected it. No big deal, Mom was Mom. I just counted on her. She would be there for me. No matter what.
Until she wasn’t.
When I was 37 and my two girls were teenagers Mom suffered a broken hip. Her underlying heart issues, though well-maintained up to that point, complicated the treatment plan. As a result surgery was delayed for several days. One of those days I walked into her hospital room and bent over the bed to greet her. She looked at me with vacant eyes and it was clear she did not know me. Even when I called her “Mom”. She asked me my name. That hurt. I said, “Don’t you recognize me, I’m Bunny, your baby”. But she didn’t. That really hurt.
I eventually left her room, accompanied by my husband, and as we entered the elevator I looked at him and said “I’m going to cry, I can’t keep from crying.” And the flood of tears began. The entire trip home and for 8 or so hours after I couldn’t stop crying. While I was crying it was as if the past 37 years were replaying in my mind. On constant replay. All the times I’d been abrupt with her, all the times I had been impatient with her, all the times I’d just expected her to be there for me. And I felt like one pathetic ungrateful daughter. It was justifiable emotion. I deserved to hurt so badly.
Through the tears I wrote her a letter. To apologize. To express my love. To let her know how valued she was and that I finally understood her value. Hoping as I wrote that she would be able to actually understand my apology and know how much I loved her. Hoping she would be able to actually read the letter I was writing to her.
Happily, the next time I went to the hospital she was back to her self mentally and she did recognize me. She had the hip repair surgery, returned to her home and over the next 3 months recovered orthopedically. However, her heart was permanently affected and 4 months after her surgery she passed away. Part of my heart went with her. A big part of my heart.
She was my last living parent and I felt like an orphan. A 37 year old orphan.
I’m so grateful that God gave me the opportunity to write her that letter and apologize before it was too late. I gave it to her to read a few days after she returned home from the hospital. As she read the letter, in true Mom fashion, she didn’t see that I had any cause to apologize. And she apologized for not being able to recognize me that one day when she was in the hospital. She said, “Oh Bunny that must have hurt you so badly.” And then, we both said “I love you” to each other. It’s a moment I will treasure in my heart forever.
That was 1993.
My broken heart has healed, but one thing above all others still bothers me immensely. I listen to the words of those around me. Moms are easy targets. For some reason, most people just feel entitled to bash their moms. And I’d love to just even be able to hug mine again. Do you find yourself annoyed with your mom? Critical of things she says or does? Speaking hateful words to her? Speaking mean things about her? Please stop. Please.
” Love them while you can. Time just seems to hurry by and the days slip into years, and the moments that we have will disappear. So love them while you can.” (from another 1970’s song)