My mother ended her long battle with life four years ago today. I think of her daily in one thing or another as I’m sure we all do our mothers. Though ours was a more antagonistic relationship and memories are not so fine, in my everyday thoughts I find a different story and one small theme has come back to me frequently lately.
When I was little and discovering the world I took everything I found that I could carry and presented it to my mother. She rejected everything—bird feathers, rocks, flowers, small household items I’d found in the street, kittens—telling me she was allergic to the thing and not to bring it into the house. If I did, it disappeared. Years later, living in personal care, clothes I purchased for her were similarly rejected, or if accepted, would appear on someone else as she’d given them away.
Fifty years of that never stopped me from trying. My mother suffered from serious depression and I think I sensed that very early on, possibly because it was particularly bad after I was born, and I had the urge to both share my wonder and to make her happy, and I also brought things I just thought she’d like. Those patterns can be difficult to shake. I’ll never be convinced that nothing I shared through life—success in college, my paintings, my artwork, my writing, on and on—got into her. Every once in a while she would slip and make a remark that proved she remembered exactly what I’d shared and why.
So every once in a while, when in the course of everyday life I look something up on the internet, often read e-newsletters and my newspapers and magazines and watch movies on my computer, I think how much she would have loved the internet, just absolutely been absorbed by it. A lover of crossword puzzles, I remember her sitting in her chair working a puzzle surrounded by all her reference books, the crossword dictionaries, thesaurus, encyclopedias—old, but some information is timeless—various almanacs, world atlases and other reference books. Then there were the television shows and movies and the reference books on those subjects, then baseball, especially, and football to a certain extent, and the Olympics, and politics, and she had it all there in books and if she couldn’t relate a fact immediately she would find it.
She loved looking something up, just the act of pursuing facts and finding them was exciting. So was proving someone wrong, but that might be expected. And so was voicing loud opinions and having a heated discussion about politics or music or current events, sitting in her chair in the corner of the room and not often leaving the house, indulging in early talk radio.
To have all those facts and more at the click of a mouse would be exhilarating. I can picture her today constantly researching something just because it was there, and also firing off comments on Facebook, repeatedly watching her favorite movies on Netflix, and checking the weather hourly. It would be ideal for someone like her.
She had lung cancer surgery and a near-fatal cardiac condition in May 2001 but recovered enough to return to her home for a little over a year, after I had begun working at home. I constantly checked on her, finding her asleep in front of Lifetime TV and a movie she’d watched over a dozen times already. Her eyesight for small print was failing and she was nearing cataract surgery, so I got her a small boom box with both cassette and CD and checked recorded books from the library for her. Same rejection pattern with those, although there were some all-time hits that she could listen to over and over and I was glad they were long ones.
I had the chance, briefly, to introduce her to the computer, and did so. I cooked for her all the time, taking the food to her house in meal-size containers that could be heated in the microwave, and at least twice per month I drove her to my house for Sunday dinner, which was usually some sort of soup or, unbeknownst to her, vegetarian/vegan variations on some favorites like stew or holuptsi (stuffed cabbage) as I didn’t eat meat and she was supposed to be careful of cholesterol and such things.
While here, I used my computer to show her around the internet. A computer can seem completely unmanageable to people who’ve never used one, and in 2001 there just weren’t as many computers in everyday life as there are now and most people didn’t have a computer at home, though many did at work. I wasn’t concerned she wouldn’t learn to use it. In the 80s I had taught her to drive and she got her license the day she qualified for Medicare. If she wanted it, she’d learn it.
I used the mouse and, humoring me, she typed, we looked up a few things, equating that with using the index in an encyclopedia, showed her a few early online stores using JCPenney and comparing it to the catalog. Quickly enough she was frustrated by the mechanics of it and I knew I’d just have to find one moment of her discovering its potential. One afternoon she actually moused around herself and looked up a few things, and then a few facts pertinent to our conversation. Then we sent an email to my niece, her granddaughter, in Savannah GA (we are in Pittsburgh PA) and got an answer back. I could see the wheels begin to turn.
Unfortunately she was regularly developing pneumonia living at home and spent some time in the hospital after that day, moving directly into personal care. She was weak for a long time and angry to be where she was, and as much as I thought about how much fun a computer would be where she lived, in that day, personal care homes did not have wifi. By the time computers and wifi were widely available it was way too late.
If she had not suffered that illness and still lived at home, a computer would have been one of those gifts I would have gladly gotten for her, one that would not have been rejected, I know that for sure. She probably would have had me install it on her kitchen table where she spent time in the morning at crafts and creative things. I can almost picture here there. It may not be a memory, but it’s the next best thing.
Read other essays and poetry I’ve written about my mother.
. . . . . .
All images used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in using one in a print or internet publication. If you are interested in purchasing a print of this image or a product including this image, check my Etsy shop or Fine Art America profile to see if I have it available already. If you don’t find it there, visit “purchasing” for availability and terms.
I always had a difficult time finding an adequate Mother’s Day Gift for my mother, but at one point settled on purchasing a couple flats of flowers and planting them in her yard. I did this for nearly 20 years, also starting seeds for flowers she liked that I couldn’t find, like hollyhocks. Though my style goes for the wildlife habitat and naturally shaped areas of wildflowers and trees, my mother’s yard was carefully sculpted with edged flower beds and shaped shrubs—I know because I was the one who did all the trimming—and she never failed to sneer and ask if I wasn’t going to clean up around here when she visited, we could agree on the riot of color of impatiens, petunias, geraniums and marigolds along with the occasional verbena, alyssum and other annual bedding plants.
The flower solution was more than an answer to a predicament; it reached much deeper than that. To say my mother and I didn’t get along well is a simplification, in fact an affront, to a much deeper issue. My mother lived behind a wall of serious clinical depression, and when I was born she developed most likely a deep post-natal depression that went on for more than a year and had a negative physical effect on her too, changing her body as well as her mind for that period of time. Though she recovered from this, lost the weight and regained her self esteem she had lasting medical and physical issues for the rest of her life. A part of her always seemed to hold me to blame for that awful time in her life and the changes in her body, I could see it in her eyes every time she looked at me. She kept her distance from me, treated me differently, denied things to me and even into her days of dementia she still berated me for imagined things I’d done, never thanking me for the things I actually had done, except for one brief time in all her illnesses she really was weak enough to let the wall down.
I learned some of the explanations for this through paperwork I’d found in her house when I sold it and which I still have, finding at least partial answers to many questions regarding both my mother and my father and their actions. At some point years ago I realized depression was the issue and instead of arguing and rebelling I just decided I’d get the heck out of there when I could. I sent myself to college, and it was the break I needed.
As the youngest I was always on hand until college, and in feeling I was responsible for my mother’s happiness I became her caretaker and in one capacity or another I maintained that role for all the rest of my mother’s life, through my father’s lung cancer and Parkinson’s disease, her many surgeries and medical treatments and nursing her to health afterward, actually teaching her to drive and buying her a car when I was totally unwilling to be a taxi service, pursuing the diagnosis of her lung cancer, and shepherding her through surgery, near death, recovery, home care, personal care and skilled nursing.
But I always knew, trapped behind that wall, was a person just like me. Years ago I had begun slipping behind that wall myself and understood the perspective from that place, but I was lucky to have escaped and managed it through my adult life. Though patience and understanding wore thin and there were times I avoided my mother altogether, I would do anything to see she had what she needed.
And she needed flowers. I could do that.
I’ve written other essays about my mother, read them here.
. . . . . . .
For a print of any photo, visit “purchasing” for availability and terms.
All images in this post are copyright © Bernadette E. Kazmarski and may not be used without prior written permission.