It’s 3:00 in the morning and I can’t sleep. Today, a hospice nurse told us my mom could be with us a few more days, she could be with us a month. But the sparkle has left her eyes, and even if it’s a month, the nurse told us her sparkle probably won’t return.
My mother hasn’t been healthy for much of my life and has been especially sick with failing kidneys due to diabetes for several months now. So, I thought I was ready. And I haven’t lived in the same city as she lives for over ten years now. So I thought I’d gotten accustomed to not having her a part of my every day life.
My mom has never been one to call me regularly, but she always called me on my birthday, always sent Valentine’s cards and flowers, always filled a Christmas stocking for each and every one of us, no matter how sick she was. When I’d leave for my trip home, or any road trip, she’d have snacks for me to eat on the road and would always ask me to text her when I arrived.
Now, to be so close to that time when she simply won’t be here for all those little things I’ve taken for granted–will never be here again . . . the feeling of loss before she’s even gone comes as a surprise.
Those who know me best know that at times, my relationship with my mom has been one of ups and downs. As the oldest of five children all born within six years and with a father who was often away on trips with the Air Force, I had a childhood filled with what I sometimes thought was too much responsibility, and for much of my life, I resented it.
But in the last few days, I’ve come to appreciate the responsibility it taught me. It may have made me a mean big sister at times, but it also made me a better mom.
Here are a few memories that first come to mind when I think of my mom:
1) My mom often sewed dresses for us so that we’d all be dressed alike. Then, she’d buy an outfit to match for my brother. One of my favorite dresses she made was a pink polka dot dress with a poofy skirt, even though the slip was itchy. I still remember wearing that skirt to a parent-teacher conference at school. When I walked down the hall between my mother and father, I don’t know what I was more proud of: my beautiful mother, my father in uniform, my good grades, or that pink-polka-dot-poofy-skirt dress that my mom made.
2) My mother was a beautiful, talented woman, and I believe she was happiest when entertaining in some way, whether modeling, acting, singing or simply being the life of the party. Somehow, I knew this even as a child. When I’d watch her put her make-up on, spray on the perfume she always wore, I would be happy, too.
3) Sometime in the last year, after spending a few days with my mom, I had to leave very early in the morning. My mom got out of bed, even though I’m sure she’d just fallen asleep, and with her walker, rolled into the kitchen and began to fix something for me to eat on the road. She walked me to the door, and when I turned to wave goodbye, it struck me how old and frail she looked. Maybe it’s no coincidence that at the same time I realized it could very well be the last time I saw her, I felt so loved by her.
4) But one of my favorite stories of my mom happened while I was writing The Red Kimono. For those of you who don’t know, my eight-year old character, Sachi, was based on my mother, who was an internee as a child. It was hard for me to consult my mom very much while writing this book, because memories of her internment still brought tears to her eyes, and that was hard for me to see.
Yet, when I finished the manuscript, she asked to read it. This in itself touched me, because in all honesty, I’ve never known her to read a book. So, I put the manuscript on her iPad, and every time I’d go into her room, her nose was buried in that iPad. She finished reading it in only two days, and when she was done, she suggested a couple of minor cultural changes.
But the one change I loved best was about the scene where Sachi is stacking rocks in the internment camp. In the original manuscript, I had her stacking the rocks on top of the fence posts of the barbed wire that surrounded the camp. But my mom corrected the scene, saying, “Jan, there’s no way Sachi would have been able to reach the top of those fence posts.”
My heart filled with both joy and sadness. Joy, that she’d fallen so much into my story that she was right there with Sachi. But that joy was “corrected” by the sadness that followed, when I remembered, no, she really had been there.
Without my mom, there would have been no Sachi. There would have been no me. I would not have my kids. I would not have my grandson.
I’ll read this to my mom today and hope she understands it. Because I want her to know more than just “I love you.” I want her to know that in all the ways I listed, I’ll never be without my mom.