Tuesday, April 9, 2013

I Wish You Could Have Known Her


I stand in the large, stark bathroom, watching as the skilled nurses take care of my mother in hospice. Their deft, practiced movements with daily personal maintenance; all performed with gloved hands. A quick swipe here, maybe a second one there, and then they return her quickly to bed, no words, no eye contact. It's an assembly line process.

They do an exemplary job, beyond adequate. Doling out a required service with a level of aptitude that allows them to move quickly on to the next four rooms in my mother's unit, following the same steps. They manage to do in ten minutes what would take me at least half an hour.

With the two of them together, they lean in to assist my mother with her undergarments, they pull up what needs to be pulled up, and I watch.

All the while I bite my lip, chastising myself for not saying something. I finally open my mouth to speak, but my eyes fill with tears that surprise me and my voice cracks. I stop. Embarrassing myself, fearing I'll move my mother to even more emotion than what I already see there on her face, during what is now surely a humbling season of life for her.

As the three of us stand over my mother in the open bathroom, I feel pressed to tell them that who they see before them today is not an elderly woman no longer able to care for herself, but someone else.

I want them to know, I want to say, I wish you could have known her when she was 30.

* * * 
I wish you could have known her when she was 30. 

She was beautiful. She wrote poetry for the newspaper of her country's capital, Bogota, Colombia, a city even then of over 500,000. Her columns penned anonymously, all beginning with the same three words, A Mi Amante. To My Lover.

Dodging her way through the crowded streets of Colombia she heads to work, amid the honking and the whiz of electric rail cars. The men sitting at the early morning cafe tables look up to see a woman in the business district, working in a place and in a time when women didn't. With her strong straight as an arrow spine and her eyes set ahead, she maneuvers through the busy avenues, always intent in her destination. Tugging at the back hem of her custom made suits, her short, polished nails smooth the placket of buttons. Her platform heeled shoes made especially for her of stiffened leather by the town's cobbler click along the brick walkways. She didn't have to state her independence, you read it in her deliberate stride as she wove her way somewhere, to meet with the town's mayor, or an appointment for dinner with one of many friends. Anyone hoping to catch her would have been long ago lost in the pace she set.


She walks through the streets and the people part, as if she were Moses and they the Red Sea. The traffic stopping on the power of her perfect face alone. The vision that she is holds them; her rich, dark curls that play on her shoulders, her cinched waist in her tailored jackets, her shoes in the latest style with cherry red tips of manicured toes peeking out. Youthful lips that need no rouge sit below incendiary eyes. There are all these things to her, but they disappear from sight the moment she catches your breath with a flash of her eyes that burn with a fire that dares you to stop her.

"Hola, morena! Over here, my dark one," the men shout as she rushes past, "Look at me! Lend me your eyes to light my cigarette."

***

I want to tell these nurses that she will always be titanium -- but instead the hot tears filling my eyes spill off my cheeks and soak into my mother's bent gowned shoulder, and the only thing they hear me say before my voice breaks is, "I wish you could have known her..."

I did. And she was beautiful.





* * *

114 comments:

  1. This is so poignant and so beautiful. Sending lots of prayers your way.

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    1. Thank you, Kim, it's been a slow road, and we've been lucky to have had her doing so well since this all started almost a year ago.

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  2. Eyes full of fire. Beautiful then and now. Thank you for your words

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    1. Thank you, Anon. You leave the kindest comments.

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  3. Oh hon. Holding you with warm arms. xo

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    1. Thank you, A. You're a good, steady friend.

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  4. ugh...i am sorry...these are hard moments...realizing the frailty of our parents...esp at this transition...i felt it some with th passing of my mother in law...

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    1. We never will get used to the losing, B, and this has been a tough year on us. Thanks, B.

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  5. This. Rips my heart out. Having lost my mother a little more than a year ago after several years of her declining health I totally get it. The month in the ICU where she was battling the things that kept her alive and me trying to tell the nurses that worked with her who was really in there, behind the oxygen starved body that fought like a caged animal to get free. So now I sit here crying with you, for the loss of both of our mom's. Just in different ways..

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    1. I'd love to listen or read a story about your mother, Angel. Would love to read it.

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  6. Oh. You made me cry. Wonderful writing and I can tell your mother is a wonderful person because of who you are. Thanks for sharing. Lots of prayers and love sent your way.

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  7. Loving you and honoring your mother.

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    1. Thank you, Vikki. I'm so happy I know you.

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  8. Crying - so sad Alexandra, my friend.

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    1. We'll see where we are in July, Lady Jennie, she's surprised us thus far. xo

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  9. That transition from "child to adult to parent of your parent" is one that I am not looking forward to, but with heredity I realize it's probably inevitable. I send you love for you and your mother. You are a wonderful daughter. She is so blessed, but she knew that already. ♥

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  10. Beautiful, Alexandra. And I think what is important is that you knew her then, that you saw her eyes full of fire and her confidant stride. And, now, we all can see that, too, through your words.
    Love to you and your mother.

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    1. It's hard to see the mighty fall. Especially a prideful woman who accomplished so much and now has to rely on others just to go to the bathroom. It's painful to watch.

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  11. What a great tribute to you mom. That is the worst part of growing old. I know. Every other month my high school meets at an old drive-inn restraint we used to cruse in our hot cars back in the day and I see how we have aged, the infirmities of over six decades of work and living. My football and baseball buddies who were so agile are now limping or walking slowly. I see them as 17 and 18 year old's, but the world sees us as the elderly who needs pity and I see my Navy buddies, who could run up and down those ladders on a moving ship that can barely walk up steps now. We have our memories and see all the fallacies and mistakes the young ones make (life never really changes)and know inside that we are right and they don't listen. So I know what you mean about knowing her when... You should have... no... wait... maybe it's best you didn't know me then.

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    1. Thank you so much. We do have our memories.

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  12. yes — both grateful for the care and somehow resenting it because of what it means; admiring the nurses' efficiency and yet wishing that they could take more time, because your mother deserves all the time in the world. Thinking of you and of her.

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  13. I wish I had words for this. I just want to hold you and catch the tears. ((HUGS)) my friend. I wish I could have known her.

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    1. Julie, you've done so much by reading, listening, being there for my words. THANK YOU.

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  14. I wish I had the right words for you right now. I wish I could have known her. My heart cries with you right now. ((HUGS))

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  15. This is so gorgeously written I have goosebumps. As you described your mother I pictured you, as I met you at Blogher, walking confidently and elegantly down the hall. Maybe to know you is to know a part of her.
    Much love to you during such a difficult time.

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    1. Jessica, we have so much in common with how our writing saves us. xo

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  16. The way you describe her reminds me of you. Know that.

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  17. Oh my, such tears I have. This is a beautiful tribute to a wonderful woman...Like Julie, I wish I knew the right thing to say. Instead, I send you hugs.

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    1. Amber, thank you. I ower you a long over due visit, but thank you so much. It means worlds to me that you know her.

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  18. You brought tears to my eyes, Alexandra. I think about this often too...at least, only as of recently. I have always thought of my mother as My Mother, rather than as another woman, another human being. Our mothers look so different when we choose to see them as people.

    Anyway, that is a little beside the point you are making I think but it's one of the emotions that your post evoked.

    Perhaps the nurses "know" in their own way. They are gratefully in this field out of their care and respect for those among us who have reached this stage in their lives.

    I'm so sorry, Alexandra. But I am happy to read this post at the same time, to know that you are where you are in terms of your memories and feelings. I know your relationship had not once been easy.

    Hugs to you, and your mother.

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    1. I wish you were here, most days, I do. xo

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  19. I apologize if this is a double comment, but I think blogger ate the last one...

    I just wanted you to know this is a beautifully written tribute to a remarkable woman...one that made me wipe away tears of my own. I am sure she is more proud of you than she could ever say.

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  20. Oh dear. So wonderfully written, so painfully sad. I'm wishing the absolute best for you and your mom. And even if the nurses couldn't have known her then, you knew about it. You knew it. And that means so much.

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  21. Oh, my dear, dear friend. Such a beautiful piece of writing, such a tribute to what is now not present but will never be gone. I so remember the nurse rolling my mother to and fro, like a human burrito, and being both appalled and relieved that someone knew how to change the bed linens for someone who would never get out of bed again. And forevermore I will think that all I could do and all I was MEANT to do was to be there, and witness, and take it all in with my eyes and let it sear my brain so that all the times I think of her now that she's gone I will know I did my very best, to see her in all her phases and stages. From being my magical mother, to becoming my wounded tormentor, to becoming my frail and fragile mother, so much smaller than I'd ever thought I'd see her, ever. Humility finds us all, but in it is grandeur. xo

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    1. I love talking with you, Stacy. thank you so much. xo

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  22. hmm my comment disappeared.

    So incredibly beautifully written. Poignant and sad. Wishing the absolute best for you, your mother, and your family. Even if the nurses couldn't have known her then you did. And you can share those memories with all those who didn't.

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  23. What a beautiful tribute to your Mother. So touching.

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    1. Thank you, France. How do we put into words a human spirit???

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  24. As Jessica and Arnebya said before me, your description of her is reminiscent of you.

    Although I have not had the pleasure of meeting you in person, I *know* you in other ways; through your words, your kindness and generosity. Your strength.

    Through you, these traits will be made manifest to anyone who cares for your mother. Not that such a truth matters when it comes to the aging of our loved ones. But still.

    The way you speak of her tells so much about who she is:

    One-of-a-kind and capable of raising someone as special as you.

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  25. I just voted for you/this. I don't have words.

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    1. Erin, it'll be good to hug you again. Thank you. xo

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  26. this is so beautiful and made me cry. i don't want to get old.

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  27. Beautiful, touching and loving. It is hard to watch a parent, that is your hero, decline in health. But I am sure the health care nurses knew what you were trying to say. They are very special people and they amaze me in how they do the work they do.
    My mom passed away 30 years ago before I left for college. My dad has been gone 20 years and we watched a vibrant man waste away from us. It is so hard and draining to be there and witness it.
    Many many hugs and prayers to you.

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  28. So honest, so true, so beautiful. We do wish these people who help us care for our loved ones knew what we knew, who we knew.

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  29. There is such a sad loveliness there, in your words, my dear, darling friend. You gave a beautiful testimony of your mom and now, we all know, who she was, who she still is, deep down inside.

    Having been through it twice last year, I know that feeling, watching a vibrant soul succumb to the ravages of illness and a failing body. It's so hard. And I am so very sorry.

    Much prayer and love coming your way, Dear Lady. It's been a tough year for you. Hugs across the miles.



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  30. Just the word "hospice" and you already had me in a flood of tears. Watching a parent whither and struggle is just too much to bear. I'm so sorry.

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    1. MamaKat: yup. It's something that feels like a 50 lb brick sitting on my chest. xo

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  31. this is just...oh Alexandra. I wish I could have seen her.

    this is beautiful. thank you for sharing it with us.

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  32. Oh oh oh my dear. Sending you my love, giving you my prayers.

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  33. But you know her story and that way the woman at 30 continues on.

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  34. I'm so, deeply sorry for your loss. As a motherless daughter, my heart goes out to you.

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  35. What a beautiful, touching post. And what a lovely tribute to your amazing mother.

    Love and prayers to you both.

    XOXO
    Anna

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  36. Wow. What a stunning portrait. You brought your young mother to life. I would have loved to have known that woman. To have watched what you described. It is such a difficult time. I went through this with my father end of last year. I hate it. Prayers for strength and peace.

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  37. She's passed her 30 year old self to you, which you pass along to to everyone you know, every day.

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  38. So not looking forward to this part with my own mother. My mother's mother had a stroke and lived 10 years and was nearly unrecognizable to us all. Heartbreaking doesn't even sum it up. My mom said the worst part of it all was that is the last image she has of her mom. Hard as she tries, she can't get it out of her mind. Seems so unfair.

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    1. It's not anything I could ever describe enough, what others dont see: they have no idea the force of nature she was. xo

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  39. Oh Honey, I am crying my eyes out. Beyond beautiful words, I know the feeling exactly. That gorgeous photo only tells part of the story, you have broadened it to show she truly was amazing.

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    1. I know you know what I'm talking about. xo

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  40. Watching someone who was such an integeral part of your life succomb to illness is probably the worst torture that a person must go through.
    When my grandma was ready to pass on, I watched as she lost herself in her frail body. Before she died, she sat up in bed and looked all around the room and said "Am I dead?" and we all nodded no. She flopped back in bed as she said "Fuck."
    (Can you tell that we're related?)
    Their spirit is still there. Lively as ever. She's not an illness, she's a beautiful soul.
    Thank you for introducing her to me. It is an honour.
    Love your face.

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  41. lovely!
    thank you.

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  42. I wish I could not relate to this so much. All I can say is, I know how this feels. I know the pain. And I'm so sorry. This was beautiful. You made me wish I had known her, too.

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  43. What a beautiful tribute to your mother.

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  44. So incredibly beautiful. Perspective I hadn't ever considered....thank you. xoxo

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    1. Thank you so much. IT's a very hard season in my life, to watch her in hers, knowing her body can't do what her mind remembers her to be. xo

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  45. I saw her through your exquisite, vivid descriptions--and read your love and admiration radiating between each letter and word. Stunning and powerful. Thank you for sharing this with us.

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    1. Thank you for reading. I feel so good knowing that someone knows who she was once. Thank you.

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  46. Breathe, I know it's hard. You can do it.

    I started my blog as a way to connect with my mom after she passed away. Even after all this time, sometimes I still weep when I write about her. I miss her still, one more day, one more hour, would never be enough.

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    1. Thank you my dear Mrs. Tuna. xo And I'm so sorry your heart still aches. Losing a mother leaves us so untethered. We are always somebody's child, in our minds. xo

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  47. So beautiful, Alexandra. Your posts about your mother are always so touching and so real, and they make me think about what I know of my own mother and her life. I love her dearly, but your posts remind me to treasure her even more.

    I'm sending good thoughts to you and yours.

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    1. THank you, Katie. That means so much.

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  48. You made me cry. It is so very the same for me right now as my grandfather is in hospice and my husband's grandfather is in the hospital. I often want to tell them-- these saints of nurses, doctors, social workers and aides-- this is not who he really is. You do not see the man who was quite the charmer in his Navy uniform, you do not see the man who taught school, you do not see the man who lived through the process of raising and providing for four teenage girls...And it's not your fault, but it kills me that this is all of him you see, you know.

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    1. Sarah:THIS would make an amazing blog post. I hope you do tell of your grandfathers b/c I'd love to hear about them. I truly would.

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  49. What a beautiful, loving, filled with a daughter's admiration, piece about your mother, Alexandra. This is her legacy; you - her daughter and a fellow writer - are her wonderful legacy.

    Your descriptions of your mother show just what a talented writer you are, too.

    Peace and love for your family, especially now.

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    1. Thank you, Hillary . It's so sad to see. And makes me not want to get old. Not that old.

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  50. Oh, Alexandra... I'm so very sorry... I can't imagine how painful this must all be for you. And my GOD! What a beautiful picture that is! It is such an honor to get to know your mother a bit better through your touching words.

    Sending so much love and strength your way, sweet girl. And some extra *HUGS* XOXO

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  51. Oh A, I'm so sorry. You're such a kind and loving daughter. I know it hurts to see her like this. Sending you so much love and strength.

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    1. Thank you, Rach. This is a very strange season of my life. xo

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  52. I'm sorry it took me so long to read this, and I'm glad you mentioned it today. This took my breath away, and brought tears to my eyes in a way that only you can with your vivid descriptions and loving words.
    I know this is unimaginably hard for you to go through, and I'm sending hugs. Big hugs.

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    1. Kristin, thank you so much. I feel that by having at least ten people know her, tht I do her memory justice. She was and is an incredible woman. With stories you wouldn't believe. THANK YOU for knowing about her today. xo

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  53. Such heartbreak. But anyone who reads this now can know her when she was 30. To a degree, at least. Beautiful job, beautiful mother, beautiful daughter. Sending so much love and comfort. xo

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  54. Oh Alexandra, you write so beautifully of the difficulty of that final path in life that we all must face in one way or another. This is so true, let those who must care for the shells of who our parents and caregivers once were, know the true life force that they are dealing with. You write with love and respect, a true homage to your dear mother. I can't wait to meet you irl at BlogHer this year.
    xoxo
    Estelle

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    1. Estelle, this means a lot. It means so much that you have gotten to know her. Somehow, I believe that this is who she will always be. THANK YOU

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  55. This was so beautiful. I work in a hospital and I think I needed that reminder. Thank you for sharing this.

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    1. Pam, thank you for caring for the elderly. I hope I did not offend. The nurses are truly a godsend. It's just that I know, they only see a frail old woman. And she is amazing inside. My mother is amazing.

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  56. This is beautiful. We took care of my grandmother through her Alzheimer's, and every time a hospice worker would come in to bathe or otherwise address her physical needs, I always thought the same thing. I wish they could have known her when...

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  57. Oh, sweetie, just reading this now - because my life is still so overwhelming I am having no time for blog reading. My heart is bursting as I read, the shivers going down my spine having walked this path so recently. I always had my iPad or iPhone with me in the hospital with my mother and I would show everyone who worked with her pictures of my Mom from just last year and her youth. I always wanted them to see the dynamic person that she was, and not just the husk that was left. Same with my father as he was dying 3 years ago. a thousand hugs to you my friend. I'm going to go call you now.

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    1. Thank you, my dear dear Varda. I wish you were here to meet her. xo SHe'd LOVE you.

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  58. It is such a difficult thing to watch our mothers become a shell of what they once were. I don't even recognize my mom. Her spirit and personality are gone. We were lucky we knew them when they were in their prime. Hopefully, enough of their wonderful souls have rubbed off on us. Wishing you strength, courage and patience as you face each day ahead of you.

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  59. I had tears well up in my eyes because my mother is getting older (well, I mean we all are, but you know what I mean...). She's 74 today, in fact. She's in good health, thankfully but both of my parents are getting up there (Dad is 80) and I keep wondering how much longer my brothers and I have until we are dealing with this, in some way.

    I also felt a pang of sadness about the elderly in general, while reading, and the thought that those workers do not know all that your mother lived and did and experienced in her beautiful life... well, it's just kind of sad. As your words portrayed.

    I wish you peace during this time, for your and your precious mother.

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    1. OH, this is such a difficult time. A time of so many words, yet so little I can say. I just wish, that these caretakers knew just who they were tending to. And I wish they knew all the others they tend to in the unit. People with lives, stories. So much to tell, but no words come out. THANK YOU for knowing my mother here.

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  60. You are such a loving daughter, and writer. This should be read at a podium.

    Love to you.

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    1. Thank you. Know of anyone putting on a good show? (wink) xo

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  61. My Granny was the most important woman in my life - strong, beautiful, funny, fashionable -- alzheimer's has ripped all of that away from her, from us.

    I've been in that bathroom, with those women.. I've been in that room, and I've had those tears falling down my face.

    Sending love, prayers, and empathy

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  62. I can't breathe. Oh, Alexandra, this is beautiful and heartbreaking and powerful. Thank you for sharing her with us. I'm squeezing you hard right now. So much love to you...

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    1. You're a good friend, Heidi. THANK YOU.

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  63. Oh....that all of us will be known and remembered as our very best selves. This is a true treasure. How beautiful that you have had her as such an example and how extraordinary that she has you to shine this light on her, to think of her then ad now and to love her as only you can.

    Congratulations on a very deserved VOTY. xoxo

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    1. What a kind compliment. THANK YOU SO MUCH.

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  64. Beautiful. I so so so relate. This was the tenor of my life for roughly three years. Both parents. Such a horrible twist of fate.
    I cannot yet bring myself to write about it for an audience. It has felt entirely too private but I will. Soon, I will get there.
    Thank you.

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  65. Right now I'm sitting in my fathers room in the surgical ICU after surgery on him yesterday to drain blood from both sides of his brain.

    I watch these brave young people that are caring for my dad and I want to to tell him who he was. That this is not just a sick old man that they are cleaning and checking vitals on. That this man was King of the Row Crop! A man that could grow any vegetable or fruit on earth just by the sheer power of his will and his intuitive knowledge of the earth and plants. I want to tell them ...I want to tell them, do you know who he was...

    There is a quote from the movie with Richard Gere called Shall we Dance where the wife says, "We need a witness to our lives. There's a billion people on the planet... I mean, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you're promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things... all of it, all of the time, every day. You're saying 'Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go un-witnessed because I will be your witness'."

    I am a witness to my dad's life and you are a witness to the life of your mother. We knew who they were.

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  66. And now, because you wrote this, she will live forever.

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  67. What a wonderful tribute to your Mum and she truly is beautiful.

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  68. "I wish you could have known her..."

    After this, I feel like I did.

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  69. Oh Dear Lord, this was beautiful. And I also can relate. My mother was an almost-too-beautiful teenager in (what is now) East Germany. She and my Italian Dad raised my three sisters and I in NY. She never and I mean NEVER stopped smiling and laughing. This is my forever memory. As of a few years ago, she developed MSA, a disease similar to Parkinson's. She lives in a 6 room residence home and must have every need taken care of by someone. However her mind is 100% and she continues to live her life with love everyday. My greatest joy now is making her laugh - and it's a good good laugh. Thank you, thank you for my tears of love.

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    1. Aaah, what a beautiful comment. Thank you. I tried to find you via your name, and no luck. I hope you stop back again, I"d love to know where you live virtually. xo

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    2. I will 'bookmark' your page. I love your writing and your style. FB is Tess Maucier-Walker.

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  70. Beautiful. And those hospice people are angels. I remember having the same feeling of wanting to tell the ladies about our mother back in the day. They "knew" her a little more, maybe, because she was at home whilst in hospice care.

    (Found this via BlogHer's VOTY.)

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  71. I knew my own mother as this as well... Never really knowing, but, I saw your mother, in my own eyes long ago, as a woman who knew how to be a confidant, well dressed and yet, humble mother, to take so very well care of her own children, against all odds. I praise you and your siblings to have become such well rounded, well cared for and well loved children in my eyes. Bless you all. Besos, mi amias, all of you...

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