Growing up, I didn’t really look like anyone in my family.
Adults would study me and proclaim that I must have come from the Milk Man. When I was mad at my family, for whatever reason, I’d use this as a tool to feel sorry for myself, casting myself as the outsider.There was, however, no denying that I had my mother’s hands. My three sisters had long, beautiful fingers, like our father’s. I, on the other hand (literally), had my mother’s short, stubby fingers. Back then I refused to see the resemblance. I was afraid that if I looked like my mother, then I would act like her too. My mother was part traditional/part tyrannical. At least to my child’s eye. She cooked, she cleaned, she baked chocolate chip cookies. But buried deep in the pocket of her apron there was a sadness, an insecurity and a loneliness so extreme it manifested in many ways. She was easy to anger, hard to please and in need of a lot of attention.
As a little girl I was always trying to please her and be her favorite, even if it meant tattling on one of my sisters. I needed to be deemed the “good” daughter. As a teenager I rebelled. I wanted my mother to know how much she’d disappointed me. As an adult, I craved her time and attention: a lunch out, a day of shopping, a visit to my house for a coffee chat. But my mother flatly exclaimed she preferred to stay home.
Years after I was married, I was able to bury the need for my mother. I focused on my own family, pretending it was enough.
On the very day my mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, everything within me changed. It wasn’t about me any more. I didn’t care how she had made me feel once upon a time. I only cared about how she felt, and how to get her through this.
I’d visit, not expecting anything from her other than to be near. I didn’t judge what she said or did because there was so little time. If she mentioned needing something (like money for the outrageously expensive pills which allowed her to digest a meal), I’d willingly offer it.
It felt good just to “do” for her. A couple days before she died, as I was pushing my mother in her wheelchair, I got up the nerve to tell her that I loved her and shared how much I loved spending time with her. This felt very intimate to me, thereby unfamiliar. After all, my standard share was a peck on the cheek and a distracted “love you.”
When my mother sweetly replied, in an unguarded voice which was lightly laced with morphine, “You can see me any time you want,” I realized that I always could have. Maybe she wasn’t there for me in the exact way I had wished, but my mother had always been there.
We put her in hospice that day. As I helped care for her, I held her hands in mine and realized how dear those hands were to me. Today, I look at my own, mirrors of my mother’s, and I thank God for giving me these hands. They are the truest thing I have of hers.Denise Barry is the author of the children’s picture book What Does the Tooth Fairy Do with Our Teeth? and the upcoming Soap On A Rope and Sweeney Mack and the Slurp and Burp Competition. She is also an inspirational writer whose work has been featured on various websites and in the best-selling book Watch Her Thrive: Stories of Hope, Courage and Strength. Denise lives in Buffalo, NY with her husband and two children.
To learn more about Denise visit her website @ www.denisebarry.net