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Love, even between child and mother, can take time.

Byline: WRITE ON By Nancy Olson For The Register-Guard

At 1:10 a.m. Dec. 30, 2005, my aged mother took one last breath, and at the moment of death gave birth to me a second time. I was totally exhausted. She was totally relaxed. The hand I clung to didn't cling back.

For 16 hours her labored breathing had filled the room. In the strange hush that followed her dying, I began my final hour with her. In the midst of family photos, melted candles, blankets, pillows and a lone red poinsettia, I tried to close her mouth. It wouldn't budge. Surrendering, I closed her eyes, gently washed her, tugged on a fresh gown, smoothed her bedclothes, and sat down on the chair beside her. Her face looked like white marble, the unyielding jaw jutting out of it. I'd been surprised to discover that death has a sweet smell.

I had a sense of peace. Mom had died comfortably in her own bedroom at my home, and I'd made it possible. I had done the daughterly thing.

It was somewhat of a miracle, this death and rebirth, because I guess I hadn't always done the daughterly thing. I never thought of Mom's and my conflicts as being much out of the ordinary, but perhaps a slow accumulation of rifts over the years triggered the blow-up that in 1995 caused her to order me out of her house.

It was my father who revealed my non-daughterly ways to me. As I headed out the door, I told him I was sorry. `I'm sorry for you,' he said. `You should have done the daughterly thing.'

My crime had been a small one in my mind: During our weeklong visit to my hometown in central Indiana to celebrate Mother's Day and Mom's 80th birthday with the family, my husband and I had spent three days at my sister's in the southern part of the state, instead of the planned two. Mom didn't like that. But as Dad explained to me later, she'd expected a full week with us and had hoped we'd take her away someplace instead of ourselves. So when we got home from my sister's, she was, as they say, loaded for bear. She was standing on the back porch waiting. `Well,' she said, as we scurried up the walk, `where have you been?' And then she unloaded.

When she was done, I escaped to my brother's house two blocks away. As always, with my mother, the crisis soon passed. I'd been lollygagging on the back deck for less than an hour, thinking `Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty ...,' when the phone rang. `When will you be home?' Mom asked. `In a minute,' I said. And in a minute I was.

Dad died at 96, just after the turn of the century. Two years later, on our wedding anniversary, my husband and I moved my stroke-damaged mother into our home to live out her days. Had I turned into a saint? Hardly. I can't even honestly say that I brought Mom to live with us because I loved her deeply - that came much later. But I can say, without hesitation, that it was in large part because I still loved my father more than anyone else in the whole wide world, and the last thing I had ever wanted to do was disappoint him.

Mom and I were together 24 hours a day for nearly four years. At times I wanted to kick her out of my house. At times she threatened to leave the house and go home. At times I thought I'd die before she did. At times I'm sure she wanted to see to it that I did. Toward the end, I'd say to myself, `I can't go on.' Then I'd say, `I'll go on.'

And so I did. And almost without noticing it, I began to love my mother. On morning No. 1,095, Mom looked up at me and smiled as I helped her bathe at the bathroom sink. `You would have made a good mother,' she said. The week she died, this mellow momma, whose biggest worry the whole time she was here had been that she'd get sick and not be able to go home and die, reached out for me as I sat on the edge of her bed, pulled me close, hugged me and said, `I'm so glad I was here when I got sick.'

A long time ago, while watching someone I didn't like very much grapple with an issue in a way that revealed a profound vulnerability, I learned that when you see people at their most vulnerable, it's difficult not to love them. Today is Mother's Day. It's also my mother's birthday. I grew to love Mom a lot while she was here, much the same way, I'm sure, that she once loved me when it was I who was totally dependent on her.

Nancy Olson is a free-lance editor. Her first Write On column was published on Father's Day, June 18, 1995, to honor her father. It told the story that planted the seed for this column, which was written to honor her mother.

To submit columns

Mail your typed, double-spaced, 500- to 800-word manuscript to Write On, The Register-Guard, P.O. Box 10188, Eugene, OR 97440. Attach a cover letter with your age, address, phone number, occupation and a couple of sentences of biographical information. There is no payment for a published column.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Columns
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Column
Date:May 13, 2007
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