My mother used to ask me a simple question: "Do you love me?" It came from out of the blue -- while she was drying the dishes or reading a book or driving me somewhere. It was puzzling. Why would she ask me that? She was my mother. Of course I loved her. How could she not have known? Daughters love their mothers. It's automatic.
I went through most of my teenage years age appropriately denying her details of my personal life, rolling my eyes at her fashion choices, withholding affection to punish her for being the boss of me. I could do all this because I was unconditionally loved and I knew it.
She continued asking me the same question: "Do you love me?" I answered with a "Yes, Mom. I love you." Very brief.
When I was twenty-five my mom was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease. She was younger than I am now. She was brave when she (and my Dad) told me -- didn't break down. She didn't want to upset me any more than I already was. While she must have been terrified of what the following years had in store for her she didn't cry. She wanted to spare me.
Of course, I cried. I asked what was going to happen. It didn't occur to me until that afternoon that someday I could lose her.
One day, while we were at the mall together she wanted to get some ice cream. I suggested she go on ahead while I finish my very important browsing at Pier One, and then I'd meet her at the Baskin Robbins kiosk. After I made my purchase of a journal and yet another scented candle I headed over and as I approached I saw her waiting on the line. By herself. Talking to no one. Just waiting. And something hit me: why couldn't I have just gone with her? I didn't need the journal or the candle. She gave me another pass with that unconditional love of hers.
I guess I had been keeping my distance because watching her get more symptomatic was too painful. Besides, I was supposed to be "the child." She wasn't supposed to get sick.
I never got over the vision of her standing by herself on that line. After that day I grew up a little bit. But I didn't necessarily become more vocal about my feelings.
As the Parkinson's progressed, she kept asking me that same question: "Do you love me?"
Understandably, she asked it when my father died suddenly. She asked it when my sister and I had to force her to surrender her driver's license after having an accident that was just a matter of time. She asked when we sold the home where she raised us, when she moved into assisted living, when she was in hospice, and finally when she was slipping in and out of transition toward the end of her life. She wasn't aware of a lot at that point...but there was one thing of which she still needed reassurance: Do you love me? It boggled my mind. "Yes, Mom. I love you."
I wish just once I had stopped the world mid spin -- looked her in the eyes, put my hands on her shoulders and said, "Mommy. I love you so much. You are the best mother a girl could have. Never doubt it. I love you I love you I love you." And then I could have hugged her for a long, long time. So she'd never have to ask me again. Or leave the world wondering.
But I never did that. This is a regret.
If I put into words the way I really felt it would be that much more devastating if I lost her. I lost her anyway. It was inevitable. Parkinson's or not.
Recently, my daughter walked into the kitchen and poured herself a bowl of cereal. I looked up from whatever blog I was blogging and asked her, from quite out of the blue: "Do you love me?" And so it begins.
Daughters become mothers. They can't possibly know how mothers feel until they are mothers themselves. It will always be this way. It's the "Circle Game" Joni was talking about. And now I catch myself looking behind from where I came.
Happy Mother's Day to all the Mothers out there. You are loved. More than you know.
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