No words to describe pain of loss

GIRL TALK

CLARE MARIE CELANO

Life, as we know it, can change in a minute. Someone gets married, someone gets divorced. Someone says you’re hired, someone says you’re fired. Someone is born, someone dies.

And these events change you.

The passing of my 86-year-old mother on June 18, two months before her 87th birthday, has shifted me to a place I don’t even know how to live in yet.

People will say she lived a good, long life, and that’s true. But to a child who has lost the mother she knew and loved all her life, this statement doesn’t heal the hurt or stop the pain. At least for now.

She was my mom, the person who was always there for me, and I miss her every minute of every day.

Years ago, our roles reversed, and it became my responsibility to be there for her. This caretaking role is part and parcel of the mid-life responsibility of children lucky enough to still have their parents with them.

I was constantly saying that every day with her was a gift, one I knew would have to be returned one day.

With that gift, however, comes the realization that essentially my loss is two-fold. I have lost a mother, but I have also lost someone who was my charge, who had grown to depend on me, much like a child does.

Strange, how our roles as women shift from daughter to mother to grandmother to keeper of the elderly.

Time had taken its toll on my mom’s body, and dementia had etched its mark on her mind, and with it came memory lapses. In addition, the ability to make decisions for herself began to diminish, taking with it the independence she so cherished. Bits and pieces of the beautiful stained-glass work of art that had once been my mother fell away, leaving shards of metal and glass scattered all over her and me, a bit at a time. Gratefully, dementia did not rob her of the ability to know and remember those she loved and those who so loved her.

“So what now?” I ask myself. For years, my life was filled with both the magic and mayhem of caring for an elderly parent that almost paralleled my young mothering days. But those years were on an upswing as I nurtured and raised my kids. This road was a downhill slide from the start, and oh, how my heart aches that the end of the road I had so long worried about, has come.

Even though the final chapter may be a blessing for my mother and even though she had tried to tell me for a while that it was time for her to end the struggle and have her time of peace, it doesn’t change the fact that she will no longer be a part of my every day.

No more smiles, no more wrapping her in her favorite shawl with a goodnight hug, no more tiny waves as I left the nursing home, no more hearing the words “I love you” that she would softly whisper because that’s all the strength she could muster.

And it crushes me to the bone.

It’s been a long road for my mom and me, a roadmany people my age are still traveling, a road that many of us, I fear, are woefully unprepared for. This road that always seemed so far into the future sometimes arrives when you’ve merely blinked too long. Caring for an aging parent is a process. Forme, it began with noticing a failing sense of independence, a sense of being needed more than before, the need to worry more than before, and many telltale signs of losing her ability to do, to know.

All this led to taking my mom out of her independent residence and placing her in a nursing home. It was one of the hardest decisions my brother and I had to make.

There was no

other way — for her safety, for her care and for my sanity.

With that decision came the process of tearing apart the life she lived before, the apartment she so loved.

I remember sitting in her apartment the day I began this task, surrounded by things that were once her life, things she would no longer need, enjoy or use in her new residence. That part of her life that directed the every day, the ordinary, even the mundane, was over.

That was two years ago, yet the memories are as if it were yesterday. I remember thinking, how does one dismantle a life that has taken 85 years to build, only to now be taken apart piece by piece, bit by bit, item by item, breath by breath?

Dotting the landscape of this tiny yet homey apartment were a taped-together picture of her parents in a tiny decorative frame, and an assortment of pictures lining wall units and her refrigerator: my deceased father in his 30s; her wedding picture; and her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Without my mother, none of those generations of faces would continue to be preserved, whether on instant Polaroid film or a digitally crafted image.

Colorful plush animals given to her by her grandchildren over the years, plants she had nursed forever, her crochet needles, her yarn, all in view.

My mother always thought she lived a quiet, rather ordinary life, but looking at what she left behind, what she accomplished and the love she gave, her life was nothing less than spectacular.

Vivid memories of all the years, some joyful and wonderful, some sorrowful and fearful, overwhelm me, but now, along with a sigh of sorrow, I also breathe a sigh of … maybe peace … that what was essentially a very long struggle for her is now over — a struggle to do, to be, to have.

Time and life may take away the physical, that which we can see and touch, but it cannot touch the happy, glowing memories of one whose presence is so deeply implanted in the very core of the soul.

And this is what I hold near to my heart these days.

Before he left to go home to Texas, my brother told my daughter, “For years, your mother carried your grandmother’s anguish. Now she’ll carry her strength.”

I have to hope he’s right. at

Contact Clare Celano ccelano@gmnews.com.