March 7, 2020
I look at the picture I snapped of my mother yesterday and it just makes me sad. I don’t know why I took it and now I wish I hadn’t.
When I arrived at her door, she greeted me with the Québécois two-cheek kiss. Then her eyes quickly went to the nylon lunch bag I carried. I bring lunch on my weekly visits and it’s always a treat – something she loves but is rarely served at her seniors’ residence.
Her eyes widened with glee when I took out pizza, hot and fragrant with the scent of pepperoni. It’s disconcerting to see child-like joy beaming from an aging parent’s cloudy, sunken eyes, but it made me smile. At 93, the things that bring her joy are few and far between. Pizza is a small price to pay.
After we ate, I took out a coloring book of cats. My mother loves cats. The Christmas after my father passed away, I bought her a tiny Himalayan kitten she named Frosty. That cat had a mean streak but she catered to its every whim. Frosty left this earth a few years ago and my mother cried for her as much as she did for any human she ever loved and lost.
“Do you want to colour with me?” I asked. “Sure!” she said with enough enthusiasm that I believed her. My mother is very good at hiding what’s going on in her head because it helps to cover the memory gaps. Gaps that used to be tiny, hairline fractures but are increasingly like faults left behind by an earthquake.
We colored and chatted until I stopped and moved to the couch behind her. That’s when I snapped the picture. In it, the thinning hair where her head touches her pillow lies flat against her scalp. One rebellious lock sticks up in the air. She is wearing charcoal gray jogging pants, a worn cardigan, white gym socks and slippers. Except for her adult-size, she looks like a child hunched over, absorbed in a school project.
JUNE 7, 2020
I saw my mother today for the first time since the COVID-19 lockdown in March. So much has changed since then. There was no two-cheek kiss greeting when I arrived; instead, mask in place, I stepped back when she opened the door. Only when she went back into the apartment did I follow at a safe distance. She has trouble wearing a mask, so I made sure to stay distant during my whole visit.
Instead of food, I brought gifts: a blouse and a cashmere shawl in her favourite color – pink. I sat on the same couch as I had in February and asked her to brush her hair, put on some lipstick and change into the blouse and shawl.
“Why?” she asked.
“You’ll see,” I said.
When she came back, I took out my cell phone. “You look so pretty that we’re having a little photo shoot.”
The look of pleasure on her face at this sliver of flattery and attention pierced my heart.
“Wait, let me brush my hair again!” she said, laughing like a young girl.
Later, I deleted the photo I took in February. For three months, I feared this could be the last image I had of her. Then I printed the one I took today. In it, my mother is smiling as she clutches the shawl close to her. Her lips are shiny with a shade of lipstick that almost matches the shawl. Her smile is self-conscious but pleased and reaches all the way to her eyes. She looks beautiful.
“Lonely is not being alone, it’s the feeling that no one cares.” – Author Unknown