“You don’t have to talk,” she said, noticing I was stirring. “I’m just going to sit here.”
Thank you. It’s exactly what I needed. An immense, familiar peace filled me, her profile eliciting early memories as I continued to drift in and out of sleep, my body ridding itself of the anesthesia from an early morning surgery.
I dreamed of sitting tall beside her as she drove the white station wagon down bright summer streets, two sure hands on the wheel; of squinting up from my canvas raft to see that she still sat in the striped beach chair in case I needed her to rescue me from the crashing waves. Then I was suddenly spinning on the old brown naugahyde-covered stool in the kitchen as she prepared dinner, her wavy black hair in sharp contrast to the fading glare of a snowy afternoon through windows over the kitchen sink. I felt the weight of her as she perched on the edge of my bed saying prayers with me, the hall light streaming behind her into my room cloaked in night. Her slight frame in the living room window as I pulled up to the house in an old blue Ford with my first boyfriend.
All of these memories, backlit, glowing. A mother’s silhouette. Anchoring, soothing, solid. As an adult, going about my daily routines, I had forgotten about the calming, restorative effect of having my mother simply sit in my presence. I looked to her as I always have. My mirror, my friend, my ever present reminder-er that my haircut is all wrong and my weight is too low. All these years she has been the constant in my life. Now, sneaking around the edges of my heart, is the knowledge that she will someday be gone. It is an unbearable knowing. Where will she be when I need her? Who will be backlit for me then?
The ability to have children may end, but mothering endures. It is a singular and beautiful calling to become the silhouette to love’s light here on this earth. In this room, helpless and still, I saw clearly that my position in the chain of motherhood would remain unchanged. A child doesn’t stop needing his or her mother simply because he or she is growing older, and a mother’s instinct to love her children never ends.
My thoughts turned to my son and daughter, young adults trying to find their way and make sense of their circumstances. I wonder if my silhouette holds the same power. If I was there when they needed to peer from their own darkness and look toward the light. If I understood when they were young that love shines brightest during the simple moments of mothering that become so routine that we perform them without thought.
I look forward with a new understanding to the many years I have left with them. Even if that means just sitting in a chair in a shadowy room by a sunny window, a chance to remind them of the immense, familiar peace of a mother’s love in this often harsh world.
I awakened again, my head pounding. She was there in a second with ice chips and a cool cloth. “Do you want me to turn off the ceiling light?” she asked as she leaned over me.
“No, leave it on,” I replied, adding one more image to my my treasure box of silhouettes.
Sheets smoothed, pillows adjusted, she stood searching for some other detail to attend to.
“Thanks, Mom,” I said as I felt the tug of sleep once more.
“I’ll just sit over here,” she whispered. “You don’t have to talk.”