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The Homefront: The journey of becoming my mother’s mother

By D. Louise Brown - | May 14, 2024

D. Louise Brown

My mother turns 91 years old next week. Her existence has evolved as the decades passed. Her physical self slowly changed over time. She, who could run and not be weary and walk forever, began to be weary. She needed help lifting heavy things, paused more often to catch her breath and sometimes just sat still — to her children’s collective amazement.

Our human bodies aren’t created to live forever. The century mark is a stretch for us all. And here she is staring straight ahead at it.

She’s now barely mobile. Getting in and out of her wheelchair is a challenge. She manages to lift herself into my car because she knows it’s the only way we’re going to go on a ride, and that is her favorite thing to do. But oh, it is an effort.

Meanwhile, her mental and emotional self also began to fade. She who once kept the books for the business she and Dad owned began garbling up her checkbook until she turned it over to someone else. Television is too complicated, newspapers are too many words, the radio is too noisy.

Her delights are simple. Help her get into my car, stop at the burger joint for a ketchup-only cheeseburger (her teeth are minimally effective) and then ride. I drive for as many hours as her tired bladder will allow (usually two to three). Drive out into the country as quickly as possible because the city streets make her crazy. “That truck is so big!” “Is that the price of gas?” “Look at all that traffic!”

The wide expanses of the countryside delight her. She wants to stop to moo at cattle, cluck at chickens, honk at geese and whinny at horses. I’m not making this up.

I’m grateful for these moments that let her be so delighted, almost childlike, in the simple joys she finds in life these days. Our mother-daughter relationship that took decades to create took decades to reverse. I cannot say exactly when our mother roles began to shift. She is and always will be my mother. But her abilities and therefore her needs changed as her body and mind changed. And now here we are. I take care of her as she once took care of me.

But I don’t treat her like a child. I treat her as my mother whose wants and needs evolve. I listen, I respect, I honor. She is still my mother. I am still her daughter — a daughter who’s been given extra, precious time to spend with her, to serve her, to love her.

Some days I visit her and find her still in bed. Good for her. Decades ago, she sometimes came to my room and found me still in bed. She let me sleep. I let her sleep. I pull up a chair and study her wrinkled face, the lines softened in the ease of sleep. I think about her life, how she left her family in Indiana to follow a Utah farm boy back to his roots to start a new life together. She joined his family, joined his religion, joined with him to create a family of eight children. They buried one at just two weeks old, raised the rest to adulthood.

She was a natural, skilled mother who kept all seven of us kids alive, taught us how to be good people, why we should want to make this world a better place and how to leave her when the time came.

That was then, and she is now. Her “doing” is less these days. She’s more into “being,” living each day quietly. So there is a great deal of grace for her. For everything she does and is.

Occasionally, I selfishly want her to still be who she was. I want Mom’s shoulder to cry on, her brain to pick, her insight to explore. But it’s not to be. Everything I needed from her is done. She now serves in a different way. She is the one in need; I am the one learning how to give unconditionally.

Even in her present state my mother is showing me how to be a better mother.

D. Louise Brown lives in Layton. She writes a biweekly column for the Standard-Examiner.

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