Finding my mom in her 92-year-old face

I’ve met my mom twice.

I didn’t recognize her either time, at least not initially.

She was only 22 when I first set eyes upon her and, although I have zero recall of the moment, there’s reason to believe she was very weary because giving birth tends to tire even the firmest of women. Also, a newborn’s squawking does little, if anything, to ease labour-induced fatigue.

Did I kick up an inordinate level of fuss once freed from my mother’s womb?

I can’t say, although there’s nothing in family folklore to suggest that I robustly protested my entrance into a world of unfamiliar faces, voices and sounds. Still, family folklore tends to twist and become misshapen over time, so I suppose it’s possible.

At any rate, at some point I would have looked up to gaze upon that woman’s soft skin, her auburn hair, her kind eyes and her warm smile, each of them a mystery and a source of wonder. No telling how long it was before I truly recognized her as my mother, but I’m guessing it took less time than it would to change a dirty diaper.

My mom is 92 now. Just turned, May 26. Same birthday as Stevie Nicks, as it happens.

Not that that’s important, but Stevie might be the hippest, most Boho babe on the planet and she’s assuredly one of my all-time faves, so it’s kind of cool that she and my mom share the commonality of birthdates, even if separated by 20 years.

I’m not sure if my mom is a Stevie Nicks fan, but she’d probably like her music. I mean, who doesn’t?

My mom was a musician. She tickled the ivories back in the day. She also played the church organ at Sunday mass. Listening to your mom lead the congregation in hymn at St. Alphonsus was a point of pride for a Roman Catholic kid, even if none of the other kids knew. It mattered only that I knew, and that she was my mom.

She no longer plays the organ or piano.

My mom is laid up in a long-term care facility in Abbotsford, B.C., and there’s indication that “long-term” might be a bit of a misnomer. According to my older brother, Richard, her mind remains whippet quick but she’s frail and weak physically.

In our most recent exchange, he included a photo of my mom. That was the second time I’ve met her, and it startled me.

I don’t recall how long ago it was when my mom moved from Vancouver Island to the B.C. mainland, but I hadn’t seen her in at least 15 years. I stared at the photo, studying it at length. I could not see her face in her face.

“Mom? Is that you?” I asked in the silence of my room.

I examined the photo some more, still not seeing what I hoped to see.

“This can’t be you,” I whispered.

But then I saw something in her lips. In her mouth. And in her eyes.

I finally had found her in that 92-year-old face. I recognized her.

“Yes,” I confirmed, “that’s my mom.”

It saddened me, yet at the same time pleased me, knowing that she’s had a lengthy run at this experience we call life. I hope it’s given her cause to smile, even as her days dwindle.

I know I won’t see my mom again in person, nor will there be any phone or virtual natters, but I’ll see her every time I hear someone playing the piano, or when I walk by a bakery and get swept away in the aroma of cinnamon buns fresh-baked and out of the oven, ready for a lathering of butter.

I’ll see that in her face. Both of them.

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