I watch my mother sometimes, and she doesn't know that I do.
My mother hobbles gently when she walks, having lost confidence in the solidity of ground. Her left eye is blinded and she cannot distinguish depth anymore. She describes it as seeing the world as a flat dimension where shapes have lost their definition. So when she walks, she sends her feet as sentinels to feel out her next step. She wears dark eyeglasss to hide her whited-out left iris, and that adds to her difficulty in seeing with her remaining good eye.
My mother, she hunches when seated. The effort of drawing her body straight is too exhausting for her. During vain moments, she would tuck in her stomach and sqaure her shoulders up. But that doesn't last for very long. Her bravado diminishes as aches attack her abdomen. The pain shoots and licks at her body, whipping her back to her soft, hunched figure and if available, both elbows resting heavily on the table top.
My mother, she's missing one breast. After having faced cancer courageously, her loss of appendage has scarred her for what remains of her life. When she lost it, she smiled and called herself funny-looking. I think I was more desolate about losing the breast that fed me than she was. She remains conscious though that people might figure out that she's got stuffing on her right brassiere and we tell her to stop being vain. But we shouldn't do that. We haven't lost a part of ourselves. We'd never know how it feels to face the world missing part of our armour.
My mother, she winces when you touch her bloated feet. You should always be careful when passing near her else you might step on her toe and this brings her inexorable pain. My mother, she finds it difficult to raise herself up after sitting too long or when she's lying down.
My mother, is a long list of soliloquys of what could go wrong with a woman's senescent body.
My mother, she does all the washing these days. She's returned to her housewifely duties after retiring from 45 years of molding young minds. Her eyes mist over when she talks about her students who are changing the face of the country now and we cluck at her for being sentimental. But we shouldn't. Memories are all she has of her glorious teaching days and we should not mar it with our petty remarks.
My mother is in her room right now, puttering amongst her small things, delicate lady accessories. She finds endless amusement in dismantling her drawers and sorting and re-sorting her things. She does this every week. These objects she barely uses are arranged adoringly into boxes, stuff that are heaped with sentiment rather than value. Oftentimes, she'll finger a necklace or an earring and call me in. She'll tell me, "Daughter, come try this on. I want to give it to you." And I try it on, pretend I like it for her sake and say thank you. I kiss her cheek and she beams at me.
She feels useless now without work. How can I tell her, really speak to her, say to her that no other jewel on the face of the planet can replace her? Glow brighter than she does, shine brighter than the sun?
This is my mother. She is all that is soft in the world for me. She is all that is brave. She is all that is silly and vain. She is all that is cruel and sharp in angry words. She is the silent murmuring that comforts me when I am ill. There's no other woman in the world who looks more beautiful than she is.
I watch her fade away and my heart breaks. For the woman that she was. For the old, tired mother that she is. For her dreams of raising two girls into women of character. Women who'd change the world as she once hoped she will.
I hope in earnest I never disappoint her. Never make her feel she failed. If only I can be that kind of daughter, maybe I too can become the kind of mother that she's proven herself to be.