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Mother’s Day, 2018

Dear Mom:

You have given me life, twice now—when I took my first breath fifty-some years ago and today, as I return to the home I’ve been absent from for the four years I’ve been your caregiver.

And although in your mind you are still in the old island farmhouse where you lived for almost fifty years, you’ve physically exited that life, the life filled with baking pans and oil paints, typewriters and sketchpads and started a new one three thousand miles away.

When we arrived in Phoenix four months ago, I couldn’t tell if you were excited or nervous. You didn’t know it would be forever, because days and weeks and months and years are as mystifying as clocks and words and memories.

Since you moved into your new home, a lot has happened. You have a new best friend named Lenore. You can’t quite get her name right—Laverne? Elaine? Malore?—but her face is familiar and you give her those little oranges she likes and sometimes you have sleepovers in your room.

Your favorite “helper” is Woody. He helps you pick out your outfit each morning and makes sure you get an extra helping of bacon at breakfast. He’s so kind, and gentle and loving, you say, just like our father is. We have such a smart father, you say. Daddy always had us look up words we didn’t know in the dictionary, remember?

Sometimes you think I’m your sister, and sometimes your childhood playmate, Edie. But most days when I visit, you call me your mother. It broke my heart and it was a part I grudgingly played at first and now lovingly embrace in the shared alternate reality of dementia.

And sometimes the glimmer of a moment resurfaces, like when we baked coffee cake together last month. This recipe came from the cookbook I wrote, you exclaimed as you served your new friends and I was proud you remembered, as proud as you were when I won the spelling bee in fifth grade.

And like when you and Woody set the tables for lunch with napkins and glasses and plates. Even though there were three spoons at each setting, your delight in helping was my delight and I thought of the childhood New Year’s resolution I’d written after stubbornly pouting over that same chore: “IN 1972, I WILL SET THE TABLE EVERY NIGHT WITHOUT SULKING.”

Your life has been one of unrealized grace.

The role of motherhood is blurred and interchangeable in this latest chapter of life. You’ve showed me what it is to be a parent: the pain and the triumph and the joy and heartbreak. And you’ve done this with all willingness you taught me as a child.

You live in the moment where time just is and I am always with you.

Your loving mother,

A

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