My Mother’s Nightgown

My Mother’s Nightgown

…it’s a secret we share with one another…

Mom and I have a secret! It’s a secret we share with one another.We don’t have to whisper about it, because she has no words.

Mom and my daughter Catherine Ann in the garden 1979

She doesn’t live with my father anymore. She has another home now. And, when I walk into the nursing home, past the nurse’sstation, past the wheel chairs, and the recreation room with its baskets and crafts, past the kitchen and through the locked doors to the Alzheimer’s Unit, I know she’ll connect with me with her eyes.

She knows. She knows that when I can carve out time, I’ll be there. She knows that my work is important and she wants me to make the best of it. She knows my children need me. She knows my children’s children need my contact, my touch, my love—and I theirs. She knows I’ll be there to sit with her, to feed her, to kiss her, to brush her hair, and to hold her, because she knows I love her.

And, she knows our secret. When I drive the hour and a half to visit her, I spend the night with my father. You see, that allows an evening visit and a morning visit—and time with Dad in between. She knows that after feeding her dinner, after our walk around the halls of the nursing home that has now become her world—the world of this woman who’s been to France, Germany and Italy—who has traveled the United States, baked my favorite pies, sewed dresses for my

high school dances and been there for me every time I had a broken heart or a girlhood triumph—she knows that after our visit, before I wake in the morning and go back to her world to feed her breakfast, that I quietly go into her closet, open up the box where we have placed all of her nightgowns, and slip one on before I slide into bed.

I usually pick the one I loved her in best—the thin, blue cotton one with the little rosebuds. This is the nightgown I saw her wear when she made me coffee on a summer morning and we sat on her porch swing and talked about life; the nightgown she’d slip on at night, while I poured us a glass of wine as she gave me courage to be the woman I was wanting to be, strengthening my commitment for standing up for myself and making my life matter. This is the nightgown she wore for those intimate talks when we would hold one another and talk about her prognosis and plan for the future of caring for her with her disease.

And, when her disease has run its course—when we can no longer physically hug and kiss and feel that special mother and daughter bond—we’ll still have our secret. I’ll sleep in the little blue nightgown with the rosebuds. I’ll remember her lessons and our talks and smile that we had our time together.

Our relationships with our mothers are varied and different to be sure. Here are seven days of ways to reflect on your own personal relationship with your mom:

DAY ONE: In your journal, write down ten words or phrases that come to mind quickly about your mother. These could be words like kind, cranky, angry, good cook, or excellent storyteller. Think about these as you go about your day.

DAY TWO: Did you think of more descriptions from Day One? Add them now. Now circle the five which are most telling of how you think of your mother.

Understand that not all descriptive words will be positive, that is o.k. Mother and daughter dynamics can be tense as well as loving.

DAY THREE: Of the five descriptive words or phrases you have selected, write a paragraph for each one which explains more fully why you described your

mother this way. You might even add specific events which you recall from your childhood that make you describe her as such.

Stacey Steinmetz remembers her mother’s anger when she or her sisters would spill milk at the dinner table. Although just a child at the time, she can still hear her mother’s shout and her angry face. Even now with her own children, she refuses to make a big deal out of a glass of spilled milk. Stacey’s description for her mom is “impatient.” Upon writing this in her journal and rememberingthe milk incident, she ponders on what made her mother this way.

 DAY FOUR: Now write down what you think may have been or is in your mother’s life to make her the way you have described her above. For example,

Stacey’s mother, quick to anger over the spilled milk, may have been an exhausted single mom with two jobs or a victim of an angry mother before her.

Perhaps one descriptor of your mother is a great cook. Why did you describe her that way? What do you think went on in her earlier life that developed her into the cook she is today? Take this approach for all five descriptors.

DAY FIVE: Contact your mom and set a date with her, if you are able. Since my mother’s death I use writing or discussions with my father or sisters to

feel that connection. If you, like me, can’t make that date, make the date with your father or siblings. Call it a mom date.

DAY SIX: On your date, whenever you can schedule it, discuss your list of five descriptive words. Let’s say you listed “always tired” as a mom descriptor. Have a conversation about it and get to know her as the woman she was. Connect with her now on that woman-to-woman level. No more kid stuff. Or, if you described your mom as “always happy,” find out what makes her tick to keep her so. Make the mom date about her—but if your mom can’t be there, have the same type of conversation with your father, sister or brother. Or simply take a walk and have a conversation with yourself.

DAY SEVEN: Write down today what you learned about your mother and the thoughts you have about who she is in the present as well as the past. Do you feel closer to her as a woman? Perhaps there is a new bridge of understanding—or simply a renewal of love after a good conversation.

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