She lies in the hospital bed like a small, grey-haired doll, curled on her side, her breathing gentle and rhythmic. She is almost well. The nurses come to turn her, and one of them points to me, sitting in a chair by the window. “Your daughter is here.”
Mom can’t see me well—I’m on her “neglect” side, the side which her brain has forgotten about since her stroke. She turns a bit toward the window, startled. “Frances?” she asks. “How did you get here?”
“I drove,” I answer.
“I drove here. I drove my car.” I can tell she is confused, but I’m not sure why.
“You know how to drive?” More confusion registers on her face.
“Yes, Mom, I know how to drive.”
“You have a driver’s license?” She is incredulous.
I am walking around to her good side now. She watches me, her face suddenly inscrutable. “Mom, “ I ask gently. “How old do you think I am?”
Without hesitation she replies, “Three.”
I feel my heart beating. “Oh, Mama, I’m more than three. Don’t you remember?”
She shakes her head, just a little, still staring at me. “Four? Five?” She begins counting upwards, one number at a time, uncertain.
“It’s okay, Mom,” I tell her, gently. “I’m forty-six.”.
She leans her head back, closes her eyes. “Oh. Wow.”
“Do you remember now?” I ask. She shakes her head ‘no.’ “Do you remember your grandchildren? Zoë and Zach?” ‘No’ again.
“It’s okay, Mama. Don’t worry, it’s okay. Your brain is bringing you far back in time—that’s what happens sometimes when you’ve had a stroke. You must feel confused to see me right now.” She nods her head.
“It’s okay, Mom. Your brain will bring you back again soon and you’ll remember again. But I’m here with you. Are you still sleepy?” She nods. “Go back to sleep. It will be okay.” She goes back to sleep.
A short while later, she awakes again. Now she does not know her own name. She does not know my name, or recognize my face. I hold her hand.
“It’s okay, Mom. I’m your daughter, Frances. I love you, and I’ve loved you all my life. And you have always loved me. Don’t worry if you don’t remember--just know that you are loved. That’s all that matters, Mama. You are so loved, by so many people.” She nods and drifts back to sleep.
A few hours earlier, Mom and I had been talking about the house where she’s spent the last 43 years of her life. She couldn’t remember it. She could only remember the green house on Gurley Road, the one I had lived in as a baby. “I don’t remember that house,” I told her. “But it’s okay—we all have things we don’t remember.”
Mom turned to look at me. “But what if some time I can’t remember you?”
“It won’t matter to me, Mom. All that will matter is that I know that you love me, even if you’ve forgotten. And I love you—that matters, too. I will always love you, even if you don’t remember me. So don’t be afraid. We are always in each other’s heart, even when we don’t remember.”
Mom reaches out to touch my face. “I love those apple cheeks,” she says.
Buddhists say that dying is like waking from a very long dream. And that living, really living in the moment, is like dying over and over again. I feel as if I am passing in and out of so many layers of intersecting dreams. It is a curious feeling. I have felt it before. Am I the deer drinking from the pond in the forest? Or the three-year-old in the green house on Gurley Road? When I hold my mother’s hand, who is the mother and who is the child? And when I blink, will it all be a dream? No matter. There is love. It is all that matters . . . and because of that, nothing matters. No matter . . . no matter, at all.