(Editor’s note: This essay is part of Bethesda Beat’s Coronavirus Chronicles personal essay series. Visit the submission page to learn more.)
I have not seen my mother in more than a month due to the coronavirus lockdown. This is the longest we’ve gone without a visit since she entered a memory care facility two winters ago.
I am the most constant presence in her life; my brother lives in New York, and my father travels back and forth between Chevy Chase and Colorado.
Not once in the past 16 months have I passed River Road without thinking I should make a turn toward her nursing home. In the time it would take me to switch lanes, I’ve pondered what it would be like to watch her fade from afar. Would it hurt less? More?
The last time I visited my mother, I walked right by her. I didn’t recognize the woman with her chin on her chest.
When I stroked her forearm, she picked up her head and winked at me. I recognized that “I see you” wink.
My mother’s shadow often teases us. Sometimes she says “for sure,” with her Milwaukee accent, or nails the timing of serving a Nerf volleyball.
Since my mother grew ill, I’ve often numbed myself from the pain of losing her. I’ve traveled between her world and mine, caught between the dying and the living.
Now that I am banned from seeing her, I can remember the mother who sat at the foot of my childhood bed and listened to my playground woes, who buttoned me into my wedding dress and who gleefully bought my daughter an American Girl doll.
How has my life changed since the coronavirus? In the obvious ways, of course: I am no longer traveling; I am home. And I am free to mourn and celebrate a life that is both living and no longer.
Michelle Brafman is a novelist and teaches fiction writing at the Johns Hopkins M.A. in Writing Program and elsewhere. She lives in Glen Echo.
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