On Mother’s Day

My mother, Kathleen, on her 87th birthday.  She is 88 now.  Photo by Callen Harty.

My mother, Kathleen, on her 87th birthday. She is 88 now. Photo by Callen Harty.

I wish I were a better son.

I wish I had the courage to face my mother’s dwindling years without the fear of losing her.

I wish I had the compassion to make her remaining years about her and not about me and my fears.

But it is difficult (as, I guess, most things that matter are). I love her, and it hurts to see her forget things that she should remember. It hurts to see her frailty. It hurts to think about her failing health, both mental and physical, and that some day I will get a call and she will be gone. I have raced to the hospital so many times already.

It hurts to know that I am too often too selfish to put aside my fears to honor her needs. I am not sure I know how to do that, or if she will even know it if I do.

I want to remember her as the vibrant young woman who cared so deeply for me and my siblings when we were children. I want to remember the woman I bragged about to friends as being the most beautiful woman in the world (although I must admit she is still so beautiful–just in a different kind of way). I want to remember staying up half the night with her playing Yahtzee and laughing and talking deeply and just enjoying being with her, this woman who loved me no matter what. I want to remember nights under starlit skies on the front lawn, sitting in silence and awed by the vastness of the universe, or both of us getting up in the middle of the night to stand at the window watching a thunder storm and feeling safe beside each other in the dark. I want to remember her kicking up her heels in dance or her laughter or her joy. Especially her laughter, complete with snorts, that always made me laugh, too. I want to remember.

I am ashamed that I am not a better son, that the older she gets the more I distance myself–even though I know I shouldn’t–because I want to remember her as she was when she was fully herself and because I am scared. Visiting her or calling her now leaves me mostly sad. I will do that today, but with reluctance and with that horrible fear that this Mother’s Day could be the last (or there could be ten more or who knows). I will tell her I love her, because I do, and I will hope that today is a day when that has meaning to her. I will hope that her mind is in a good place and she doesn’t repeat herself too much. However it goes this will become my most recent memory and that is my fear.

I am trying to remember now some other moments from days past. I am thinking of the dinner table, with all the plates turned over and treats hiding underneath. It’s a happy memory. It’s not about the treats, but the thoughtfulness and the love behind them.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I love you.

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About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Both are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he has been an actor, writer, and director since 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events.
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2 Responses to On Mother’s Day

  1. marcea0k says:

    Callen, my Mother has received an diagnosis of probable Alzheimer’s disease, because the doctors do not talk in certainty. Yet Dad suspected her condition before he died and her children are now quite certain. Yes, my Mother is not the person she once was, she is easily anxious in any unfamiliar setting, probably because she doesn’t remember getting there. She repeats herself unceasingly, but I have used my acting training to try to keep my responses fresh no matter how many times she asks me how my day was, or repeats the same story from her past that I’ve heard four times in the past hour. I have learned that music is the last memory that diminishes for many Alzheimer’s sufferers so I add Harry Belafonte, and Barbershop Quartets to my computer to play for her when I visit.

    And yet the loosing of her that I fear is no longer her death, but the moment when I am lost to her…when she looks at me and doesn’t know me. I have visualized that moment in hopes of surrendering to it when it comes. She may not know me as her first born when that time comes, and I may not see in her the woman who nursed me, not just as an infant, but as a registered nurse when I was sick with flu or pneumonia, but I will remember it is my turn to nurse her. I will remember that Harry Belefonte’s music makes her happy and where she saw him in concert. When she is stuck in her childhood home (that I never saw) I will improvise based on the stories she has related. When she is stuck in her early adulthood I will play the role of one of her nursing school pals and ask her about the guy she met at Great Lakes Naval Base (my dad). I have made a vow to myself that I will never say “don’t you remember me Mom?” I will take whatever comes, because I have no other option, and I know it. Loosing my Dad five years ago this July has given me a greater understanding of grief and the strength that is found in it’s wake. You will have that strength too, you’ve already survived so much and you have others who will support you through whatever comes.

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