“Would you like the pink or the light blue polish,” I asked as I offered the choices in a Vanna White modeling effort.
“Blue,” mom replied with a sweet smile.
It had been over a month since I had taken her for a manicure and after a one week hospital stay followed by 2 weeks in rehab at the nursing home her nails were in desperate need of a makeover.
This was her 4th day at home and although a bad cut was on her left leg from a fall she suffered on the first day back, she seemed content to relax on the couch, leg elevated and TV tuned into the Hallmark channel.
Her husband and now primary caretaker took my visit as an opportunity to clean the garage. I had no idea the struggles he had been facing as mom had insisted he not tell his daughters everything. That afternoon they had just returned from Lemon Tree and with fresh, clean haircuts. When we asked she told us she was fine and we all wanted to believe her.
So I found the nail polish remover and pulled up a kitchen chair next to the couch. With a soft cotton ball I held her warm hand and tenderly wiped the remains of last month’s color.
Not having daughters of my own or a bottle of nail polish in my house I was taken back to my own childhood. Back before everyone, including little girls, regularly went to salons to change the hue of their nails.
Once the old color was gone I shook the small bottle filled with light blue liquid. Then super carefully I opened the container, wiped the brush and started with her pointer finger.
Talk about being present. My focus was on target as I carefully completed the first nail. Impressed to not have smudged any on her skin I confidently moved on to the next finger. I was surprisingly good at this but I did not let my concentration wane. I stayed in the moment and we chatted about the stuff you talk about with your mom. A little of everything and nothing at all.
When both hands were done I did a second coat. It looked nice and she was happy. We put her hands on a lap pillow to dry.
The Hallmark movie carried on predictably. After a few mishaps the girl falls for the underdog once again with of course snow falling in a small town.
Not all endings are predictable or so happy.
When the movie ended I gave my mom a kiss and told her I’d be back on Sunday. I’d help her take a shower and maybe take her out to her favorite restaurant for lobster if she was up for it.
That never happened. On Sunday she was in a coma that she did not wake up from.
Standing in line to purchase yet more gifts I’m reminded of the best gift I had this year. That was time spent with my mom. While it pains me to know she is gone and I can’t reenact those moments, I can be grateful for what I did have.
This Christmas I will remember those who I have loved and lost. I will not dwell on sadness but rejoice in recalling memories that still make me smile.
And I will continue to build lasting memories with the loved ones I still have here. The unexpected gift of living with grief is that we do learn to appreciate and be thankful for what we do have in an even greater capacity than before. We know how precious life is and that it could change at any moment. So let’s make those moments good ones.