It’s almost that time of the year when Americans pause to salute, serenade and showcase their love and appreciation for the women in their lives who have made the road easier to travel, provided encouragement in the eye of the storm and remained that constant force of security whenever needed.
I’ve always had a profound and special relationship with my mother — an ordinary woman with extraordinary gifts who I have long described as my “best friend.” Since my days in college when I first left the nest, she’s always sent me cards, just when I needed it most, which she signed “OAOM” — an acronym for “One And Only Mom,” along with a few dollars to help me along the way.
I, in turn, have routinely ended my notes to her with the letters, “OAOS” — short for her label affirming my status as her “One and Only Son.” I can say, with all honesty, that my mother has had my back, front and sides for every moment, every day and in the midst of any and all circumstances during my life — even when she was “fit to be tied” because of my crazy antics, unabashed assertions or absurd choices I’ve made and their results. Thus, we have forged a connection that can only be deemed to be a God-given, unmerited blessing — one which I have come to realize does not prevail in the lives of far too many mothers and their sons.
Now at the age of 91, she’s no longer the woman I remember, the best friend whose love I relished or the voice of sanity and solutions to which I harkened as storms, setbacks and stupidity held me captive. My OAOM has become someone I barely recognize — ravaged by the disintegration of once formidable intellectual, mental, emotional and physical abilities — the results of a five-year, losing battle with Alzheimer’s disease.
Sometimes, I feel like screaming at God, seeking to cast blame for the unfortunate hand that Mom and I have been dealt. There are moments when I’m totally overwhelmed by it all — feeding, cleaning, bathing and directing her — assuming tasks normally undertaken by parents as they guide and instruct their offspring until they reach the point that they can fend for themselves. However, I cannot pretend that things will get better for me or my mother. Short of a miracle, they will only get worse.
Looking back at the many Mother’s Days we’ve shared together, I am reminded of a song from my childhood sung by and which became a hit for The Hollies, “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother.” It became a sort of theme song of hope and dedication during the ’60s and ’70s because of the tune’s connection to the selfless ministry of Father Edward J. Flanagan — an Irish priest who took in troubled, neglected children in Omaha in the early 20th century and the special home he eventually established for abandoned, forgotten youth — “Boys Town.”
The song, sung by the older brother, talks about the weight he willingly endures, the pain he tackles, the fears he must overcome and the uncertainties, both of today or tomorrow, to which he can ill afford to succumb if he is to indeed carryout his mission. For me, this song serves as a prophetic message. Moreover, it reminds me that while the road may be long, with many a winding turn — leading me toward a future that only the Creator can conceive and comprehend — my OAOM is never too heavy for me to carry.
In fact, neither her needs, her inability to understand or the things I do each day for her because she can no longer carry out routine tasks on her own are such that I cannot endure the load. As the song asserts, she “ain’t heavy” — not in the least — “she’s my mother.”
Some may take their mothers out for dinner this year. Others may spend a fortune in flowers, gifts and other special trinkets. As for me, I simply want to hold Mom tightly in my arms, shower her with kisses and try to help me recall the good old days.