Sands Through an Hourglass


“Do you know who I am?” I asked.

She closed her eye that no longer functions and considered me through her good eye.  Then she shook her head from side to side.

I swallowed the lump in my throat and smiled brightly, kissing her on the forehead.  “I’m Estelene, Mom.”

She grinned, slowly nodded, and kissed me on the cheek.

I pulled a chair up to her good side and took her hand in mine.  She sat contentedly in silence, offering none of her usual stream of mostly unintelligible chatter.

The television blared—a children’s show that someone on the nursing home staff must have thought would keep her attention.

Annoyed that someone viewed her as a child with a brain that no longer functioned, I searched for the remote.  But when I found it and hit the channel button, nothing happened.  I finally found the buttons on the side of the television and flipped through channels until I came across an old black-and-white romantic comedy.

I sat down beside her and stroked the top of her hand, the skin soft and supple in spite of a lifetime of housework.  She stared at the screen and drifted off to sleep.

I allowed myself a few tears before brushing them away and waiting for her to awaken.  Reaching into my bag, I pulled out the devotional anthology that held my first work as a published author—only eight pages in book with 51 other writers—but I wanted to show it to my mom.  I knew that if she had any awareness at all, she would be proud of me, as she always was at any of her children’s and grandchildren’s accomplishments.

When her eyes drifted sleepily open again, I waited for her to start chattering, but she simply listened while I talked about my family.  At one point when I talked about my daughter, she pointed to the picture of her on the top of her clothing cabinet.

“Mom, I finally got published,” I said, holding the book open and pointing to my name.

She reached out and took the book in her hands.  Again, she closed her bad eye and looked through her good eye.

I wondered briefly where her glasses were, but I wasn’t sure she could read the print now, even with her glasses.

Mom had once been a reader, and even when our family was at its poorest, she subscribed to Reader’s Digest, both the magazine and the condensed books.  After a corneal transplant when she was in her 50s, she changed the subscription to large text.  But after seven failed transplants in the other eye, she had given up reading in favor of afternoon soap operas.

Now, she stared at the page, awake the longest she had been since I got there.  At first I thought she was reading, but then I wasn’t sure.  She continued to hold the book in her hands, but she never turned from the page that bore my name.  Only after I took the book from her did she drift off to sleep again.

When it appeared she wouldn’t awaken again, I kissed her on the forehead and left to visit my sister, who faithfully spends time with our mother several days a week.  My sister lives five minutes from the nursing home, and before the stroke, she was my mother’s closest friend.

As always, I told my sister how much I love her and appreciate her for the way she takes care of our mom.  My sister listened to my account of my visit empathetically.  She had warned me beforehand that Mom was sleeping much more, but it was only at that moment that I allowed what she had said to creep into my consciousness.

I left them both for a week at the beach, feeling guilty that I couldn’t persuade my sister to join my husband and me for a few days.

Today, as I sat with my toes in the sand for our final day of vacation, I thought of my mom’s favorite soap opera, Days of Our Lives, which introduced every show with the mantra, “Like sands through the hour glass, so are the days of our lives.”

She simply referred to the show as Days, and when I’d call her, she talked about the characters as though they were people who lived in her small hometown.  I remember a time when I’d get off the phone with her and ask myself why I’d paid for a long distance call to have her catch me up on the plot that I’d missed.  Now I miss those phone calls.

And as I look across the beach at innumerable grains of sand, I give thanks for the days of my mother’s life, flowing back to me in waves, unconstricted by glass or time.

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