by Cathy Arden on May 10, 2014


B&W Mom&Me


When I was very small, I used to cling to my mother’s leg as she went about  her business in the house.  She didn’t shake me off.  I remember her talking on the phone and dragging her leg with me on it as she paced the kitchen with the long cord of the wall phone stretching out in various directions.  I remember her vacuuming and dragging her leg and me around the living room.  She did whatever she needed to do with her child attached to her leg, much like any other species would do whose offspring’s survival depends on physical attachment.  She literally took this predicament in her stride.

I learned, in later years, when I was no longer attached to my mother’s leg, that my mother thought my constant grasp on her leg was cute.  Even endearing.  It didn’t occur to her that perhaps there was a problem, although she’d refer to her regretful behavior when I was a baby, ignoring me in front of my older sister so my sister wouldn’t get jealous.  My mother would blame Dr. Spock for this.   It was the piece that stood out for her in Dr. Spock’s book, the possible jealousy of the older child to a newborn baby.  And since my sister was adored, and I came second, the concern was for my sister.

So my mother claimed that one day when I was about a year old, I figured out what was going on – that I was being ignored – and I started to scream.  And I didn’t stop screaming.  At least that’s my mother’s description.  And my maternal grandfather, who stayed with us often, informed my mother that my screaming was her fault.  “You’ve been ignoring her,” my grandfather apparently told my mother.   “You have to do something about this,” he said.

I don’t know what my mother actually did then to stop my screaming, or if I was actually screaming at all, or why she didn’t equate my clinging to her leg a few years down the road as part of my protest – or signal – that I wasn’t getting the attention I needed.  My mother used to tell me as an adult that it was no big deal to her that I clung to her leg.  She actually didn’t give it much thought.  She just adapted to the extra weight and simply waited for me to let go.

And now I wonder if she’s doing the same that I did then.  Or have I really never let go of my mother’s leg?  In the current scenario, no one actually seems to be letting go.  The question I’ve been asking for years is why is my mother still here?   She lost her life – her conscious, thinking life — ten years ago to dementia.  Whether or not she has Alzheimer’s is unclear, but she has not been independent in any way for a decade now.  And all physical independence has left her as well.  She’s had many surgeries and illnesses over the past ten years.  Her hospital visits and crises are too many to count.  And in spite of years of severe mental and physical decline and emergencies, my mother survives, and survives, and survives.  I made the decision a year and a half ago to put her into home hospice care as I was told she only had around 3 months to live.  Well, that sure wasn’t the truth.  She’s turned 90 during the past year.  My son calls her a tank.  But I wonder on a daily basis – what keeps her here?  What keeps her holding on?  I know she never wanted to live like this, totally dependent, without any of her mental or physical capacities intact.  “If I ever become incapacitated,” she used to say, “just shoot me.”

Is there something between shooting and letting go?  For me, I believed the decision to switch to hospice care was the letting go. Now I’m not so sure. Is it my mother hanging on to life?  Or am I still hanging on, clinging to her, trying to keep her in this world with my love even though this world has nothing to offer her except for me?  People have told me I need to let go.  I’m so tired of hearing that phrase.  I feel as baffled about what that means now as I did as a child, because hanging on to my mother’s leg felt like the most natural thing in the world.  I remember the strength of her gait, the power of her muscle, the comfort of my embrace around the one part of her body I could hold on to.  And now that there is no longer any part of her body strong enough for either her or for me, I merely hang on to love.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Steve Howard May 10, 2014 at 7:19 PM

Oh Cathy, it’s a curiosity, this life and our strange survival techniques. This is a lovely, painful story. And, on it goes…




Rima May 10, 2014 at 8:11 PM

Beautiful, poignant,
Love you,


Anne Howard May 10, 2014 at 9:01 PM

Cathy, a lovely tribute to your Mother and yourself, beautiful words, beautiful questions.
Love, Anne


Janice May 11, 2014 at 4:58 AM

The picture you paint of your mother (and you!) coincides perfectly with my own memories of that time. For some reason, Campbell’s soup at your kitchen table comes to mind. Whether it was chicken noodle or tomato with lots of Ritz crackers, it was all delicious when lovingly served by your mother.


Iris May 14, 2014 at 7:34 AM

I’ve always been told to “hang in there”–and the older I get the less I understand exactly what that means. “Hang on to love” is a good start. Thanks.


micah May 14, 2014 at 12:54 PM



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