My mom isn’t the kind of mother that is described in a Mother’s Day card. She isn’t one to give hugs or say “I love you.” She had spent the years of my youth doing things for others, but not feeling the appreciation she deserved. She was struggling with depression and was not able to get the help she needed during a time that mental illness was not recognized. She survived on smoking cigarettes, Valium and isolation.
    Many of the reasons for her depression centered from my father. He was manipulative and demanding on her time. He had uncontrollable spending problems that seemed to have my family barely making ends meet when it was time to pay the bills. Going shopping for special things beyond the necessities was rare. He also had a few other addictions that were socially awkward. Because of his embarrassing habits, all of my sisters and I left home early, leaving my mother alone with him.
    It wasn’t until the recession in the 1980s that things hit rock bottom, and my mother was trying to hold on to what she thought was important, and he took off. Off to Australia to try to find work, while she was left holding the bills. This was a time she had to focus on her life. She didn’t have to worry about us kids, or what to do to please my father, so she started her own business.
    Her self-esteem began to grow. She was able to do some of the things she enjoyed before the hard times and the disappointing marriage swallowed her. She began to do more gardening and going to lunch with old friends. Making her own decisions and controlling her own path for her future.
    After my father returned, it wasn’t long before she knew she wasn’t going to fall into the past. She moved out. This was the best thing that she ever did. It was too bad she waited so long to get a divorce. I think she recognizes now that being married so long to my father was an enormous waste of her life. It saddens her that she could have done more, but her life is near its end.
    She was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer a few months ago. She has gone through five rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, but she is too weak to continue treatments. She has been in and out of the hospital to get fluids, sodium and magnesium when her levels are low. She is receiving palliative care because she is homebound and will be advancing to hospice care in the near future. Nurses come twice a week, a health aide stops in to assist with bathing, and occupational and physical therapists are working with her to keep her strength up so she can stay at home.
    My sisters and I have been talking more now than ever. It started with a very open conversation at the hospital with the palliative care specialist and the Chaplin. Discussing that Mom isn’t going to get better, and that we need her to get to a peaceful place to be able to pass comfortably. We can help with some parts of her care, but we need to be her daughters, and see if she has anything she wants to talk about.
    On one of my recent visits to Mom’s, I asked about her childhood. I remember going to my grandparent’s house in Chicago. I can still see the image of the house, garage and garden with grapes hanging from the trellis like it was yesterday. I can remember the smell of the dog kennel. German short-hair hunting dogs that barked as we ran to and from the garden, squishing the fallen grapes with our feet. My grandparents loved to garden. So, I thought that would be a good place to start a conversation.
    My mother’s memories about her childhood are similar to mine. She told me about their garden that was plowed by a neighbor with a horse, and it was huge. Both the garden and the horse. Her father loved to grow vegetable and flowers, especially geraniums. Sweet corn, beans and carrots were some of the vegetables she picked and then canned in their summer kitchen. My mom’s stories about how her father used to go fishing and hunting brought a smile to her face, but speaking of her mother, she admitted that Grandma also suffered from depression. The loss of a child in a hunting accident had her mother engulfed in sadness and mourning for what seemed like years. It was her brother who died when she was 4 years old. Being Catholic, they went to church daily. It was one of the priests that assisted her mother through the helplessness she carried. There was a four-lane bowling alley near the church where they would meet after dinner for a few games and a short glass of beer. This was how my grandmother was able to live through the pain; a few games and a beer made her feel a little bit better.
    While my mother was telling me stories, I took notes. I will type them to put away for when I might need to read them to my grandchildren. I have a new appreciation of my mother’s inability to show her feelings. It was what she had grown up to know.
    I have been able to deal with situations that could drag me and cause me to spiral downward. My solution is simply the thought that there are many others who have it much worse than I do. I am optimistic every day will be a good day by being able to get out of bed. I tell my children that I love them and I am a hugger. If not a hug, a gentle touch on their hand or arm to let others know I care and appreciate them.
    I can also see what my mother has passed on to me. I don’t suffer from depression. What I have from my mom is my hands. They look just like hers as I get older and my skin has thinned and blue veins bulge over the bones. Calloused and strong mom hands. My hands, just like hers, have seen a lot of hard times and hard work. I will be thinking of her long after she is gone when I look at my hands. She has given me the touch of a mother’s hand.
    Tina Hinchley, her husband, Duane, and their daughters, Anna and Catherine, milk 135 registered Holsteins and farm 2,500 acres of crops near Cambridge, Wis. They have been hosting farm tours for over 20 years.