A dozen red roses were brought in by a nurse who scurried out again, unable to think what to say. My mother wept when she was alone with their bittersweet scent, turning her head aside so the other women wouldn't see. She listened to their excited voices as they discussed their newborns and compared their birth experiences, the way women do; she smiled when they tried to include her, but she said little herself.
The next morning my mother sponged away the sweat of her labour. She washed her face and brushed her teeth and exchanged the ugly hospital garb for a lacy nightgown and housecoat my father had given her the Christmas before. She brushed her thick black hair until it shone and lightly applied make-up and lipstick. She got out of bed and stood a minute, gathering her equilibrium, subduing the dizziness and the pain of the episiotomy until they receded behind her iron will and she could straighten and move with no indication of having given birth ten hours ago
The women sharing her room whispered when she had left. They expected her to turn right in the hall, toward the nursery, and whispered louder when she turned left, toward the elevator.
Inside the elevator, my mother practiced smiling at her reflection in the silver doors as she rode up one, two, three floors. When the doors slid open she marched out, head high, smile in place, through the double doors with the sign she had learned to stop noticing, down the hall to my father's room.
That is not my story, not that or the months at home when she nursed him and cared for me and my three older siblings, or the final trip back to Toronto General, or the funeral, or the silent grieving. That is my mother's story. I imagine her standing at his grave, gathering her equilibrium, then raising her bowed head and putting a smile on her face, and taking her children home.
My story is the story of the baby in the photo above, fascinated by her first birthday candle while her brothers feed her birthday cake. My story is the story of every happy child borne of parents who loved each other, and raised in that love. I look at this photograph, and for me that single candle represents a miracle of love over despair, of happiness over grief.
As we sat around her hospital bed at the end of her life,
my mother's last words were, "I can see your father!"
I stood up and held her hand, and said, "When you're ready, Mom, it's alright to go to him." She sighed, and closed her eyes, and released her iron will, and left.