Life Notes: A Mother, A Daughter
One last night of sweet indulgence 

I recently came across a long-forgotten lotion scented with vanilla and velvety to the touch. I had stashed it away in a bathroom vanity, probably in one of my periodic attacks on clutter. And for me, out-of-sight is inevitably out-of-mind. 

But this lotion, what little was left of it, was so special and held such unique memories that it stopped me in my tracks. The bottle itself was graceful, all curves and arches. The cap was silver. It was clearly an indulgence product. I seem to remember that it cost more than I, the queen of thrift, would typically pay for a lotion. Usually, it’s a fast stop at the discount store for whatever’s on sale. 

But this bottle was different. 

This bottle was part of an assemblage of lovely things I’d collected one dark late-fall day when my mother was in the last stages of her battle with lymphoma. She knew it, and so did I. I wondered what in the world I could do to brighten these long, sad days when Mom’s mobility was so compromised and her strength dramatically diminished. 

I tried videos, but she seemed to lose interest in them quickly. I tried music, but again, it didn’t seem to cheer her for long. She loved looking at old family pictures, but even those saddened her. The huge emotional impact of endings was upon her – and so was a certain melancholy at her own presence in those images. “I didn’t look like a sick old lady,” she sighed as she looked at the photos from even just a few months earlier. 

That’s when it hit me. Vanity, I decided, can be restorative sometimes. In the very best sense, it can even be affirming. Even at 97, my beautiful mother, always committed to looking her best, had very recently surrendered. Some mild chemotherapy treatments had left her skin pale and dry. So one night when she seemed particularly despondent, I arrived at her apartment which had taken on the appearance of a medical dispensary, and I announced that it was high time for a pampering party. 

Mom’s face lit up. Even though she wasn’t sure what I meant, there was an instant twinkle in her eyes. That was all I needed. 

The very next day, I went about collecting lotions and creams, blushes and even eye shadow. I sought products  

that looked beautiful on the outside. Mom herself was  

always a visual sort who loved pretty things. And how she loved the smell of vanilla. I found whatever I could that had that sweet scent. 

On one of those days when the sun refused to shine and nasty winds hinted of the winter ahead, I arrived at Mom’s apartment with my goodie-bag. This time, it wasn’t food or vitamins or, thank goodness, more medicines I was toting. This time, out of that bag tumbled splendid indulgences. I recall Mom saying they were just too pretty to open. 

But open them she did, with the zest of a 5-year-old surrounded by birthday gifts. It was such a great joy to witness that excitement, so long gone from Mom’s last weeks and months.  

I loved helping her with the beauty products, from the skin coolers and body lotion to her favorite, the lip balm that made her dry and parched lips feel moist again. I loved watching my sweet mother, quintessentially feminine despite all the renunciations, respond to pampering. I loved the way she smiled with pure pleasure at the way her skin looked and felt. Even as she tired, I knew she wanted more, more, more. 

Mom died about three weeks after our lovely “party,” and I hadn’t thought much about it for so long. But just seeing that bottle of vanilla lotion brought it back to me all these years later. No cameras had recorded the event, but stored away in my heart are images of a frail 97-year-old lady enjoying what women so often do: a bit of pampering indulgence. 

I opened what was left of that vanilla skin lotion and drank in its sweetness. And this time, I placed it front and center on the bathroom vanity, where I can cherish it and be reminded of a singular night. One when a mother and daughter celebrated the sweet indulgence of being women together – in the middle of my life, and the end of hers.

November 2018
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