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Time alters mothers' roles as comforter

My mother laid her head on my shoulder today. It happened very naturally. She nestled into me almost like a baby as we sat together in the parlor of the nursing home. She said she was very tired and hoped I didn't mind.

I was surprised. She had never done anything like that before. However, the weeks since mom became ill held many surprises _ a real roller coaster of emotion, from fear, to sadness, to relief and even joy at times. Each day, I'd just been taking it as it came and trying to manage.

But as I sat there in the unfamiliar surroundings of the nursing home with mom leaning against me and my arm around her, my mind traveled back 30 years or more. Memories of times I'd held my baby daughters or son, as they cuddled into me when they were tired or feeling "petty," as we called it in the family, passed through my mind.

Going back even further, I thought mom probably held me much like this when I was young. I remembered the feelinglying in her big four-poster bed in the front bedroom of the big house where I grew up . . . her soft caress as she cooled my fevered body and made the pain go away Or perhaps sitting together on the front seat of Dad's green coupe as we drove home from visiting relatives. How many Sunday evenings we sat like that, she and I. And as often happened, my head would find her shoulder and I'd cuddle there, cozy and secure. Maybe that is what mom is feeling now, I thought. I hoped so So here we were again _ sitting together. But something felt wrong. Of course, we weren't in our right places. My mother, so vulnerable now, was leaning on me, as I'd leaned on her so many times throughout my life. The clock had come full circle. And though the responsibility felt heavy, I knew it was her turn.

As I looked down on her, I noticed her eyes were closed. She seemed more at peace than she'd been in weeks. So rearranging my arm slightly, while taking care not to disturb her, I drifted again into reverie A family party during World War II _ I was 8 at the time _ came to mind. My uncle was home on leave before going overseas. I saw the family gathered around the old baby grand piano, my uncle leading the group in song. Mom was "banging out the old tunes," as she'd say, while Dad and Grandpa strummed along on the mandolin and violin.

We were about to go in to supper when Grandpa picked up his violin again and without a word began to play Traumerei.

As the music floated on the still summer air, mom drew me toward her. And while he played, we nestled there, she and I, my head pressed against her shoulder, listening. For a while, the war was far away _ only the music was real. We were in touch with something beyond the ordinary that evening _ something like I was feeling now.

Suddenly, mom stirred. Lifting her head, she gazed up at me for a moment. I wondered what she was thinking. But I only asked if she were comfortable. She said she was. We continued to sit there, mom and I, not saying anything, but sharing something deep and timeless.

I began to understand. This bond, which I felt so strongly this day, was not only between mom and me. It was more than that. Within our tacit embrace were the connections of the generations _ past, future and beyond. It was as if one generation were touching the next, as mom and I were touching, with an unspoken message: "We continue." My grandmother and her mother were with us too now, as were my children and their children. We were all together this day in this room. Time stood still.

Slowly, a sweet sadness filled me for what I had, for what I would lose, and for what would someday be. Feeling like a link in a chain of family memories and events, I hugged mom a little closer.

She glanced up at me, her face betraying the slightest glimmer of a smile. Then she settled her head on my shoulder again. This is the way life is, I thought. It just goes on . . .

Dianne D. Price of Indian Rocks Beach is a freelance writer and retired social worker. Guest columnists write their own views on subjects they choose, which are not necessarily the opinions of this newspaper.