Growing up, there weren’t many days that I didn’t see my mom putting on makeup. It wasn’t just in the mornings before she went to work, but also on days she spent at home doing laundry or cleaning. When guests were coming over in the evening, she’d be in the bathroom until the last minute, still touching up or powdering her nose when they arrived. Or “putting on her face” as she called it.
My mom would cringe if she knew how many people have seen her without makeup this past month.
After a cerebral aneurysm rupture, she was in a coma in the ICU for a couple of weeks. During that time, her siblings, in-laws, nieces and even cousins she hasn’t seen in years came in just to watch her sleep. And even without her “face on,” compliments abounded.
“Her skin is absolutely beautiful,” I heard someone say.
“She has great hair,” said someone else.
But as she lay there unable to speak or open her eyes, I didn’t like that the nursing staff responsible for keeping my mother alive didn’t know how she really looked. I showed them pictures on my phone, and even played a video of her singing “Happy Birthday” to herself the night before her stroke.
“This is who she really is,” I said.
When she moved to a step-down unit after her miraculous successful surgery, awake but still swollen and unable to speak, I taped up pictures of my mom with all of her family members to show her new nurses “the real her.” They nodded and said she was pretty, and went about their jobs.
But as I sat by her bed day after day staring at those photos, I realized that no matter how many pictures I hang on her wall or show to the staff, there’s no way to show my mom’s beauty to people who have never known her. The truth is that even though she seldom went without makeup, her beauty has never been skin deep.
The only way to describe my mother is to tell about the person she is.
She taught my brothers and me that it’s always best to forgive – because it just feels better.
She sent us to Catholic schools, but taught us that God loves every single person the same, regardless of their denomination.
She always welcomed with open arms any of our friends who came through the door, and whether they were rich, poor, gay or straight, invited them to stay for dinner.
She couldn’t stand to see me hurting, so when I was 16 after a breakup with the love of my life, she slipped me a Gloria Gaynor CD and told me that “I Will Survive” would take away my pain.
She’s the one who, even when she’d been in bed for a few days with pneumonia or the flu, called to see how she could help me because she heard I had a headache. And she’d even insist on taking all three of my kids for the day – because I needed to rest.
Her biggest, most prized accomplishment is her family.
Selfless. Compassionate. Honest. Forgiving. Humanitarian. So much more. That’s who my mom really is.
This week, she is becoming more awake and aware. It starts to scare me when she seems confused or unsure of what I’m saying, and I’m not sure if she’ll ever be able to hold a conversation. We have been told we must be patient, and that time will tell how much she’ll remember and how she’s changed. For now, she smiles, and my heart skips a beat knowing that we’re beyond lucky to still have her here with us.
And when I look into her eyes, my fears go out the window. Because I can still see what makes her gorgeous – the thing that never had anything to do with makeup – nothing to do with her face. Her beauty always came from deep within.
All the way down to her soul.