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Actress Marcia Gay Harden Journeys Through Grief And Finds Hope in ‘Seasons of My Mother’ (EXCERPT)

The actress chronicles how a mother's love never fades

After losing her mother, Beverly Bushfield, to Alzheimer’s in 2018, Marcia Gay Harden wrote a book honoring her mom’s extraordinary life and describing her emotional journey as a daughter, friend and caretaker. Here, a moving excerpt from The Seasons of My Mother about how the glimmers of joy and spirit never truly fade.

A song from the heart

I remember one Sunday, when, with the help of her caregiver, Rose, I’m dressing Mom for church. Pretty gold top with a cowl-neck, stretchy black pants, earrings and necklace, makeup, curled hair. Her skin is soft and clear, her eyes gentle, her spirit trusting. She smiles at me, perhaps not really sure of who I am, but feeling happy to be with me.

It comes and goes, her recognition of what is around her, and minutes later, she says, “Marcia!” as if she had just discovered the thread. She remembers my face on the tapestry. We get in the car, turn on the radio and sit in stunned silence as Sarah Vaughan begins to fill the space with a soulful, glorious song. I’m sure she is singing to us. She knows we are listening, and she is singing to Mom, and to me, and to Rose as we drive to church on Sunday morning.

Eeeverything must change…nothing stays the same, Sarah moans in velvet notes, drawing out the A’s of chaaange and saaame in long and rolling drifts. Her voice is full and throaty, and when she sings the second verse, Everyone must chaaangenooo one stays the saaame, she clings to the notes, wringing them out in a soft vibrato.

Marcia Gay Harden's mother, Beverly Bushfield, is pictured as a young woman relaxing on a dock
Marcia Gay Harden’s mother, Beverly BushfieldMarcia Gay Harden

Memories that never fade

I slow the car down, not wanting to miss a word. The young become the ooold, and mysteries do unfoold, ’cause that’s the way of tiiime…

“That’s for sure,” Mom says, her eyes glancing out the window as the Texas landscape swishes by. “That’s a beautiful song,” she says. I turn it up.

Sarah’s voice begins a haunting build: There are not many things in life you can be sure of except rain comes from the clouds, sun lights up the sky…

Mom looks out the window and stares up at the sky. Then, when Sarah’s voice hits…and hummingbirds do flyyy, Mom responds quietly, “I have a hummingbird.”

Marcia Gay Harden pictured with her mother, both wearing black gowns
Marcia Gay Harden
Marcia’s mother was her biggest fan (left, together at the Academy Awards in 2002)

A connection stronger than time

The song hits me in the heart, as if we’re being given a lesson in how to go on with our lives, and Mom and Rose and I drive on, through the one traffic light, past the tumbleweed, feeling like we are in church already, in the car, listening to Sarah’s wise and painful voice sing out, while Mom responds to the lyrics.

Sarah sings, Winter turns to spring, wrenching the notes of spring in a halting plea. Mom says, “Yes it does,” and she whispers along with the song, “Seasons always change…”

Mom looks at me on A wounded heart will heal, and I smile at her. She smiles back. I reach across the coffee cup holder in the car, remembering orange hibiscus in a brown coffee mug, and I hold her soft, cool hand.

Wounded hearts do heal, I think. Especially with mothers who hold you tight, and braid your hair and caress your heart with gentle counsel.

I see Rose in the rearview mirror, staring out the window, blue above, and big white clouds blanketing the sky.

Sarah’s voice goes high to meet the Texas sky, high and wide, on Mysteries do unfold. Her voice is soaring now, at once painful and yet joyful, soaring up into the Texas clouds.

She sings “fly,” again and again, flyyyyy, flyyyyy, huuummmingbirds do flyyyy, and her voice flies away on “fly”…and Mom flies with her. She flies, right up into the sky, and holds Sarah’s hand — soaring with angels and birds and joyful voices, looking down on all the people below.

Marcia Gay Harden with mother and daughters
Marcia Gay Harden
Beverly Bushfield was a loving grandmother to Marcia’s three children (right, together in approximately 2010)

A mother’s wisdom lives forever

Mom is laughing, her hair streaming out behind her, her golden cowl-neck ripples like gossamer wings, and she is watching herself, and me and Rose, from above as we drive to church.

“Yes, sun does light up the sky,” she says, laughing, the clouds between her teeth. She is lit up like the sun, flying with Sarah Vaughan in a big blue Texas sky.

We pull into the parking lot, and I have to wait a minute to get out of the car. Sarah knows this. She finishes her anthem.

And music, music makes me cry…

Mom smiles as we wheel her through the parking lot. She cups her hands around her now white hair so it doesn’t get messy blowing in the soft breeze; she adjusts her earrings and fiddles with the gold cross on her neck that once belonged to her mother. Then she closes her eyes, basking in the warmth of the sun.

The clouds bounce around the steeple top, the sun lights up the sky, and we go to church.
Be in the moment, now. That’s where my mother is. In the moment. Still teaching, still yearning, still loving.

Excerpted from THE SEASONS OF MY MOTHER by Marcia Gay Harden. Copyright 2018 © by Marcia Gay Harden. Reprinted by permission of Atria Books, an Imprint of Simon & Schuster, LLC.

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