One Breath Away

For My Mother

She is my mother and she's only ever just one breath away. For 22 years I was living thousands of miles away from her, thinking she'd always be. And although for the last six months before her passing I moved closer to home, I still cannot help but feeling the weight of time lost. But rather than regret I am grateful and thankful for having her as my mother, kind, loving and caring right to her last breath.

It all began (for me) on a cold winter day in 1965 as I was making my way into this world. In a small desert town, down south, I was the youngest of six siblings, embraced with lots of love and a few warm blankets. Four sisters (the fifth arrived four years later) and a brother, together with both my parents, we were all living in a two bedroom flat up on the third floor.

My earliest childhood memories mostly consist of a crowded household and the heavenly smells of my mother's finest cooking. We did not have much, but we never lacked anything, there was always warm food on the table and clean cloths to wear.

New things were generally rare and very exciting. One day my mother came looking for me while I was outside climbing a tree, when she finally found me she told me my dad had just bought a new car. I was in such disbelief that I kept insisting she was lying to me, while clinging to the branch I was sitting on. (I am sorry mum). Now this was probably the most exciting surprise of all times (back then of course).

Our first car - Prinz NSU (illustration only)

As I was growing up my brother and older sisters were gradually moving out of the house, starting their own lives. From an early age I was drawn to music, first it was just listening and absorbing whatever was on radio and my sibling's record collection. At the age of 10 I wanted to learn how to play a musical instrument and drums was my choice. I would sit for hours with the radio on, a piece of paper laid on a pillow and two pencils in my hands, drumming to the music until either the paper was completely torn, or the sound of my dad's yelling cut through the noise.

Me (about 4 years old) behind a drum kit at a wedding.

My musical journey began when I enrolled at the local music conservatory for weekly drums lessons. Now it was official, I was learning how to play the drums. For the first two years I had a marching drum on loan so I can practice at home, but since just one drum wasn't enough and a drum kit wasn't an option yet, I decided to expand by using one of my mother's copper trays as a cymbal and a cooking pot for additional sounds. By now the decibel levels were raised significantly and the party has begun.

1976 was a turning point for our family as my parents were going through a divorce. It was now just my mother, two of my sisters and me living at home. The overall mood has changed, my mother was emotional, she cried a lot, but she never let her troubles get in the way of her motherly duties. Me, I was adjusting (or escaping) by playing drums and listening to music all the time.

Me in the 70's.

For my thirteenth birthday I got my first drum kit, this was a big deal for me, even more then our first car. Getting a new drum kit meant my mother had to work even harder than she already did so she can afford to pay for my kit (something I learned to appreciate only years later). Not long after, I joined the local youth orchestra and was performing in concerts around the country and overseas. I formed a school band together with friends and met other musicians of which some became life long friends. Through all of my teen years my mother was there to support and encourage me, even though at times I was totally oblivious to common sense.

Somewhere in my mid twenties I met my beautiful wife and together we moved to the other side of the world. I will never forget the night we said goodbye to my family and especially the look in my mother's eyes as we were leaving, this is a memory that will stay with me forever. This was a tough change for both my mum and I, as from now on we would only see each other once every couple of years.

I hate goodbyes. Every time I'd come home for a visit, the last couple of days of my stay would be extremely emotional, to the point where I would make special efforts to avoid listening to music as it would bring tears to my eyes and fill my heart with sadness. How can I leave my mother behind? When will I see her again? Will I see her again?

My mother lived on her own since my youngest sister moved out, she never remarried, instead she dedicated her life to her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. But years of hard work took their toll on her and mobility was becoming a challenge. Thankfully, my siblings were there to support her and keep her company whenever possible. I was far away, frustrated and ridden with guilt as I wasn't able to help.

One Sunday afternoon, during our weekly telephone conversations my mother asked me if I still kept in touch with my father. My heart sank! I felt chills going down my spine, as my father passed away a few years earlier. Soon after I found out my mother had dementia. For the next three years my mother would be cared for by one of the most gentle souls I have ever known, just as she deserved to be.

I finally decided to take a year off work and go back home with my wife and two kids so I can be close to mum. By then, her moments of clarity were becoming fewer and fewer and our communication line would be frequently interrupted. Still, among the heavily clouded skies of dementia a little window would occasionally open up, where she would smile, that precious smile of her, as if to let us know she was still here. On one occasion not long before her passing, it was just me and her sitting in the living room, I was sitting close to her as it was getting hard for her to speak, and after a long moment of silence, she said to me while looking into my eyes, "Don't you worry, everything will be okay". This was my mother, reassuring and caring, even through her toughest times, right to the end.

This song is for you mum.

I Love You...

Nissim Ben-Salamon
Nissim Ben-Salamon
Read next: Allie on the Sand
Nissim Ben-Salamon

Singer, songwriter and composer!

See all posts by Nissim Ben-Salamon