Thursday, December 27, 2012

Stepping Towards Change

I haven’t written for a couple of months and it took me awhile to figure out why.
Sometimes the events and situations in any life take on a gravity – or depth – of emotion that doesn’t belong in a public forum. That’s my first thought. And then I think of how many of my friends are already in similar situations and it crosses my mind that we all have something to offer each other – our honest truths about some of life’s hardest struggles.

So here goes…
Many of the significant events that have happened this autumn involve my relationship with my mother. And most of those significant events have to do with her health. In respect to her privacy, let me simply say that right now she is fine and getting back to her usual level of activity (which would put most of us to shame).

Like many people my age, I have parents who were born over seventy years ago and it is a fact of life  - the worst fact of life – that none of us live forever and often our bodies begin to fail us long before our minds or spirit. My mother has no fondness for the whole aging process and is fiercely independent. In many ways she is irascible and feisty about the label of ‘old’ – fighting the notion of dependence or senior living in any shape or size. If someone says to a group of people - ‘let the older folks go first’ – she’ll sit down until the young kids are in line. This makes me smile. She is a compilation of the characters from the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and if she could figure out a way to find a place like that hotel – she would be there in a heartbeat.
This is great. Part of me cheers her on. And yet, this determined independence is only so grand while she doesn’t need medical care. Now that she is single and lives alone, my sisters and I have the distinction of being her primary care providers when she can’t manage by herself.

There’s nothing new about this – we all see it coming as our parent’s hair starts turning silver and health becomes much more precarious. I think my younger sister and I are lucky that we all live in the same town – this has been a saving grace when prepping meals every day. This phase of life - when the questions concerning an aging parent begin to require answers that include tangible support and care - is now my experience. I’m trying to figure out how to respect my mother’s independent nature while also being acutely aware of how fast, in this very recent incident, she needed daily care, advocacy and logistical help – and what to do when that happens again.
When my children were toddlers, I remember how important it was to let them venture outside of the safe little world that had held them as babies. Fingers needed to get dirty, knees scraped, odd things tasted – and all the while, as a parent, I hovered in the background, ready to step in, slap a Band-Aid on or pull someone back from the street. It was a kind of ‘parent radar’ that had to be kept on at all times as the little ones trundled into one adventure after another. In some ways, it feels like that radar has been switched back on in a much more nuanced way with my mother.  I’m so damn grateful that she’s felt good, been active and been involved in all sorts of things. I haven’t worried about her health in years. Now, today, I know that while all of that activity and living is going on, she can also stumble pretty hard and it takes more than a Band-Aid to fix what ails her.

I am aware that I have a new, developing role in my mother’s life that I can’t figure out ahead of time. There is no way to calculate or factor in any variables that might come up as she continues to pursue her own version of quality living. The bottom line is that I’ve had to finally accept that my mother is not immortal – without letting her know that I know that.
My mother, on the other hand, is the only one who knows what thriving means to her and I want to support her desire to be happy. I just have to acknowledge to myself that her choices will always have an impact on me because I am going to be tuned in to her slowly declining ability to be independent. This means that I need to be mindful of not simply reacting to given situations. Instead, I need to know for myself what I can and can’t do. It’s time to let go of the baggage, the stories, the expectations and look at what really exists in this complicated and very special relationship. It isn’t perfect, we aren’t best friends but I love her and know she loves me.

Maybe love is really the crux of this whole topic. How I love her now is very different then when I was a child.  It isn’t an idealized love of mother and child – this is a humanized, layered depth of feeling. It is built upon almost fifty years of interaction.  Bruised, battered, nourished, joyful – this love for her is simply in my bones. I reached up and took her hand as a child; she held my hand as I gave birth to my children and I will hold her hand when she is scared and ill and weak.
And what about today?

Today she is happy, a little tired from the holidays, complaining about her football picks and planning on enjoying wine and dinner with friends.
Life goes on.

I think the best advice I can give myself is to simply take it one day at a time and have some faith in my ability to walk an unknown path into my own future shared with others that I love.
That sounds so deceptively simple.


  1. Life indeed goes on!

    I love the way you are approaching this new stage in your life. I can also relate, although the story is a little more complex for me: a child moving into the teenage years as parents and parents-in-law move into their "golden years".

    Letting go of the need to care-take for my tween while figuring out the boundaries of care for my in laws as well as my parents is a challenging task sometimes. One that I embraced most days but that frustrates me many others.

    The seasoned veterans in my life want to keep their independence and continue to do things the way they always have: a level of security and stability that I completely understand. Their bodies are not keeping up with the astute and sharp nature of their minds. In the privacy of their own thoughts, many times the frustration comes when they want but can't do certain things.

    For my tween, the challenge is in reverse. The lack of experience dictates many decisions and makes it hard to explain why something needs to be done a certain way. The over-exhuberant nature of her personality clashes with the wisdom of her dad and the impatience of her mom sometimes.

    In either case, the result is the same: loving them and wanting the best for them, not sure at every step what that "something" truly is.

    Taking one day at a time is the balm that makes the marked hurtful words and impatient sighs tolerable. I have decided that neither one of them belongs to me: I am responsible to them to honor their dignity and respect them!!

  2. "loving them and wanting the best for them, not sure at every step what that "something" truly is." Yes! So true! Parenting a child who is on the threshold of adulthood while at the same time trying to support ANY one else is going to be challenging!