Publisher - May 2022
“Your life is made of two dates and a dash. Make the most of the dash.”
I can hardly bring myself to write about our theme this month— #MamaBear. The phase of life I’m currently in puts me dead center of the sandwich generation. My mother is 91 years old, and I worry every day if it will be her last, even though she has no critical illness. I know she worries about it, too, because she calls me every night to say good night. This is a new habit. It’s because she’s thinking about that classic childhood prayer that ironically scares us all to death—‘if I should die before I wake…” I can’t blame her for thinking this way; we all have an expiration date. Luckily, so far, we are both still “in date.”
On the other side of my “sandwich” are my two 20-something-year-old children who know way more than me and have no use for my mama bear advice or protection. They turn to the boyfriend and girlfriend for frontline support, and rarely come out to the pasture where I now dwell. So, as you can see, it is a difficult and emotional time for me right now. But I don’t let it get me down. It’s just life.
I consider myself lucky to have had some interesting, deep and retrospective conversations with Mom lately. She asks me things like, “Was I a good mom?” And makes comments about how she may have done better. I remind her of many things she did for me as a child, and the opportunities she gave me, and how much they meant to me. She loves that.
We talk about weekends at the lake and weeks at the beach and all the work she put in to make sure everyone had a good time and was well-fed. I don’t think she realized how important she was. We have discussed how her role was more about everyone else’s joy than hers. As a kid, you don’t understand. But I certainly get it now.
It’s obvious she is recounting her life, wondering where it went. Trying to validate if it was a life well lived. We laugh, a lot, even at the bad stuff, because in hind-site some of it is so ridiculous. At times, she had to be ridiculous to be heard. My dad was the Archie Bunker type, but Mom was no Edith. She was headstrong and let my father know when enough was enough, even if he didn’t listen—we laugh more. Drawing boundaries such as this is so important to one’s well-being. So many people do things out of obligation instead of from their hearts, and then they resent the person they are doing for. This is misery for both parties involved. Mom didn’t do that. Everything she did, I won’t say she did because she wanted to, but she didn’t resent it. She had pride in her accomplishments, hospitality and doing for others, and it showed.
Mom is now in assisted living. Her life has been pared down to one room. I know it’s hard on her. She, like everyone else, worked all her life to build her home and acquire her things. Now, she is supposed to dispose of it all to live out the rest of her days with a bed, dresser, recliner, television and some puzzle books. Her thumb is as green as ever, but there is only one plant to care for. She still loves to work in the yard, but there is no yard, and lack of balance is now her enemy. She told me recently how weird it is to look in the mirror and see the wrinkled face looking back at her. She says it’s scary because it’s hard to believe it’s her. Inside, she doesn’t feel anywhere near 91.
The great news is she loves to go. I want to plan a trip to take her to Nashville. She was telling me how she listened to the radio constantly as a younger child and woman, and how much she loves classic country music. She’s been to the Grand Ol’ Opry and all that, but I know she will say yes in a heartbeat when I tell her we need to go to Nashville.
I’ve had the privilege of my parents helping me all their life until they couldn’t any more. Mom and Dad helped with home improvement projects when I was first married, they never said no if I needed them to keep my children, though I didn’t live in the same town, so it wasn’t often. The kids would go every summer and stay with them for a week, and mom would take them to zoo camp at Riverbanks. We vacationed together every year. My parents certainly did for me and my family. Now it is my turn to do for her, and I do it with gladness in my heart. She deserves it.
The other day and into the night she was weepy during our phone conversations. Finally, she told me the lady next door to her was dying. Mom was a nurse, and it is against her nature not to help someone in despair. “I don’t know why they are just letting her lay there and die,” she cried. “She’s all alone.”
I explained that sometimes there is nothing more anyone can do. Birth is the beginning, death is the destination and what’s in between is the journey. We talked about how death isn’t the end. She agreed, “It’s really the beginning.” And it is. It’s just a very difficult concept for our human heads and hearts to comprehend.
I told mom to go into the lady’s room and be with her. She said she had, and that she was going back. That is my mom, and I am proud of her.