I know she wants me to be happy. And not worry, cry or shut down.
She has spent 48+ years being my mom, teaching me by example, laughing with me, giving me stern looks to keep me in line, showering me with love and affection, displaying her dignity, grace and strength.
Strength. I keep coming back to that word because my mom has always prided herself on being a strong person. She learned it from her mother, my grandmother. We talk about strength a lot. Especially lately. She explained how my grandmother raised 5 children by herself, after losing her husband. And how my grandmother did whatever necessary to make sure that they got an education, as well as a religious upbringing. My grandmother lived to be 100. Illness and medications were rare for her; she smoked, drank a shot of whiskey every day and insisted on a daily nap. Her “medication” was the phrase, “I will be alright tomorrow.” And she was. Both of these extraordinary women inspire me to live according to their high standards, combined with my unique qualities. My mom always encouraged me to be myself. She taught me, through her own parenting style, about the sort of parent I strive to be; additionally, she stressed that taking care of ME is equally important, so that I can be the best mom possible.
Visiting her is essential now. We’re all taking everything a day at a time, praying, hoping, doing what we can to give my mom a sense of normality, after the life-changing adjustments she’s had to face. The drive there is about 30 minutes, which gives me a chance to muster all the positivity, strength and courage that she needs to draw from me. I know she would understand my need to cry but, due to my protectiveness of her, I can’t cry in her presence. And so I sit facing her, listening to her say whatever she needs to say, telling her about all of our news, making her laugh, encouraging her. It makes her happy and that’s important. Crucial, even. She can’t have stress or worry about anything. I look at her and see the amazing effort she makes to assure us that she’s okay. I see her exhaustion, frustration. I see the difference in how she thinks, talks, feels. I see tears when she talks about her family and this is what rips me apart inside…the awareness that I can do nothing to make it all better for her, as she did for me when I was a little girl.
I love every bittersweet moment I spend with her. And then, when I leave, I drive home and crumble, as I try to figure out how to deal with my mom’s illness. I’m still shocked and this is how I have to deal with it now. This wasn’t supposed to happen. I get angry because my mom has always taken care of herself. She has been under a doctor’s care, for a range of issues, for a long time. It wasn’t that she was sick; it’s that she has always managed her health in a responsible way. She has always eaten healthy foods and insisted on a daily exercise regime. She has always kept active and positive. She has endured tests and various medical procedures to ensure that her health was optimal. Only, it hasn’t been.
It is what it is. I get it. But it’s still new. I have unrivalled support from my friends, who have been so generous with their love, thoughts and prayers. I recognize the signs of depression setting in because, once the tears start, I can’t stop them. I am careful to not withdraw because I know how important it is to let my friends know that I’m struggling. It’s difficult to focus on anything except the thought of her not being here. No, it’s not something I WANT to focus on. I’m trying to not do that. I am trying my best to enjoy the time I have with her and show her that her strength, courage, dignity and grace is still alive and burning strong within me.
I just need to know how to cope with the cycle of visiting and the struggles I have, following the visits. It’s a harrowing cycle of a rollercoaster ride that I am trying to manage to the best of my ability, with the resources I have. I know that I need to know how keep MY stress levels in check so that I can keep well and do the best I can for ALL of my family.
As for what I’m already doing: I visit church and light candles regularly, lean on my friends when I need to, meditate and attend counseling. Any further suggestions would be welcome.
God Bless You and Thank YOU for listening.