Aging Parents · Life

How do we know when


I just made a short (now, thankfully) journey to my mother’s home to help care for her after her second mastectomy. It is a pretty surreal experience to turn the tables and be on the other side of everything with a parent.

I held her hand and spoke with her for a while as she was in bed. We talked about completely random things:  how she told my dad she was pregnant with me and immediately jumping to expereinces we shared with my daughter; we talked about what her life has been like lately and what she imagines my life and the lives of my siblings will be once she’s gone. I held her and I brushed hair out of her face and I stroked her arm and I smiled. After a day of draining her fluids, administering meds, attempting to make her let me take care of her, I finally left her in bed and hobbled off take care of the little things left over before getting to bed myself. Once I finally landed in bed, I unwound with reading a bit, washed my face and completed my other evening ablutions and finally turned off the light for a blissful sleep.

Now, it’s going to be important for me to paint a picture for you. The home my mother lives in now is in a community for senior citizens she moved to while I was in graduate school overseas and I’ve never considered it my home. Why should I? I’ve never lived here. It is a two bedroom home, and my mother painted the second room blue before I finished school. She moved all of my things into the room and made it so I could live there if I ever needed to. It wasn’t decorated or anything. My things weren’t unpacked. It didn’t feel inviting. It was a room. I know I’ve slept there, but I honestly have no recollection of ever doing so since I was only in the house for a few weeks before moving in with now Husband forever. Frankly, I was consumed enough with my life and its future that I hardly gave any attention to my family and especially my mom. Anyway. “My room” is blue. It is my favorite color and it happens to be Daughter’s favorite as well. There is a single bed in the room and, again, though I know I’ve slept in it I have no recollection. I do, however, know that I have tucked my daughter into this bed more times than myself. Blue room with which I am not familiar. Got it? Good.

So, I climb into the tiny, rock hard, itchy for reasons I cannot explain bed. Lights off. Eyes heavy. It’s been a long and hard day. Between us, after this day I pretty much feel confident that, while I cannot tell you when my mother will die, I can tell you with relative certainty what the cause will be. I inhale deeply. I sigh. And I look up.

On the ceiling, I notice for the first time that there are dozens of stars glowing in the dark. I cannot tell you when they were put there; I do not know if they were for me, to make this room feel somehow like home to my 23 year old brain, or if they were put there for Daughter. It really doesn’t matter because at this moment I can see a concrete example of who the woman in that bed is. She loves. She loves so desperately and so deeply that she does stupid things like putting glow in the dark stars on the ceiling to make me feel at home for a couple of weeks or to make her granddaughter feel less afraid sleeping in a new place. At that exact moment all of this hits me and I begin to shake. I realize how small my mother looks in her bed. (Have you ever noticed how small the ones we love look when they are very sick? I swear they shrink.) It is at this moment that I break down and I cry harder than I have in I don’t know how long. My heart splits in two as I wonder what is going to happen next.

Why is it that it took me until this moment to realize how much my mother loves me? When I had Daughter, I remember actually wondering what it would have been like if my mom had loved me like I love Daughter. I felt like I had invented the love I have for her. How much hubris is that?? Seriously. And these damn stars make me realize that I didn’t experience that love alone. It’s the love that parents feel. Period. Even if they’re complete crap, I truly believe that every parent in the history of time has felt this love, even if it was just for a passing moment.

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