Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Underestimating my mother

Witnessing a parent decline is excruciating, plucking at and uncovering every minuscule  heartstring as you wonder if you've done enough or gotten what you've done right.

How do you care for a parent in a loving, compassionate manner that honors and respects their position in your life as well as the person they are, have been and will become?

This is a place of twisted fate and odd role reversal.

Accompanying my mother as patient and father as caregiver as an adult child is a complex maze, perhaps even a minefield, as I desire to assist them over telling them what to do. Often they amaze me, sometimes surprise me and, rarely, infuriate me. I hope to be more of a guide, carrying out their wishes, than dictator or purporting to know what's best. I want to help them stay independent and in their own home as long as possible. That's also my wish. 

My mother bravely faced a difficult nine-hour surgery head on. She knew in advance that was not the struggle. "What will I know?" she said. "I''ll be knocked out." The recovery would be, she anticipated, her challenge.

In a wonderful Quaker clearness committee, the process of surrounding yourself with trusted others to discern where God is moving by deep listening and thoughtful questioning, she discovered this recovery would be her surrender to Spirit. However, I think she believed it would be a few months, not and entire year as her family practitioner gently, but firmly, reminded her of last week. My father confided that they had heard a year, but did not truly believe it would be that long. She's always bounced back before, we all had remembered.

She's not bouncing back now. I would describe it as more of learning a slow dance, one new step at a time. Long and steady, but surely happening if you can be present to the details we once took for grated: walking a few feet, dressing yourself, getting to the bathroom, having an appetite, remembering and seeing with unobstructed vision. These have all become new obstacles to at once surrender into and master. How that works, I am uncertain, except through faith, trust and prayer.

Improvement is evident in her color, humor, determination and acceptance of help.

Last night in my warm circle of neighborhood book club women, we chatted about aging parents, memory loss, demeanor transformation, expectations, letting go, illness and feeling sandwiched, ever grateful they are still with us. One of the most gracious remarks was about how one mother struggling with dementia still knows to say thank you and I love you. And, when she fails to remember the story she 's trying so hard to relate, acquiesces with "I'll tell you tomorrow." There are bright spots, we all acknowledged.

My mother's family physician soberly pointed out the fact she was walking, talking and cognizant was remarkable given the severity of her surgery. "Remind her of that," he cautioned me, "on bad days," which he said would happen along with entire weeks of difficulty.

Have we forgotten how to care for the aged? It's not a new proposition, yet we are surviving longer. Once, our elders lived with us in largely multi-generational families. As we have transplanted and grown more transient, we've left those customs behind. And also in our social selfishness to focus on ourselves and immediate families.

I am appalled every time I experience someone younger patronizing an elder. It happens in hospitals, nursing centers, in public and privately. In attempting to be true to Spirit's calling, I try to "see" the whole person, beyond the encumbered climbs, faulty mind, thinning hair, stained skin and veiled eyes. We are each a child of God, no matter our age or condition.

• What is my experience of aging – my own or someone else's?
• What are the difficulties?
• Where have I witnessed grace?
• What part of the spiritual journey is this?
• How do I recognize myself and others as children of God?

in a surprise visit
on a snowy Sunday
when roads were
nearly vacant

I spied her head
as she napped
in the wheelchair

I took that as a cue
and treated her
gently, perhaps
too much so

later, she beamed,
suggesting we
witness her progress
in the walker

with my husband
ahead, she
lurched forward,
perfectly in control

teasing him with
her new moves
and teaching
me to never
her courge,
spirit and


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