Featured

{rough thoughts on love and mortality in the middle years}

I have no business writing when I need to be packing, preparing, paying bills, picking up prescriptions, cleaning house, and washing laundry, readying myself and the family for me to leave town.  These are very drafty thoughts on aging parents, ailing friends, launching teenagers, and being human.  

 016-20120504_0189.NEF

Love and Mortality in the Middle Years

Our middle years—carry

the work of tending to ailing parents

and sometimes losing,

nursing them respectfully and without impatience.

That is love of a child.

 //

Our middle years—rambling side by side with good friends,

you and I, fighting illness and the frailty of being human.

Growing into who we were going to become.

That is the love of a partner and friend.

 //

The human toll of ageing all the while launching

children to fly! The human ache of

watching lives unfold.

Let them fly, let them flail.  Breathing hope into their

youthful lungs. Speaking truth all the while

shaking your head as they roll their eyes in disgust. Wobbly legs

running out and away.  Knowing this

is what they are meant to do.

That is the love of a parent.

 //

We all need wisdom, grace upon grace and more joy (oh, for more joy!).

In the midst of relentless sorrow and loss,

your doorway remains open.

In this middle space of anticipation, of letting go

in more ways than is reasonable or comfortable,

all of which is profoundly difficult

and is the principle achievement of being human.

 //

Middle years: Caring and holding,

loving and letting go.

All this is the Life and Death of the middle years.

This is love and mortality

in the middle years.

{Blue Devils}

I live in a place of morbidity, where death
hangs round, a constant companion.  When you have lost
a parent you are constantly aware. Each moment, even pointless ones, are fraught with weighty meaning because

there may be no more.

And yet there has been so much pain,
roads traveled, days endured
the blue devils of hell traversed together.

Why do you call her MOTHER?
my daughter asks me, it’s cold and distant.
Because that is her name and that is what she has always been
[to me.]

Back again to knowledge.

The realization that this could be our last
conversation.  Life is always heavy, for I am daughter, caregiver, confidant, even adviser and she is
always,
will be
Mother.

Even when she is gone.

MHH


blue devils

pl n

1. a fit of depression or melancholy
2. an attack of delirium tremens

Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003

MOTHER [a poem about a parent aging]


Something shifted in the cosmos today as I became a giver, her One.

The one who thinks like a pastor, fondly listening inside to her heart which is lonely.
The one who touches like a nurse, open to the clues, simple hints about pain.
The one who creates food to share, serving the body and soul.

Daughter became caregiver to Mother.

And altered who I am.

Only, she isn’t frail, broken down or helpless — not just yet but it’s coming.  Even so she asks and I answer, and I tag along.  In case something is missed, she says.

Even so she still bails me out and listens as my heart bursts open, pooling over the edges of my day.  The “middle school” years, I am tender, raw with anguish.

Oh yes, she is still Mother, but today something in the cosmos shifted, and I became a Giver.

I became her One.

MHH

Other Poems.

In the Space of Days I Grew Up

In the space of days I grew up.  Not wise in years or experience, but still inevitably I became an adult this week.  

I am not ready for this next stage of life but then, that’s how life works doesn’t it?  Was it John Lennon who quipped that “Life happens while we are making other plans?” Seriously true.

When I was a child, I was often hiding — afraid.  More often than not habitually worried and anxious about my father and mother, each for different reasons.  It was the fights — the yelling, the meanness, and then Dad’s long absences which even as we savored them I feared what they meant.

And when he returned, I hid.  I was attempting to be invisible.  I think I was underdeveloped emotionally, for as I went numb to life I lost many, many years of my life that I cannot remember.  Try as I might, and I do try so very hard, I cannot recall the early years in Papua New Guinea, then California, most of high school in Texas, and only a small amount of college years.  All those years I lived with my parents. And in the years post college what I remember is still all intertwined with my parents dysfunctional marriage and relationships.  My life was so tangled up with my parent’s happiness and my father’s happiness and success that even as they travelled all over the world doing “God’s work” I returned back home to them over and over again.

I worked for my father.  I attached myself to his coat strings of always striving and never being satisfied.  I had no way of knowing at the time, but all I wanted was to know him.  To gain his impossible approval would have been a cherry on top of the Sundae of simply knowing my father and finally understanding why he was so angry.

But I never learned why he raged.  He died without really telling me, except to say that his anger was “righteous” and to the end he justified it.  Even as I told him the day before his brain surgery that he had hurt me, that he had wrecked me.  I told him, out loud to his face that I was damaged and he said he always thought his was a righteous anger.  For most of my life I doubted God’s existence because he didn’t heal my father – not  to heal the brain tumors which I never asked for and never expected, but I prayed for my father to be healed of his raging anger that he took out on my mother for forty+ years and on his four daughters all of our lives, as well as on many of his employees and other innocent people.

Oh, for most of my life I was asleep, numb, and afraid to breathe.  Stomach aches of stress we remembered this week as we recounted how each of us daughters live with various ailments from having ulcerous stomachs, frequent headaches, addictions including alcohol,  the raging, and for me at least, I have ongoing anxiety, cataclysmic fear and depression.

In the space of days, this week I grew up as I realized that my father is gone these nine years and my mother is old.  There is no one else to take care of her and she has no plan.  How could he have left her with no plan? Because he didn’t ever believe he would die — stupid man.  And so, we the daughters who are still fraught with the consequences (of him) will become the adults who care for her.  This is right.  This can be done.

But in some ways I am angry.  Just as I have begun to wake up, to see that my life was half-lived, full of fear and frequently put on hold pain, even as this is so, I must once again become the care giver, in the space of days.  I must grow up and forget the past which I cannot remember and step bravely into the future.

I must grow up.

Growing Old is so Uncool!

Over the last five years

my life story has been full of tension and some might say tragedy.  The process has been grueling and traumatic.  My parents have made a problematic imprint on my life.  I am working toward the days when I can celebrate again the good people that they are, but I must work through our family legacy, parts of which I must reject.

Often, I have found myself focused on the negative ways that my father especially has affected me.  I rarely talk about my mother, in part because she is still alive and that story is not complete.    Something happened recently between us that I feel is worth remembering here.

My mother

is a strange mix of strength and weakness that constantly perplexes me.  I have been devastated at times by our relationship, which is strange and erratic.  Both emotionally and  mentally agonizing, but at times we have moments of tremendous truthfulness.  I do not trust her and yet I deeply wish for her understanding.    I love her and yet I want to live my life without her (at times) because she has an uncanny way of being able to hurt me.  This frightens me.  It would be easier to walk away.  So far, I haven’t chosen that path.

My mother, seventy-two years old,  is the daughter of a southern philanderer for a father and a mother who raised five children by herself washing and ironing clothes.  She grew up in poverty, but my mother is bright, with a photographic memory to compensate for her dyslexia.  She was the first in her family to go to college where she trained to be teacher and supported my father through college and graduate studies.  They went to the mission field in 1966 to be teachers.

Today, sitting in her condo with the air conditioner running and the Red Sox playing, she is a far cry from the woman who trekked through the jungles of Papua New Guinea pregnant with me and holding a toddler.  She is a complicated person.

So Mom showed up the other day,

sitting, chatting about nothing important (something she hasn’t done for at least a year.)   I said “Stay and hang out while I feed the kids lunch.”  She was on a fast of some sort, or I would have offered her the PB&J I was feeding the children.

And she blurted out that she wanted to be my friend.

… Heavy    silence    ensued …

I felt in a moment, as she threw out those words, that time stood still.  And as she waited for my response it took

f o r e v e r.

She threw down her wishes as if everything, the past, had just magically disappeared.

A whirlwind of panic blew into my kitchen and was swirling around in my stomach, and heart, and head.   Many things were going through my head.  I am afraid of my mother —  that she’ll need me too much.  And I am afraid that she will reject me.  I am frightened by her power over me.  Should I be ecstatic that she wants to be my friend?  Remember the not small part of the equation where she is constantly forgetting important things?  Not telling me about a mother’s day lunch out with my sister.  Her calling and turning me down on one of the kid’s concerts at the last-minute.  Feeling too tired to come to my photography exhibit.  Forgetting the Artist Showcase at my church where I had things on display.  There are hundreds of occasions like these which I try to forget because it hurts.  Over and over it hurts and I tell myself  “Do not care.  Again.”  These things are unimportant in the larger scheme of life and yet they are a part of why I am so afraid of her.

I’m afraid and I somehow convey this to her as we sit there at my kitchen table.  Then tears slowly begin to slip down her face.  And as they start to really flow she says something that utterly blows me away.

“It is so difficult to get old.”  She continues that it’s frightening.  It’s unpredictable.  It’s simply hard to face going places alone, not knowing if she’ll find handicapped parking and be forced to walk a long distance.  And at times this completely overwhelms her and she can’t face it.  So she cancels.

I cannot express adequately to you now how huge this is for me. I have taken her actions as personal rejection of me, as her daughter.  Her absences.  Cancellations and no shows.  And rather than tell me the truth she’s used sickness and fatigue as the excuse.   Why?  Why do these things ever happen?  We are all a strange mixture of motives, fears and desires.   She hates that she’s getting old.  She’s afraid.  She lives alone and what if we decide she can’t handle that any more.  What if she decides she can’t?  What will it mean for her independence?  For all of us?  As she sits in her condo, comfortable and safe it’s just easier to not go out.

Growing old is hard on one’s ego.  And so uncool don’t you think?  The loss of privacy.  Dignity.  Independence.  God help us all as we walk toward this with our parents.  May we love them and listen well.  Take enough time to ask the right questions and have discernment as we move ahead.

I have felt that my mom doesn’t want to me in her life, not really.  This comes out of my dysfunction certainly but has been based on actual events.

And it turns out that she just needs a ride. This is a  new place for us to travel to in our relationship — a place of dependence and fragility — but a step closer to one another.