While this is posting, thanks to the wonders of the internet and modern technology, I’ll be white-knuckling my way out of Baltimore-Washington International airport, driving to the southern part of Maryland to visit my mom. It’s been a year or so since I last saw her. It’s been a lot longer than that — a lot longer — between some of our visits.
Still, she’s 87 now, not in great health, and I have an unshakable nubbin of guilt that I’m trying to clear. Chesapeake Bay, here I come.
It’ll be a working getaway because, you know, I have work to do. Plus, Mom fell and broke her hip a few weeks ago, so we’ll be spending a lot of time in her room at the nursing home. I’m sure we’ll watch some TV, and I’ll run out for some lunch to bring back if the warden who runs the place (Mom’s word, not mine) says it’s OK. But for the other several hours a day, we’ll chit-chat, she’ll sleep some and I’ll work. Heck, maybe I’ll take a nap. It’s a nursing home. It’s not Vegas.
I was on the phone with a co-worker the other day whose elderly parents are both hurting. His dad has Alzheimer’s. His mom is recovering from a second bout with some kind of cancer. He’s running all around trying to take care of things, dealing with siblings, working with caregivers, trying to keep his head above work water. It’s hard, we noted, coping with aging parents. It’s hard seeing them hurting, watching them get old.
But in the middle of our pity party, I thought: Yeah, it sucks. But watching parents age is a lot easier than being that old. It’s a lot easier than hurting. It’s a lot easier than having to push a button to call someone to help you to the bathroom, or struggling every second to see or hear clearly or just not feel like crap. It’s a lot easier than lying there, day after day.
This getting older thing has to be especially tough on my mom, who has been nothing if not fiercely, proudly, stubbornly, teeth-clenchingly independent for most of her time on Earth. More than any other woman I ever have known, my mom has done exactly what she’s wanted to do, when she’s wanted to do it, for most of her life, everyone else be damned. Her decisions haven’t always been for the best. They haven’t all worked out. I haven’t agreed with them all.
But she never asked what I thought, and I never offered. It’s her life.
I aim to ask her about it this week, from her time growing up in Philadelphia, to bringing up seven kids, to striking out on her own, to spending somewhere around 30 years teaching in Hawaii. She has stories to tell. I have questions. I’ve had them for years.
Hopefully, in between the eating and the chit-chatting and the TV watching and the work, I’ll break out a voice recorder and we’ll talk. Really talk. Maybe more this week than we have in a long, long time.
Maybe I’ll find out something I didn’t know.