I hail from a pretty private branch of a pretty private family tree and even though I consider my family’s branch to be a bit more open, it still doesn’t mean we’re like… super open.
Thus I have determined, likely as a vestige of those thoughts and mannerisms, that nuance and subtlety is always going to win over dropping a grand piano; that restraint, grace and pacing is always more appealing than simply stating things because I feel they need to be stated.
As I grew up, I was dynamic, extroverted, real, on point, and often passionate. I was anything but present, unless that meant taking a moment and dragging it on as long as possible.
Nothing has changed since my younger years other than my delivery. I have learned through experience that my mothers’ friends frequent admonitions, that I needed to dial back or be more respectful, were correct and that no one likes a blowhard, arms akimbo, wild-eyed mayhem maker. No one. So I’ve learned to dial back, speak slower, make my point but do it softer while just as intensely.
I alluded last week on Tuesday that I will likely write every once in a while about my parents’ aging and how I’m processing it. I could make that sentence more direct: “How I process my parents’ aging” but I don’t believe that does the situation justice. I mentioned my family’s privacy above because I will try to honor it as I continue to chronicle our evolution as my parents age. Try to come at it from my perspective.
As I allow myself to turn the table, as I endeavor to put on my parents’ well-worn, comfortable, and sensible shoes, I realize that what they’re going through has got to be the absolute worst battle they will surely lose. There has to be nothing worse than digging in your heels against life’s most inevitable lesson: that we all die and wonder a lot of the time, “what if I’d chosen this instead of that” or “what if I’d said it this way instead of that way…”
My parents like to say, “go to God” when a loved one has died.
I like that. It’s not so much that it’s the Christian aspect of the phrase, but it’s the mystical aspect to it. It shows me there’s something else, something waiting; something more.
My parents live about six miles from me despite the county’s attempts to turn that into eight miles in the name of progress.
I have been in touch with a consultant to aid us all through the next stages of their lives here on earth. She is a character herself, this woman. A little stiff, a touch too efficient, but compassionate nonetheless. I suppose it’s her years of experience that have done the opposite of softening her to the inevitabilities of life: death, and has honed her to be ready, be that efficient consultant. It’s a challenging job for certain: full of fits and starts that her clients undoubtedly put her through during these processes.
I thank God for people like her: to be able to see all of what’s before them and cut through the clatter and chatter and clutter to the end point: living well to die well.
She tells me I am a good daughter, to advocate for my parents this way. She has no idea. I am not a good daughter. I have been hewn and sculpted by my parents’ choices which shaped me into the woman I have become. But as I am not a totally bad daughter, they were not totally bad parents either. There’s a phrase that describes this perfectly: “you get what you give.”
The consultant and I will meet on Valentine’s Day this week. After yoga. At a middle-eastern shopping center restaurant where we will talk about my parents and their situation over hummous, toasted pita points, shwarma, tzatziki and cucumber medallions.
I am the only child of theirs in the area. I am the only daughter, the only vessel, if you will, able to manage, carry and internalize all of this and continue on.
Men can’t help how they are designed, but they are not meant for this kind of Work. This is not a sexist statement, it’s just true, is all. Women are containers, we have wombs, we bear children, we take in, we bear pain and we deal — one way or another, and some ways are better than others, but we deal. Men are externalizers, except when they internalize which never works because by their very design and my 6th grade emotional estimation, they are not supposed to linger long; they disperse their seed and they move on. This is proven time and again in almost every animal kingdom other than birds which mate for life. If I’ve offended you I’m sorry. 21st Century man has come and evolved a very long way since those days when Kroc inseminated Kreika, Tngu and Phlark in the same cave and moved on, but the fact of the matter is that women bear the kids and sometimes, the men walk out. Just sometimes. I’ve only heard of it happening a couple times. And sometimes those fathers might stick around but their minds move on.
So being the only daughter and nearest my parents means this bowling ball inevitably will roll my way. I am a duckpin. In the corner. Number 10, hiding behind all the others and hoping that heavy, slow, lumberingly Brunswick or AMF ball, its approach like thunder in the distance, will find its way into the gutter and not hit me, but I know it will. I am a member of the sandwich generation and the way I see it: you haven’t fully lived until you are.
When the time comes, when it gets intense and sad and truly inevitable (as if it isn’t already), my sibs will be on board; I know this. But no way you slice this: it’s going to be work.
This is post 200; that means about 330,000 words +/- 15,000 words. I wanted to make this post smart, and true. That’s not to say I believe I’ve ever written anything stupid and fake. There are plenty of posts I’ve started and haven’t written:
I wanted this post to be relevant. But in the end: for whom is it relevant? Most likely me and anyone else who is about to embark on this journey about aging parents.
I’m going to do my best to close each one of these posts about my parents with a positive memory or affectionate thought and how I sense it rather than to stitch them closed with butcher’s string and thoughts of pain, remorse or fear.
Her features are long faded; her beautiful cheekbones still winning out but her eyes feel lost now. She smiles sweetly, most of the time in regard to a memory or a thought which pleases her. I envy her that; her ability to stay in those happy places. My mind races at times to sadder moments, times when she broke my heart instead. The lump in my throat is very painful at the moment; sharp, severe. My therapy-educated mind is telling me to sit with it; feel the feelings. Let out the cry of disappointment, let out the sensations of fear and sadness. I can’t articulate it, but I will honor them. I suppose it doesn’t help that this song, “Mother of God” which is incredibly close to how I grew up at times, is playing in the background:
My mother has a gown-length muskrat coat she used to wear all the time in the winter; growing up in Buffalo, NY, that was about 5 months long sometimes. As a child, I would sink my face into it, pull it around me as I spun and wedged myself between her legs and the coat’s red silk monogrammed liner. She could’ve had a mink or a raccoon or a beaver or a fox or a seal coat, but she chose muskrat; which is just like her: that muskrat coat could be worn by a man, too, from what I recall: broad shoulders. Something fantastic about her buying a muskrat coat… her rebellion and artistic fancies winning over convention and beating aristocratic tradition with a tuned ukelele, three of which she owns. Something happened though, something changed her and I’ll never know what that was.
Someone mentioned witnessing her own mother and her mother-in-law and this person grew perplexed about how to avoid turning into either one of them, set in her ways, fearful and acerbic. I didn’t have an answer. I just told her to do what I try to do every day: Be Present, Regret Nothing, Take Chances. And one more: Believe in yourself.