Two years ago today my own personal nightmare began with my Mother’s dearth. A terrible, torturous end to a decades long battle with ovarian cancer. No matter how old you are, what your relationship might have been, this loss leaves you feeling like an orphan, your life turned upside down, your emotions in an uproar. All of us only have one mother, once she’s gone there’s a hole in your life that cannot be filled by any other being.
Of course I knew, on that day and all the ones to follow, the task left to me was impossible.
With his partner in life gone, I watched my strong, silent father heartily mourn the woman he’d loved for most of his lifetime — 50+ years — the bright-eyed blonde girl in the yellow dress. Holidays were now a lingering torture of memories and unwelcome changes. The house they’d loved became a lonely place, devoid of her silly songs and happy little ways. She was the woman who changed the course of his life. He was the man who made hers.
Even a month later I can still see their faces, still am unable to tell the story without a lump rising to choke me, and goosebumps up and down my body.
It was an ordinary Saturday morning in late March, in a suburb like so many others in this country. It took place inside a real, old-school barbershop full of customers. and an old man using every bit of energy he had to get this one errand accomplished.
I was thinking this weekend about Easter and what we Catholics (even the bad CAPE kind, of which I am one) celebrate on this holiday. The event we celebrate happened thousands of years ago, and yet it remains the most important part of the Catholic calendar.
One of the few Bible verses I know is this one…
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,
that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Think about that for a second. That kind of love. That level of sacrifice. Astonishing, isn’t it?
It’s true, only recently have I come to understand why no one told me things about being a mother when I first joyfully announced my pregnancy. It was common consent, decency and kindness that kept others from telling me how huge a job I was undertaking. How it would be harder than I ever imagined, would test me in ways I could not foresee, would last far longer than I’d been promised.
I’m thinking about this again today because there’s a growing crop of newborns joining our already large family this year, and the news is thrilling. There is something very satisfying about watching the next generation (ones you knew as children) pass the milestones; college, career, marriage, first child. I smile at the thought of all the wonderful moments they’ll have. It will be a joy to watch these babies grow, these young people become parents.
I know I’m not alone in caring for an aging parent, in my case my almost 82-year-old Dad, a former engineer who was married 54 years to my mother and only now lives on his own.
Turns out, increasing numbers of us are finding ourselves in the role of parent to our own parents. Some of use have nearly raised our own children, while others have never had them but find themselves caring for an aging parent, family member or friend. Surveys put the number at 70% of working adults who are caring for one, or more, aging family member.
Like all of them, I never in a million years thought this was how it would be. My parents were strong and capable people, vibrantly alive and engaged in adding something to this world. My whole life they have been a source of support and (at times unwanted) advice. When sickness came they were able to fight it off with gusto for years before disease got firm hold.
They used to be a staple of daytime TV, from 12:30 to 4:00 all three major networks had offerings — something for everyone. Mythical towns. Perfectly groomed people living fabulously dramatic lives. There were soap opera awards and fan magazines devoted to plot summaries and interviews. There were events with select cast members. There were even times when the wedding of a beloved couple would disrupt normal life. In those days before the internet and social media, that kind of attention was huge.
These days there are but four stubborn holdouts —General Hospital, Days of our Lives, The Young and the Restless and The Bold and the Beautiful – testaments to an era that has come and gone.
What’s endearing (or annoying) is that if you watched either of the remaining holdout soaps in their heyday you’d recognize the same crop of actors, the same storylines and villains, the same impossible aging, suspension of reality and astonishing lack of productivity these shows have always had. It was what we loved (and hated) about them. It was why we watched.
I must admit to being a little sad to see the soap opera fading away. I bonded with many people in bygone days about the happenings on those shows. Probably a lot like what we do today for Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead. To a whole generation soap operas were pretty important, storylines could shock or offend; but that was in the days before You Tube and gazillions of cable channels, the internet and handheld phones.
Maybe we all just got too busy living life to watch it being lived. Reality television and trash talking TV shows took hold, slowly but surely, salacious step by step they made the once edgy soap seem stale and scripted. Reality it seems is still better than any TV drama to be produced.
Isn’t that what’s behind the saying, “Truth is stranger than fiction”?
I use song titles as blog post titles a lot. It’s not laziness, but rather these few words tend to capture feelings so well. Feelings that are hard, like grief.
Twelve years ago today I lost one of the most central people in my life. My head understood she was very sick and suffering; my heart was (and is) broken in ways that can never, ever be fixed.
My aunt Helen died quietly at her home in the early evening hours of the last Friday in February, after a short battle with leukemia. There are some memories that never leave you, and the night of her passing is one of those, even a dozen years later. Sitting there in the (virtually unchanged) house of my childhood, making awkward conversation with her rat-bastard of a husband as I tried to adjust to the idea that the person who was so much a part of my memories and my life was with us no more.
We had no hint (but should have) of the storm that was to come. Ugly, needlessly cruel but ultimately pointless.
Like the Paul Simon song says, “When I think back on all the crap I leaned in high school, It’s a wonder I can think at all.”
With my last child slogging his way through high school and questioning why he needs to learn some of these things, I find myself wondering. how much of what I was taught in those days has stood the test of time?
Wow, when you start to list it out, it really was a lot of crap. The real learning didn’t start until college. I remember on the day I graduated I was sure I’d never have to study, my learning days were behind me, except they weren’t. Far from it.
I’ve learned more since I left that building than I ever did inside it.
Makes me wonder how much of what my own children were taught in those hallowed halls of high school might one day (maybe soon) be proven untrue, be labelled crap.
I expect a lot, I readily admit this, though I find the term, “high maintenance” supremely insulting. A way to put down a woman who knows what she wants and is not afraid to tell you. Luckily the man I share my life with understands my expectations (for myself as much as anyone), appreciates it (can you believe that?) and admits to benefiting from it.
Having high expectations can ruin you, if you let it. The ability to distinguish between reality and your expectation is key to keeping yourself from being disappointed. Be realistic in what you expect… perfection is great in your dreams but pretty hard to achieve in real life. Get as close as you can. Understand that things can, and do, go wrong sometimes and that’s okay. Greatness can still be possible too, just not the greatness you expected.
Admit to it or not, we all do it. Gossip that is.
Maybe it’s to distract ourselves from our own troubles. Maybe it’s to remind ourselves that we are not alone in facing the travails of life. Maybe the fact that gossip is frowned upon makes it that much more alluring — who doesn’t like to be privy to special knowledge about other people?
Just think about how Hollywood thrives on gossip. Science, as you might expect, is studying gossip — using it as a way to understand what’s normal for a particular culture, to encourage cooperation and build bonds (unless you’re the subject of the gossip, of course). They suggest gossip as a way of learning — which comes into play when you’re new on the job and need to learn the lay of the land. Fast.