Last week I re-read ‘Shopping At BJ’s with Mom’, a humorous account of our first big box store outing, taken shortly after I moved home to care for her. It was easy for me to be lighthearted about what life with her held in store at the time. Now, only two short years later, there are no more trips to BJ’s due to her diminished capacity. If it was possible to go back to that moment, I would like an opportunity to speak quietly with the person who wished she was somewhere else.
And yet here we are. There are moments when her fiery independent spirit still rises, beaming out with the intensity of the sun. We share stories and laughter. She still blurts out pronouncements and opinions as she always has, in true ‘sergeant’ form. I try to put a positive spin on them and not take things personally. Unfortunately, the times when she is hurting, fearful, and in pain are increasing. Those are the moments when I summon the same compassion she extended me on a beautiful spring day 50 years ago.
I was terrified to have had a messy accident in my pants on a day that mom was stressed, and over the top busy with getting things done. On those days I knew enough to stay out of her way and off the radar, but I didn’t know how to take care of ‘the problem’ myself. I wandered around outside for what felt like forever weighing the options, until I figured there was no way to avoid the need for adult assistance.
Not knowing what would happen, I reluctantly approached her as she hung clothes on the line. Holding myself perfectly still, I told her what happened then stepped back to await my fate. I watched her take a breath before lowering her basket of clean laundry to the lawn. I braced myself for something horrible but instead, she took my hand in hers. I still remember the gentleness in her voice as she walked me towards the house, telling me it was ok, everyone has accidents sometimes. I still didn’t completely believe her but then she patiently, gently, and lovingly helped me take a bath. I don’t remember at what point I started breathing again, but I sure do remember how great it felt playing back in the yard again, with only the smells of grass and sunshine in my nose.
Last Sunday, she was having a bad day. On my way down the hall, I found her half-naked and crying on the chair in her room because she couldn’t dress herself. For one brief second there was an overwhelming sense of panic. Then a hint of something familiar. I took a deep breath, put the folded clothes on the bed, and walked over to where she sat. I told her in my gentlest voice she was just having a bad day, everyone is allowed to have bad days and it is ok to need help.
By the time we got mom dressed, with her hair fixed, and a little lipstick she started to rally. She went out as planned and returned tired but brighter. I got to have lunch with a great friend and came home happy as well. It was a great afternoon for us both, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that something really important had happened. Was it something about the laundry? For a couple of hours I mistakenly thought the important bit was how she is less able to care for herself without assistance. Truthfully though, that doesn’t REALLY scare me, well maybe a little, but let’s face it, it’s pretty uncomplicated work. It wasn’t until just before dinner, while watching her napping in her chair that I remembered the time in the yard.
I guess the laws of physics, and/or karma are true. Each little tiny action in every single moment really does matter and impacts everything else – HUGELY! Live kindly my friends, we never know when the compassion of the person we least expect to be needed will have to help us out of something incredibly stinky.