There comes a time when you come to the horrible, sinking realization that your parents are fallible. Even when you grow up as the kid of weird 1970s doomsday hippies, that the inevitable does eventually reach it’s logical conclusion. That all those times where your own parents said the end was coming and it never did, and you thought, we are just infallible and we will never die. That is a falsehood. And then you find yourself as a byproduct of a traumatic childhood, suddenly shouldered with the responsibility of caring for the person who told you all those times, the end was coming and it never did. That you have some choices.
In therapy I learned that the usual choice in my situation was to abandon the parent that caused so much suffering.
But I couldn’t do that.
So instead I’ve spent the past seven months on many many airplane rides and many car rentals and many many hours spent together, struggling with acceptance, that there is more math behind her than there is ahead of her. And I’m able to offer forgiveness and help her. But it’s cyclical. Sometimes I’m okay with it, the fact that death robs us all of our parents, no matter how perfect they were or weren’t and my forgiveness of my imperfect childhood. And sometimes I’m full of anger and hurt and betrayal that the one person on earth who was supposed to teach me mothering, didn’t. That the strong, invincible woman in my life that physically intimidated me and her other children, that that strength declines, erodes. And that despite all the times she wasn’t perfect, that she was breakable, human, flawed, and yet still my mother, I steadfastly don’t want her to go. I want to be locked eternally at odds with her, rebuked and sanctioned by her physical strength as the weaker one.
But no one can remain the ill-treated child forever. Even if that position feels warm and as comfortable and familiar as well worn leather.
In a way our roles have reversed and somehow I am the strong one now. And I look back at all the time over the past seven months, and all the varied things I did, searching for understanding. And acceptance. That’s a lot of history between now and then. Not as much history as between my mother and myself but a lot even so. Eventually, after many months I opted not to slide so easily back into our predefined roles. Trying to view my mother and myself with compassion. Instead of anxiety, worry and fear.
Sometimes I look at my empty hands. Sometimes I transform my empty hands with knitting. Or my phone, when I call her. When I write out her bills and go through her papers to help her maintain the lifestyle she wants. Or hold her arm as I take her to lunch and hug her. And sometimes I transform my empty hands and heart with wine. Or martial arts. Or the warm bodies of my children who I hold close, and look deeply into their eyes, searching for contentment and happiness, hoping to hold onto it for myself, greedy. In a way I want to hold onto all the good things in life that way. Clenching them with white knuckles. But that’s not the timing, pacing, and reality of the universe. So I take some deep breaths and tell myself it’s okay to let go. And sometimes, it is. Even with all that’s passed between us. I don’t have to control it or make it perfect in the eyes of others. Some days I can just accept it as it is and continue doing the best I can. Making my new mistakes and going my own way. Looking forward and looking back, and finally downward at my empty hands.