Yesterday, I saw a friend from the health food store. We had a conversation about mothers, hers and mine. Her grandmother died in December at age 99. Her mother will be 70 this year and she’s spent the last bunch of years in stewardship of my friend’s grandmother. Now that the grandmother has died, my friend’s mother spends her time isolated, in winter desolation, on Cape Cod. We share the experience of finding ourselves in a quicksand of conflicted emotion regarding our mothers.
She feels guilty because she is impatient with her mother’s new fears and insecurities. The fears and insecurities are not new, they’ve appeared gradually over time. Now that her grandmother has died, her mother is not duty bound to remain strong. It is a hard transition. My mother was always my true north. As long as she lived, she was my compass through life. She was the measure of my tenacity. In the last decade or so of her life, I did not share my worries with her. She deserved a respite from my concerns. Instead, I told her hilarious tales of my diabolical plans to persevere in spite of the bastards. The bastards come in all shapes and sizes. My mother taught me that resiliency is success.
Cape Cod, where my friend’s mother lives, is farther from here than my mother’s house was but both mothers’ homes are in coastal communities where the sidewalks roll up after Columbus Day. As millions of aging offspring can attest, it is nearly impossible to assume a diplomatic role reversal. It was my esteemed, opinion that Mum would benefit from winters spent in the community where I live, in close proximity to ME, so we could visit and I could make sure she was happy and comfortable. I tried for several seasons to convince her to close her house for the winter and to take an off-season rental here. I did not badger but I made the suggestion often. We couldn’t have lived together; I am willful (uninformed people may say stubborn) and that trait can be attributed to a direct line of descent. After Mum died, her friends told me that she was making plans to come. I wish she had lasted that long.
My friend can’t reconcile her feelings and she’s having a hard job forgiving herself for them. The last time I saw my mother was the only time she was here on Hippy Hill. Parts of that visit were wonderful and parts were not so much. She happily counted all of the lady slippers at the edge of the drive, there were 27. She survived a visit from my brother Joe when she was relieved to have my protection from his relentless, addiction-fueled, extortion. She told me not to pick up where she left off with Joe. I didn’t. I was impatient with her the morning that she left. I couldn’t wait for her to go so I could get back to work. I know she knew that.
The fact that I loved my mother, or that I called her every day, sometimes 2 or 3 times a day, or that I worried so much about her that one day, a couple of months after she died, I felt levity as I crossed the street in the summer sun, which made me wonder where the sudden surge of freedom came from, until it dawned on me that I wasn’t worried about Mum anymore, doesn’t negate the fact that the very last time I was with her, while she lived, I couldn’t wait for her to go.
I wasted part of my turn and that part of the turn is over. Yesterday, I told my friend the story in more detail than I’ve told it to you. My friend is a mindful, wonderful person. The conflict and impatience she feels is normal. I hope that she will make good use of this part of her turn.