Yesterday was one of those days that quite exemplify my life in general at the moment.
I woke up early, got my husband off to an morning meeting with a mug of hot coffee and some whole grain toast with strawberry jam. Then I settled into my reading chair with my own coffee cup and made decent progress on my current novel. Luckily, the dogs continued sleeping so I crept down to the basement and did 35 minutes of high-impact walking exercise (still love you, Leslie Sansone!) and then came back upstairs to find the sun shining, working valiantly to melt the last vestiges of dirty winter snow.
By then Magic and Molly were awake, so I took them outside where I lifted my face gratefully to the sunshine while they completed their morning rituals. We pottered around the house for a while - me doing some internet work to publicize today’s launch of Modern Creative Life, the new magazine I’ve been working on that went live today; the pups sniffing at the wide open windows, taking note of all the inviting spring-like aromas wafting in the open doors and windows.
About 11:30 we packed up some lunch for me, water bottles and kibble for them, and headed off to the park for a picnic and walk. Our usually quiet park was buzzing with students off school for the day (it’s Presidential Primary Election Day here in Michigan), and we were all enjoying the feeling of freedom and hope and excitement the 70 degree temps brought to this early March afternoon.
After we left the park, we drove into my old neighborhood to check in with my mom.
And that’s when things changed.
My mom’s health has taken a huge turn for the worse in the past couple of weeks. At almost 89 (her birthday is this Saturday), I feel like she has given up on living. She’s developed some pretty intense physical symptoms, she finds her basic activities of daily living simply exhausting, and she’s just plain sick and tired of all of it. She spends most of the day in bed, except for the few hours when she knows I’m going to be there. As she puts it, she is just tired of it all.
“I wish I could die,” she told me yesterday. “It’s time. I’m so tired of trying to live."
That definitely brought the clouds into an otherwise sunny day.
Ten years ago today, when I was on the cusp of my 50th birthday, and I decided to publish a blog about “life in general and my own in particular.” My first post went out into the world on March 9, 2006, my 50th birthday, and in the intervening decade I’ve written over 3000 blog posts which I parlayed into a print book which I published in 2014. So while my first blog post was largely about MY life, I feel as if this one, written as I turn 60, should be about the intersection of my mother’s life and mine.
Unlike a lot of mothers and daughters, my mom and I have always had a unusually close relationship. I’m not sure why - maybe it has something to do with the fact that she nearly died right in front of me when I was four years old. (She went into anaphylactic shock after taking penicillin.) But I have always felt a very deep seated sense of personal responsibility for her well-being and happiness. From the time I was in fourth grade until I graduated high school, I had panic attacks whenever she left home. I was convinced she was dying whenever she so much as sneezed. And when my dad walked out on her after 42 years of marriage, I felt the deceit and rejection just as keenly as she did, and held onto my anger and pain for a lot longer than necessary (or normal).
We are deeply intertwined, she and I, and so this transition, this painful time for her is hitting me very hard. I understand her feelings, and I honor her wishes about the way she wants to handle this, but I - here on the cusp of this new decade - am devastated.
Going forward into these latter years of my own life - for I accept that I am more “older aged” than “middle aged” - I know my life and happiness depends on the lessons I learned from my mother. Because even though she has often said she “wanted more” for my life that what she had for hers, something told me that I didn't really want to be more than my mother. In fact, it turns out that what my mother had and did and made of her life is really exactly what I wanted and needed to make of mine. I wanted a family to love - a husband, children, grandchildren, and animals to care for and nurture. A home to make clean and warm and cozy and safe - a sanctuary for myself and the people I loved to enjoy. Friends to laugh with over lunch, rejoice with over coffee, and sympathize with over wine. The satisfactions of music and writing - those were an added bonus.
My mother put the majority of her energy into creating a life that was nurturing, loving, warm, and supportive for her family. At the end of the day, I think that’s a great accomplishment. I hope I’ve been able to do that at least half as well as she did. If I have, that that will be my greatest achievement, and at age 60, I don’t apologize for that one bit.
I can’t see into the future, and I’m not an oracle, but given what I know about life in general, I believe that my 60th birthday will be the last one I spend with my mother on this earth. Today will probably be the last time I hear her tell the story about how windy it was on March 9, 1956, how the big picture windows on the 3rd floor Maternity Wing of Oakwood Hospital in Dearborn shook and rattled as if they were going to blow out and shatter into a million pieces. How she went into labor on March 9 instead of March 12 (her due date and her own birthday) because her doctor warned her he was going out of town on the 12th and she “better hurry up and have that baby.” How my dad left the hospital to go have the oil changed in his 1956 Chrysler sedan and completely missed my birth. (“But they told me it would be hours before before the baby was born!” he always complained.)
My mother’s greatest legacy, whenever she leaves this earth and wherever her spirit dwells afterwards, is ME, and the lessons I learned from her example. Love, sacrifice, compassion, understanding, support, and care. “Teach your children well,” the song goes. She taught me SO well. For the past 60 years, I’ve done my best to be a good student and a good steward to the gifts she gave so freely. They were my birthday present on that windy March day 60 years ago, and I will carry them with me until my last breath.
That’s real life, people. I feel grateful beyond measure to have lived mine with her.