Yesterday, I shared about finding out my brother’s cat, Archie had passed away. What I didn’t mention, was that my Mum’s in hospital with acute back pain. Although we initially joked about it being like a holiday with a room to herself and meals arriving like magic, the reality is different. Even with a brilliant imagination, you can’t keep pretend that you’re lying by the pool when you’re in agony, in hospital and you don’t know why or how it happened. One day, you were you and the next day, your back seizes up and you’re in excruciating pain and you’ve become someone else. What happened?
Except for me, these questions are being asked in the third person. What’s happened to Mum?
If you asked me to describe my Mum, I’d tell you that she loves the beach and looks great in a bikini. Because when I immediately picture my Mum as my Mum, she must be about 30 and she’s wearing a bikini and she’s full of beans. She’s playing tennis, swimming at the beach and driving us all over the countryside to piano, violin, ballet and she’s nowhere near a hospital. Indeed, even my grandmother running round the shops needing some kind of harness to keep her under control. She was getting around with the same speed as my toddler son whose now 13 and attached to electronics most of the time these days and now much, much easier to catch.
I’ve shared about this weird sensation about time before. That just because we’ve aged, it doesn’t mean that our idea of who were are or those close to us, has aged along with the physical body. I know for me there’s definitely a huge disparity and I remember my grandmother telling me that she didn’t recognise the old lady staring back at her. That was someone else and her true reflection was simply hiding somewhere behind the glass.
I haven’t been prepared for Mum to grow old.
Mum has been our rock through my health crises taking in the kids for 7 weeks when I was first diagnosed with dermatomyositis. She had two traumatized, very active kids and it was very intense for Mum, Dad and my brother.Yet, they were there. They were my strength when I clearly had none…physically or emotionally.
So, it’s hard to come around to the idea that Mum, indeed my parents, are drifting into the elderly category. Where it won’t be Mum taking me or the kids shopping, and we could well be taking her. That instead of her visiting me in hospital, it’s us visiting her. As much as I’m glad to be well away from hospital these days, that doesn’t give her permission to sign up. Moreover, it definitely doesn’t give The Patron Saint of Hospital Admissions permission to come after her. It can well and truly leave all of us alone thank you very much!!
I guess what I wanted to write about and tap into is this sense of unfolding grief we often experience these days when older family members and friends have protracted medical treatments. We watch their strength, personality and even memory get chipped away, chipped away ever so slowly and you and they both know that they’re not how they used to be, and yet they’re still here. Indeed, I had two grandparents live with long term Alzheimers and by the time they died, I had almost run out of tears. My grief had been used up along the way.
That’s because there is grief along this journey, even though there’s also that gratitude and relief that they’re still here.
So, now while I’m feeling rotten about Mum being in hospital and knowing how much pain she’s experiencing, I still feel in a sense that I have no right to grieve. She’s not dying. She’s “fine” only she’s actually along way from being fine and we have no crystal ball about what this means. My son still expected Mama to pick him up from school this afternoon. After all, that’s what Mama does and has been doing on Wednesdays ever since he’s been born almost 13 years ago. She’s been here…an hour’s drive away hail, rain or shine because she loves us. Moreover, given my health problems and uncertainty over the years, she has been their rock. The net that catches my kids when everything’s falling apart and there’s no ground to land on. She hasn’t been there only support but she’s definitely been there.
I had to remind him that Mama is in hospital.
Mum and I didn’t get on for many years and we’re very different people. Being an extreme extrovert, she often tried to reign me in…something I didn’t understand until I was doing the same with our very extroverted son. Obviously, nobody explains all of this to you when you’re a kid. Yet, the yin and yang between introverts and extroverts is something I need to understand with family. After all, opposites attract and it’s understandable that there’d be a mix throughout the family. Having that understanding has been critical for better relations.
So, even though Mum doesn’t let me write about her, I needed to share my anguish, my gratitude that she’s not worse and to provide a space for you to share these complex and challenging emotions. I am very lucky to be 47 and to have both my parents alive but I also can’t imagine a world without them in it. They’ve been here forever just like the air I breathe in and out.
Not that I need to think about that now but at the same time, I feel the need to acknowledge this partial grief and concern for my mother being in so much pain. It’s very hard to think about her suffering, but being there for her, means embracing it head on and being her daughter…not a coward.
I would like to open up the comments section for people to share their feelings and reflections about parents getting old, losing a parent and please link to your posts. I am thinking of you and send you my love and prayers!
PS Despite the seriousness of Mum’s situation, there’s still opportunity for humour. When we told our son that Mama was going for a bone density scan, he asked if she was getting carbon dated. Well, at least I was laughing!