The cycle of life is at once miraculous and cruel.
It launches us into the world, small, fragile and soft, until we grow and harden, and then boomerangs us back toward infancy, where, in our last days, we are again bathed, fed and tended gently.
As parents, we tolerate adolescent rebellion because we know it's a necessary stage toward responsibility. It's our job to teach kids how to handle the forthcoming freedoms in their lives, from taking off the training wheels to taking the wheel of a car. We put limitations on those freedoms -- no, you can't wear that out of the house; no, you can't drive at night; no, you can't go into the city alone -- as a way of instilling good judgment in our kids.
But what about parental rebellion? Caregiving for your parents involves taking away freedoms they've had, not preparing them for new ones. The constraints may be similar but the context has shifted. The emotional landscape may seem familiar but it is distorted.
(Mom, about age 3, circa 1929)
I just finished the first interview with the director of a home care service. As I've told Mom (and myself), I am doing this for her own good. I am doing this so she can live an easier life, and I can live an inch or two removed from the ledge hovering over the abyss that swallows many grown children caring for elderly parents. I want what she wants for herself: to stay in her own home for as long as possible.
I'm doing this because I am about to take away the keys to my mother's car and, with them, a large degree of her independence. It is an acknowledgement to both of us of the new reality: she is becoming someone who needs more assistance than I can provide.
As a daughter, this hurts. I want to be more for her. I want to be the one that keeps her safe, makes sure she eats properly, provides her with social interaction, ensures that the care she receives is tender and compassionate. It took me some time to comprehend that, lurking within those desires, is ultimately the fear of losing her.
Understanding the shape of that fear is, I think, my section of the path we are walking down together (even if I walk too fast or she walks too slow -- we haven't ever come to accord on that).
A wise friend once told me that we can act only from two places -- out of love or out of fear. Underlying anger, impatience, stress, even depression, is fear. It's human nature to not want to sit in a place of discomfort. But this time, right now, I have no avenue to leave. It is not only unacceptable, as a matter of honor, it's impossible as a matter of practicality.
If nothing is random, then I have to believe there is a deeper meaning in this. In A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis wrote: "Faith is not faith until it is tested." And I am a person of faith.
So, what if this situation is a cosmic opportunity that is good, even if it is difficult?
If the only road out of fear is the one that challenges me to love her even more, to push beyond the limits that fear imposes and accept the unavoidable loss of her, then this experience of caring for her could be her greatest gift to me.
The little mother manual that is secretly implanted into a woman's brain when she has a child, the one that holds all of the aphorisms we hear growing up -- Lay down with dogs, you get up with fleas and If I've told you once, I've told you 100 times and Just because everybody's mother lets them doesn't mean it's right -- can never be erased. Not by aging, by separation or by the inevitable role reversal.
Because she loves me, she's doing this for my own good.
(c) 2010 MOC.