Saturday, December 29, 2007
I can't think of a title for this post because they all sound like my mom's dying, but she's not (e.g. "Saying goodbye to mom," "Letting mom go home")
My mother left today to go back home to her retirement community. She's 82 years old, and doing remarkably well: she walked across Paris with me during the transport strike; she's talking about going to Istanbul with the elderly pack of "teenagers" she runs around with; she reads, goes to plays, symphonies, the opera. But there are also small signs that tell me she's no longer precisely who she was - mainly that she is more easily confused and dithering. Also, when she's in new situations she's uncertain,nervous, and dependent. My mother, who, by stubbornness and will, got the hell out of the stultifying debutante South and lived all over Asia; who, during my childhood, dealt calmly with snakes in the bathroom, coup d'etats behind our house, rioters destroying our possessions; who, when she and my father moved to Beijing right after Nixon established relations, worked in a Chinese factory as part of her language studies. It's very hard for me to see this woman even momentarily lost and confused. it whispers to me of decline, death.
Before my father died two-and-a-half years ago, I didn't truly believe that my parents would ever die. I mean, I knew it, in the way you know the sun will someday go cold; it would happen, but in a great distant future that had no real relevance to me. Which was, of course, especially stupid because my father had Parkinson's - an incurable degenerative disease- for fourteen years before he died. But, somehow, my fairy tale mind held on to a happy ending. So it shook me hard when he went into a sudden, steep decline and died.
Well, now I know better, and every moment with my mother feels incredibly precious. But, simultaneously, she's still just my mom - who gets on my nerves, whose nerves I get on. Nobody can push my buttons more than she can, and I expect I can do some extreme button buzzing myself. She loves me, loves my kids, and after a visit, loves to go back to her calm, orderly retirement community four hours away. I understand it. And yet it bugs the shit out of me because I want to have every minute of her that is left. But, of course, she just wants to be herself, and I have to let her, don't I? Even if she's 82, fragile and dithery, I have to let her focus on living. And I have to try to not focus on her, someday, dying. But every small goodbye, now - even, "Bye. Call me when you get home so I'll know you made it safely." - reminds me of the big goodbye and makes it hard, makes me sad, to let her go.