I visited my Mother this week. She is 87 and not well. A lifetime of smoking has caught up with her and she is fighting emphysema every day. For the first time in a while, I came face to face with the reality that she is dying. Her comment to me is that “I don’t mind dying but don’t like dying this way”. These thoughts aren’t about not smoking, although as an ex-smoker, it is remarkable how that addiction can warp our judgment. My mother continues smoking to this day—now protesting that it is ‘too late’ and she is probably right.
I have appreciated intellectually for a long time that some day, maybe sooner than later, that my parents will die. Yet, not until this week have I ‘felt’ the impact of that inevitability. I connected with my mother’s suffering in a way that allowed me to see the incredible dignity and strength with which she is enduring each day.
I am sad for her and annoyed with myself for having been impatient with her on my last few visits as she has grown more dependent, stubborn and ‘cantankerous’. I am ashamed with myself for having been intolerant of her frailty and angry at her unwillingness to take her health more seriously in the past. Mostly I was dealing with my own discomfort, lack of compassion and intolerance of myself.
But today I have not only compassion for her struggle, but am present to the beautiful and loving human being she is. It is a feeling of relating to her ‘humanness’ in a way I haven’t for the past few years. I know she forgives me, and I doubt that she even blamed me for being so judgmental in the first place. Most of all, I am learning to have compassion for myself and my own doubts about the future—even as I am engaged in creating my future not being about inevitable decline and loss.
As we read about others or experience the aging of our own parents, most of us are also seeing our own fears of the future. I can see why it is so important that we realize we have a choice about the context in which we age and that each of us has the ability to create our experience and our future regardless of our age or the state of our bodies. My father is very strong, healthy and continues to care for mother. In many ways, he is a model of successful aging. Duty, integrity and love have been his touchstones for as long as I can remember. I know he would choose a different lifestyle and place to live but for her comfort and insistence in staying in sunny Arizona. I pray that he will continue to be healthy and self-sufficient and happy until his last day. In my heart, I know he will.
I love you Mother.