What Really Matters

This week we nearly lost my mother. Long story short, she (82) and my dad (89) were enjoying the last week of their summer vacation in Maine when she was suddenly seized with terrible stomach pain. Nothing helped her feel better, and Dad took her to the hospital. It turned out that she had a bowel obstruction and she was severely dehydrated. After a relatively simple surgery, she is now mending well and is back to her wonderful and amazing self. My dad, the Crankee Yankee (my husband) and I have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and love from her friends and our friends. She should be going home soon.

My dad and I have spent every day at the hospital visiting her; this has been the sum and total of our lives since last weekend. I found that I could not keep a coherent thought in my head, I couldn’t work (I work part time on site and remote), I couldn’t exercise, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t do anything but numbly go day by day, existing on those daily visits. I have depended on the Crankee Yankee for just about everything, except that I can still manage to feed the cats. My friends have emailed me daily, and I have literally felt held up and held together by them.

I realize all too well that my parents can die at any time, and even though I am 63 years old, I find I can’t wrap my mind around what life will be without them. I have lived on my own for a long, long time, and my second marriage (to the Crankee Yankee for over 12 years) is a joy and a blessing. But events like this make me realize that, as old as we are, we are still children in our hearts when it comes to the thought of losing our parents.

Sad news for us also this week–one of my oldest and dearest friends lost her younger brother to cancer. This was a vibrant, interesting, intelligent, well-read and well-traveled man. When we were all growing up in our small town, he was part of the fabric of my life; one of my friend’s three brothers. He was the bane of her existence when they were all living under the same roof–teasing her unmercifully and doing the usual aggravating things brothers do to their sisters. But as the years went by, they found that they had similar interests, enjoyed talking about books and movies and become very close. They discovered a new relationship between them that flowered as they got older. This wonderful man was a presence in all our lives, and he will be sorely missed but never forgotten.

When we live through these times that surely come to us all, we can’t help but think of our own existence. We wonder how long we will live? What new experiences will we have? What new interests will we develop? What new friends will we make, and how long will we have our old friends in our lives? It is both terrifying and exhilarating to know that, no matter what, our lives will change. We humans aren’t always big fans of change; it is usually always uncomfortable at first. During that time it’s hard to believe that at some point we will actually become comfortable with that change–but as we all know, change will come whether we like it or not.

This week while watching my mother like a hawk, I realized that some part of me refuses to grow up. At age 63 I still think, ‘who will take care of me? Who will I call when I read a new book and want to talk about it? Who will listen to my stupid jokes?’ But most of all, I think, who will I be without my parents? (Even now, I am still selfishly making this all about me.) Our parents, our siblings and our friends help define who we are. This is partly why it tears us up when they leave our lives–not only do we grieve for them, we also grieve for the hole left in our lives that no one but that precious person can fill. We are always aware on some level that time is passing. These family members and friends we love so dearly will eventually be gone from us, as we will be from them.

I often think of the line from Andrew Marvel’s poem, “To His Coy Mistress:”

“But at my back I always hear
Time’s winged chariot hurrying near;”

So how do we deal with the upcoming changes? We deal with it by realizing those things that really matter: spending good time with the people we love–listening fully, being fully present while we are together–and trying not to wait impatiently for them to finish talking so that we can talk. It’s the difference between inhaling a cheap hot dog in a crowd at the fair and sitting down to a beautiful meal with linen napkins and a great bottle of wine. The times spent together make memories we can enjoy long after that person leaves our lives.

May we always listen well, feel deeply, laugh long and loud, give of ourselves and gladly take in the pure joy of family and friends.

 

 

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