I have to admit that my interactions with my mother and her husband have not always been characterized as those filled with joy and abandon. Usually we deal with one real or potential crisis after another and overlaying it all has been a lot about me and my anxiety regarding their status living on their own in their condo.
They are growing more and more feeble and more and more challenged by daily tasks over the last few years. My mother’s Parkinsons, though less symptomatic due to a deep brain probe some years ago, is still progressively eating away at her capacities and quality of life. CJ, the man she married when she was 50 and who has been taking care of her these last years, is becoming more and more compromised himself. They both will be 86 this year.
Yet they are clinging on to a vestige of their former lives and selves. They are very nearly independent with some caretaking from the outside. DG comes two or three times a week to give mom a bath, physical therapy, and companionship, which gives CJ a chance to get out and do errands or just have a cup of coffee somewhere. TD comes once a week to do some light housekeeping. My sister who lives closest sees them at least once a week.
Usually our visits are filled with negotiations around caretaking (me and my siblings wanting them to accept more, they declaring they want less), discussion often weaving around the loud television and the cowboy shows they enjoy (me wanting to turn it off, they compromising by lowering the volume a bit).
But at yesterday’s visit, there was no TV, no loud cowboy shows. There was no arguing around how much caretaking they need. We were just there. Hanging. For 4 hours. Laughing. Eating. Being silly.
It’s like my mother has reached another plateau, a place where she finds her whole life rather amusing. Even those hard bits. Those places filled with grief and regret. Those places where choices were made that were not so well thought-out. Those emotional and sensitive places. Instead of still feeling anger with those long dead family members or acquaintances, she was amused at their foibles (including her own) and their shared indelicacies. Painful Aunt E stories, filled with accusation and miscommunication, had me laughing hysterically. Uncle M stories, usually embracing intrigue and wounded ego, were transformed into honest and silly anecdotes, even a bit self-deprecating.
When I remarked on her upbeat spirit and good humor, she told a story of regaling her own mother with detailed stories of driving hot and sweaty Girl Scouts to Montreal, making her own mother say, “And to think I thought this was going to be just a regular day.” She shared if she didn’t need to see so many doctors, she wouldn’t have a social life. How she loved cowboy movies because she felt in a past life she must have been a horse. And her love for anything Chinese? She must have been a Chinese horse.
She related stories of her caretakers including all of us, her kids, and could not keep herself from giggling, needing to start her stories over again and again. She sarcastically teased her husband about how “happy” he was in the morning to get up and respond to her calls which caused him to giggling so much he couldn’t get a word out.
For four hours. Beginning with pastrami sandwiches and ending with a big bowl of fruit. This sense of abundant pleasure about her life was utterly captivating, charming, delightful and a bit stunning considering the sturm und drang we are mostly used to. I think I saw for the first time in a long time, a quality of life that I had assumed was all but absent from their lives. I think I finally realized how rich and fertile their very compromised, their very slow, their very simple yet very complicated lives could be.
They are clearly living on the edge. One unforeseen event and their lives could spin totally out of control. But for now they are holding on, clinging to threads. Taking each day as it comes. Looking with amusement at all they have and have not accomplished. Until the next crisis.