Thursday, January 1, 2009

More Bittersweet

Over Christmas, we visited with my family, a couple states away. The situation with my mother’s health meant that even my youngest brother and his wife, who live a couple thousand miles away, came; I hadn’t seen that sister-in-law since their wedding.

Mom couldn’t be with us, which was sad. But we went to see her at the nursing home. Molly and I had seen her this past summer, and she had declined considerably since then. My kids hadn’t seen her in even that ‘intermediate stage’ of her decline, and so it was quite shocking for them to see her. It was quite an emotionally trying thing for a couple of them, and also my youngest brother, who had to step out of the room to regain their composure. Pretty rough stuff.

Later on, my siblings, and Dad and I, had a Family Meeting to discuss Mom’s care regime, and Do-Not-Resuscitate orders, and all that happy stuff. Life has certainly gotten ‘interesting’.

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As the meeting wound down, the seven of us siblings turned to reminiscing about Mom and the impact she’s had on our lives. And I said that, when I was in the room with her, all I could think of to say was “Thank you.” That she had come into my life to be a mother to me when my ‘first mother’ had gone away. And then my sister (my step-sister, from Mom’s first marriage) said an amazing thing, that hadn’t occurred to me before.

She was talking about their life after Mom’s divorce, and how their Grandma (Mom’s mother, who became my grandmother in the fullness of time) virtually took them in, and was their ‘surrogate mother’, because their mom had to work to support them, and wasn’t very present in their lives. Then she pointed to Dad; “until he married her. Then we got our mom back.”

And that just floored me. I was well aware of the impact of their marriage on my own life, and how relieved I’d been to have a mom again. But I’d never really ‘lost’ my Dad. For my step-sibs, though, Mom and Dad’s marriage got them TWO parents – it got them a ‘new dad’, but it also got them their mom back. And that had never occurred to me. It also helped me to understand, on a deeper level, the sense of gratitude that my sisters have toward Dad.

Since my mom has been in her decline, we’ve had a couple of these conversations, in which we’ve talked more openly and deeply than we ever have. We’ve never talked terribly much about our respective lives Before Mom and Dad’s Marriage – it just didn’t seem to be relevant to the life we had together – so this was a pretty significant topic of conversation.

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It’s hard to process all my thoughts on this situation. The prospect of losing my mom is terribly sad, and it seems clear that that will likely happen sooner rather than later. But, it is also bringing us siblings closer together in the process.

On another level, it’s just the next stage of our lives, and one that I can count myself fortunate to have not gotten to until my early 50s. We had our own growing up and young adulthood; college; getting a job; getting married and having kids, etc, etc. And now, our age-peers’ kids are getting married and having kids of their own.

And our parents are dying. It doesn’t make it any easier to live through my own parents’ decline and eventual death, but it does help to understand that this is something that happens in everyone's life, and isn't just a special 'insult' from the Universe, directed at me. . .

10 comments:

for a different kind of girl said...

I hope I'm a long way away from these kinds of situations, but I do know that's a rather naive way of thinking. A few years ago, my Mom and aunt took my Grandma to the hospital with what they thought was a simple issue and she passed away a few days later, so you just, perhaps, reach a point in life where you somewhat steel yourself for the transitions.

What I dread is the aspect of dealing with this as a parent and having to help my kids understand what's going on. Even though they are old enough to know of death and know family members who have passed, it will no doubt be a ten-fold impact when it's a grandparent. My FIL was not super healthy at Christmas (though perhaps not as serious as it appeared at the time), but I could see the concern on my oldest son's face every time his Grandpa would cough.

Sailor said...

It is a progression that we all face, I'm glad for you that you have the chance to appreciate the time with your siblings, and the appreciation you show for your mom and family is great. We dealt with my father-in-law, mother-in-law, and my mom, and it's always sad. I do count myself lucky though, that my brothers and sister and I got the chance to be with mom, and have similar talks to yours.

Sending you and your family hugs, and my prayers for you.

lime said...

i am sad with you over the situation with your mother but what a gift that it has led to such a conversation with your sister. also, i'm sure you well know such times of stress do not always have a uniting effect on a family. i am glad to know, that as difficult as it is to face such a season of life, that it seems to be drawing you all closer. i'm glad for the gift of a full family and supportive relationships therein. my prayers continue through this particular chapter though.

Xavier said...

I can understand completely, my own mother's decline has brought my older brother and I far closer than we have ever been. It was an interesting experience for us the day after Christmas when Mom, brother, and I discussed resuscitation and incarceration (Mom's term for nursing home) issues over a 'traditional' dinner of ...... spaghetti and venison sausage. :-)

Time comes, times goes and we alone choose by our actions whether we age gracefully or bitterly. Sounds to me like it will be gracefully for you! Good choice.

Cocotte said...

You are so right - it is indeed a blessing to have had your parents for so long. But it sure doesn't make any of this any easier.

You will be in my prayers this new year.

FTN said...

Sorry to hear that, I imagine that made for more of a bittersweet Christmas than usual. And whenever the time comes that she does pass away, that year's Christmas will no doubt be even more bittersweet. It seems to be that way for anyone I know who has had someone close to them die -- Christmastime is when it really hits home.

Death is one of those things that seems awful at 80 or at 10, whether it be from cancer or a car accident or miscarriage. And yet as you said so well in your last paragraph, it happens to everyone, and isn't a special "insult from the Universe." Yet of course that doesn't ever seem to make it easy or less painful.

Desmond Jones said...

faDKoG - You know, the ones of my kids who got the most emotional were a couple of the older boys, not the little ones. I don't know that that's significant of anything; maybe they've known her long enough to have more of a sense of who she really was. . .

Sailor - The relationships really are the thing. I used to worry, just a bit, that once our parents were gone, my sibs and I wouldn't stay in touch, but I think we'll be fine. . .

And thanks for your prayers. . .

Lime - Yeah, I've seen families come unraveled over their parents' deaths. Which makes it all the more gratifying that we seem to be pulling together. You know, I know I love my brothers and sisters; it's nice to know how they feel, too. . .

And thank you for your prayers, also.

Xavier - So, we share some space over this? I'll pray for you, too. . .

Cocotte - And I count myself all the more fortunate, when I think of my friends/family whose parents died before they were even fully-grown. . .

And thank you for your prayers. . .

FTN - Yeah, it was a different kind of Christmas without Mom there. And you're probably right about the one after she does pass away.

And yeah, death is 'part of life'. But Peter Kreeft, in his book Love Is Stronger Than Death (one of my absolute favorite books, btw), has some powerful things to say about how death is The Enemy, and however 'natural' it might be, it is still, on some level, an 'insult' to the kind of beings we are (ie, made in God's image), and that feeling of outrage it invokes in us is a pointer in a 'higher' direction, as is the fact that Christ came among us, and 'endured the cross, scorning its shame', in order to give us victory over death.

But, until just recently, I haven't had to think of those things as pertaining to my mom, y'know? . . .

flutterby said...

So many turns in life are unexpected, even when we know to expect them.

It is a blessing that you have the love of a wonderful wife, children and family to see you through this challenge. I imagine these things would be very hard to face alone.

Therese in Heaven said...

I am so sorry that your family is having to deal with all of this, and right around the holidays too. I do hope that in spite of this cross you all had a blessed Christmas, tinged with sadness that it was...

Desmond Jones said...

Flutter - Yeah, you're right - it's one thing to 'know it's coming', but until it happens, it doesn't affect much. I've certainly been able to see my parents getting older, but up 'til now, they've been in pretty robust good health, and so life has gone on pretty much 'as usual'. Not anymore.

And heavens, I don't even want to think about facing this alone. . .

Therese - Illness and death are notorious for their lack of consideration for our convenience. . .

Thank you, tho. . . Our Christmas was quite suitably blessed. As I hope yours was, too. . .