i’m sure this story is one of many shared by those who have experienced a role reversal between themselves and a parent. when it happens, it can be a solemn feeling accompanied by silent rushes of anxiety and speculation. once the heavy sighs and feelings of uncertainty pass, the reality of taking on such obligations becomes the first order of business. however, that can only happen when the elder opens the door to such offerings. sometimes that door is jammed shut and takes time to pry open, even out of necessity. generally, a parent creates a safe environment for a child, instilling self-awareness, promoting independence, encouraging development, and being an advocate in the passage from childhood to self-reliant adult. when parents are unable to be self-reliant themselves, temporary or not, it is a hit to their psyche. their independence is threatened. their idiosyncratic methods of doing things are unwillingly revealed. doubt and fear can consume their thoughts. encouraging them to see beyond their darkness can be a challenge.
my mother has relished in her independence for as long as i’ve known her. at 78 years old, she plays an invaluable role in her job, giving her a sense of importance. she has always played that role in my life. she has always wanted to leave bread crumbs of gold wherever she goes. she touches the lives of many, and i believe they are more enriched with her presence in their circle.
when she watched my stepfather’s otherwise illustrious independence crumble due to a series of strokes, i’m sure it resonated in her alarmingly, fearing the time when that might happen to her. she has lived alone now for a few years and still keeps her head high. but through those years, i’ve seen a chink in her armor. i’ve been watching from the sidelines, waiting, wondering when i would need to be there to pick up something that she didn’t mean to drop. wondering when she would let me.
that proverbial door remained jammed until just after her recent hip surgery a few weeks ago. a series of unplanned events and complications, including a trip to the ER, led to a premature 12-hour drive to her hospital room—a trip i had planned in a few weeks to transition her from the rehabilitation center, on the hospital’s campus, to her home. for years she and i have successfully made plans to handle affairs, yet some items tabled on her end since the idea of relinquishing all of her privacy has been something she’d rather postpone. after my stepfather’s death in 2007, mom and i decided that i would become her health care power of attorney. i would be responsible for decisions concerning her care, which had proven useful during my visit.
that week i had accomplished more than i ever thought i was capable of. i became a cosigner on her bank accounts (one of the tabled items) which allowed me to pay the bills that were almost overdue; i spoke to her health care team about things i never thought i’d speak of; i held her hand during the painful trip to the doctor’s office to remove her stitches; i gritted my teeth with her as i watched her take a few steps in physical therapy; i checked off items on the menu that i thought she could keep down; i made the two-hour roundtrip drive daily from her home to the center to provide her with the clean clothes and magazines she had requested; and i helped her morale, diving deep into her darkness i found that waning spirit and brought it closer to the surface. most of all, i instilled a trust in her that has always been difficult to earn, that she could open her door to me during this difficult recovery period. i snicker that i’ve inherited her perfectionism trait, the one that second-guesses others, wondering if they’ve performed tasks to her stringent standards.
“yes, mom, i put stamps on the bills before i mailed them.”