I’m sitting in my mom’s hospital room as she sleeps, waiting for time to pass and the doctor to make her rounds.
The phone call came as we were preparing to work the bees yesterday, to reorganize two hives and start to feed for winter.
“Kym?” Mom’s voice was strained. “I fell. They think I broke my hip.”
Sometimes plans change as quickly as that.
Mom, as I’ve mentioned, is old, having turned 92 in August, and she’s had some health issues in the last fifteen years — a broken arm at 80, a crushed elbow plus surgery for vulvar cancer in the years following, and several hospital stays for pneumonia. She has a-fib and congestive heart failure, wears hearing aids (when she remembers), glasses, and dentures. Both knees have been replaced, and cataracts removed from both eyes. Recently, she had laser procedure to remove scar tissue left by the cataracts, and the doctor said her eyes have reached the middle stages of macular degeneration. Her kidneys don’t work so well either.
Also, in the last two years, she’s begun to lose her short-term memory, which means she sometimes calls multiple times to check in when we’ve spoken just hours (sometimes minutes) before and repeat the same questions in a conversation.
At least it’s not dementia, for which I am profoundly grateful.
Despite all this, she gets up every day and dresses (most days), reads her library books, and strolls the halls of her nursing home with her walker looking for trouble.
The staff love her because she is feisty, and many say they want to be her when they grow up.
In short, she is — and she would tell you this herself — a tough old broad. But she will also tell you getting old is not for sissies.
Being the daughter of a tough old broad is also not for sissies. I am becoming a tough old broad by default as we face these unwanted developments together.
Each time a health crisis springs up, I mentally prepare myself for the possibility that this one might be that finally pushes her body past its capability to survive.
I know it will happen, just as I know no matter how hard I try, I will never be prepared for the loss that is surely, surely coming my way.
And yet, each time so far, this resilient, tough old lady has managed to recover.
Still, every bout with illness, every fall, and every injury leaves her just a little below her previous level of wellness.
It’s like that expression (and gosh, I’m just full of quotes today, aren’t I?), “Fall down seven times, get up eight,” except I know someday — no matter how tough and resilient she is — someday, my mother’s body won’t be able to get back up.
I know genetics have a lot to do with her longevity. Her mother lived to 86, her father to 84, and many of her aunts and uncles died in the eighties and nineties.
But she’s one of seven siblings. Five are now gone, and two of them were younger than Mom.
So, it’s not just genetics.
If you ask me — and I know you didn’t, but this is my blog so I’m telling you anyway — I believe Mom has survived partly because of her resilience. The ability to roll with the punches, without worrying overmuch about the future has surely been a factor.
I don’t mean she’s spent her life not thinking ahead, or that she was impetuous and foolhardy (although leaving my father after 27 years of marriage sould imply a certain level of impetuousness).
But Mom’s always seemed to trust things would work out okay, while at the same time not hinging her future happiness on any one set of expectations.
Here’s what I mean: When I was younger (so much younger than today), I would get super excited about future events, thinking, “When that day gets here, I’m going to be so happy.”
Of course, that day would come and go, and although I might have enjoyed it, my life remained basically the same … a normal ordinary life.
Eventually, I came to understand John Lennon (and/or whoever may have said it before him) was right. Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.
Sometimes those happenings are wonderful — an unexpectedly fun time with friends, the sight of a beautiful sunset, an opportunity you never thought you’d have.
And sometimes, they are not wonderful — finding a lump in your breast, falling and breaking a hip, losing a loved one.
It follows that happiness also happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.
If we are very lucky and/or particularly insightful, we’ll recognize this contentment/happiness as it’s happening in our normal every day life. If we aren’t so lucky and/or insightful, we may realize it later, which will hopefully help us to learn to notice — and be grateful — when we are in a life phase where things are uneventul, unexciting, just, well … normal.
There’s a meditation that goes:
“A normal day! Holding it in my hand this one last moment, I have come to see it as more than an ordinary rock, it is a gem, a jewel. In time of war, in peril of death, people have dug their hands and faces into the earth and remembered this. In time of sickness and pain, people have buried their faces in pillows and wept for this. In time of loneliness and separation, people have stretched themselves taut and waited for this. In time of hunger, homelessness, and wants, people have raised bony hands to the skies and stayed alive for this.
Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are. Let me learn from you, love you, savor you, bless you before you depart. Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow. Let me hold you while I may, for it will not always be so. One day I shall dig my nails into the earth or bury my face in the pillow, or stretch myself taut, or raise my hands to the sky, and want more than all the world your return. And then I will know what now I am guessing: that you are, indeed, a common rock and not a jewel, but that a common rock made of the very mass substance of the earth in all its strength and plenty puts a gem to shame.”
It is normal days that are the true treasures of our lives. We would be better served to recognize that fact instead than searching for happiness in future events that may or may not live up to our hopes, events that may or may not even happen.
How much better it would be if we could keep in mind that none of us know how many long those normal days will last. (For that matter, none of us have any idea how many days we have left, normal or not.)
A long time ago, I read a poem comparing the cycle of ocean waves to the cycles of life. I wish I could find it again because there was a phrase that’s stuck with me, something about “When nothing is happening, something is building up to happen.”
I have found this to be true. When things are at their most normal, and we are settling into a routine — perhaps even growing a little complacent — currents are growing. Hidden and beneath the surface, they will eventually reach the shores of our lives, and no one can know how much they will wash away.
I won’t say I don’t sometimes get caught up in planning for the future — I’m a control freak, after all! Nor do I claim to be a particularly evolved human being. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you already know this because not only am I controlling, I’m also selfish, judgmental, and sometimes inflexible, occasionally unfocused, and yes, even neurotic.
But I have at least learned to not tie my happiness/contentment/self-worth to outside events and other people, and to understand that sometimes life just doesn’t go as planned. Sometimes things happen, and there’s not a damned thing you can do about it. “What’s for you won’t pass by you,” “Que, sera’, sera,'”, and all that.
I learned from my mom. 🙂
Actually, life taught me, and I count myself lucky it did.
I’ll end with another quote, this one familiar to many, and the words are worth pondering, no matter what your faith.
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”