The other day a young friend of mine posted something on Facebook about being thankful she can always call her mom with random cooking questions, and it got me thinking…
For most of my life my mom was the first person I called with any problem, whether I needed help solving it or just a shoulder to cry on. The exception to that rule is that I always called my dad, who was an anesthesiologist until he retired in the late 1980s, with medical questions. But anything else, I called Mom.
When my beloved husband took his own life, three years ago this month, Mom was the first person I called from the hospital. She flew in two days later to stay with me, and it was during that visit that I first began to realize that I couldn’t lean on her the way I always had before. She had difficulty climbing the stairs to my second floor apartment, needed help getting in and out of the car, and she got confused over what I thought were simple things. I ended up taking care of her more than she took care of me. Still her presence, her simple “Momness” was comforting.
In August 2011 I had major surgery and again asked my mom for help. She stayed with me for two weeks, ostensibly to do all the things I was physically unable to do for myself – but I was afraid to let her drive my car in LA traffic, so my friends had to run all the errands for me, and she couldn’t lift much more than I could. It was a challenge to lie on the couch giving her detailed instructions about how to do simple things like make us sandwiches for lunch instead of jumping up to do it myself. It was even harder to watch her struggling with a heavy trash bag and not be able to help. I wondered several times if I’d been wrong to ask her to help me, but I was scared of going through recovery alone and I wanted my mommy.
That was the last time I asked my mom for help or advice. Our roles have reversed and now it’s my job to help her. I manage her finances, make sure she’s getting the right medical care, help her navigate the myriad things that now confuse and befuddle her. I get a good deal of satisfaction from taking care of her, but sometimes I miss the Mom who took care of me.
My dad passed away in December 2007. I was still calling him with medical questions up to a couple of weeks before he died. More than five years later, I still want to call him every time I’m sick and it still makes me sad that I can’t.
What I realized when I read my young friend’s post is that I’ve already lost the Mom of my younger years, the one who taught me how to poach eggs in the microwave and balance a checkbook, the one I leaned on in times of crisis. Maybe it’s easier to lose a parent in stages over a period of years, to grieve each small loss as it comes. Then again, maybe not.