I’ve been spending a lot of time talking to my mom. I know many of us have been reaching out to our parents (and exhorting them to stay home!) and worrying about their well-being.
Mom has lived alone for 20 years, since my dad died (I’ve written about this on my other blog here.) She’s in Hawaii, and I was just there moving her out of the house in which I grew up and into a condo that would be easier for her to maintain. She’s 76, vibrant, engaged, and healthy, but as she’s a non-native English speaker who has only a perfunctory mastery of the language (and you really can get away with speaking only Japanese in Hawaii) I’ve been handling most of her affairs for decades.
It’s hard being apart from family in times when you want to circle the wagons, be together, protect each other. As someone who has spent most of their life away from family, it’s somehow doubly so. Compound that with the fact that I’ve felt like the caregiver for most of my adult life…well, you can imagine those feelings are complicated.
As complicated as it may be, I know it’s been an opportunity for me to reexamine my relationship with my mom, and what she actually needs versus what I think she needs. I was deeply concerned about her when the official “stay home” order was announced in Honolulu – how would she take care of herself, get her groceries, occupy her time if she couldn’t go to the Y or meet with her art groups or have people over?
Turns out that she figured out when senior hours happen at the grocery store, has made phone dates with all of her friends, has reformed her haiku writing group online and stocked up on old movies she wants to watch. More resourceful that I’d imagined.
Looking after aging parents is both challenging and beautiful, a duty and a privilege, holding the complexity of seeing your past and present and future in them. And it all seems so much more magnified when our own nerves are on edge and we’re struggling to manage ourselves and we’re feeling out of control in a shifting and dangerous world. We want to protect them as they once protected us, but the role reversal is not so simple or straightforward; there’s too much baggage from a lifetime together.
For now I’m doing all I can to leave that baggage behind, to support her, from a distance, as well as I can, and care for her as she always has – and does – and will – care for me.