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.

3 thoughts on “Reversals

  1. Wayne Zelenak says:

    Sarah, your blog reminds me of a poignant remembrance of her mother written by Joan Tollifson. She points to the simplicity of what is, as it is — the ever-present, ever-changing seamlessness of being. Her essay highlights the value of those we love in life.

    The day my ninety-five-year-old mother Dorothy died, we blew bubbles over her bed, her Lift-Off Bubbles, we called them. It was an extraordinary day, full of love and joy, laughter and tears. It was her last party, and she died just as the sun was setting. She lifted off, nothing to nothing, dust to dust, ashes to ashes, a snowflake evaporating in a fire. I sat with her cooling body, holding her bony hand, touching her face, her forehead, the curve of her ear, all these familiar landscapes I knew so intimately over so many years. Although we called them her Lift-Off bubbles, it was utterly clear that there is no one to lift-off and nowhere else to go. The Dorothy Show is finished and yet never finished, for it is inseparable from the whole universe. The bubble of apparent encapsulation bursts, and now Dorothy is everywhere and everything, sparkling in this new November sunshine, dancing in the leaves. Each life is like a bubble, and when the bubble pops, there is no more imaginary separation. The space inside the bubble is the same as the space outside the bubble, as it always was. The bubble itself was nothing but space bubbling. Each bubble is brief and fragile, but immensely beautiful. Floating, shimmering, wobbling, billowing, bedazzling, and then popping. Oh, how I adored my mother’s smile, her voice, her face, her nose, her hands, her sense of humor, her light, all the wonders in her eyes—the Dorothy Show, ephemeral and precious. Pop! Gone now, and always right here.

    I admire your love for your mom and your unwavering support in her challenging days ahead. In our uncertain times, cherish your time together for today’s moments will be tomorrow’s memories…


  2. Hi Maestra. I don’t know if there are health care centres in Hawaï. Probably there are. Here I work for one. We do have beneficiary attendants or orderlies who can help out for meals, medication (Dispill,… under the supervision of a rn or md) and cleaning (bath, laundry,…). Here it’s paid by the government. I am aware that we do have a different health system. I don’t know if in USA you have access to it via a private health insurance. Your mom is oriented x 3 (in time, in pace and in person). If she is still able to do her activities of daily living / activities of domestic living on her own then she doesn’t need those help mentioned above. As long as she’ll be able to live on her own in her condo that will be great. You compensate for her needs (affairs) but I understand it is not always obvious. I know you do the best you can do for her.
    Say Sayonara to her from the Frenchman.
    Stay all safe, Sarah. XO


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s