All things are fleeting. Thoughts. Feelings. Life. Things change; they rearrange, they disappear. Sometimes, we are so confident in our reality, that we don’t see when it changes. We see things as they once were, or as we wish them to be, not as they are. I don’t know if that is a blessing or a curse. Maybe it can be both, depending on the situation.
I am not sure where the years have gone. I don’t feel like a woman in her forties. I don’t feel like I have lived that much life. When I stop to think of my remaining years, it seems strange to me that there, more than likely, aren’t as many left ahead of me as I’d like. I’m not old by any means, and I hope to live a long and full life yet. I just think that somewhere around these years, my perspective has shifted. I have much I want to do, and the knowledge has set in that now is the time to do those things. Now is the time to start living life to the fullest, to be mindful, grateful, and happy. It’s time to see the things I’ve been longing to see and do the things I’ve been longing to do. I want the years ahead of me to be full. I want to embrace life, and live it to the fullest. I’m looking forward to the years to come, and knowing that life is fleeting, makes me want to enjoy it even more. It is a precious thing, indeed.
Youth, vitality, health. Those things can be fleeting also. We hardly notice the passing of time where we are changing, or when those we love are changing. Our mind’s eye sees things as they always have been.
I went on a trip with my 83 year old mother. My mother has always been the strongest person I know. Harsh maybe, distant, and even sometimes cold, my mother is a completely independent woman. Growing up, I admired her toughness, but it was also one of the things that kept me from being close to her in the way I would have liked. We were close, we spent much time together, but I could never share my real secrets, my fears, my doubts. She was not a shoulder to cry on when you were hurt or afraid. She loved me fiercely, I know that, but her own life had made her hard. I admired and feared her all at the same time. Physically my mother was stronger than any woman I knew. She could do anything, and if there was physical labor or heavy lifting to be done, she was not going to sit around and wait to see who was going to take care of it. I thought she was invincible.
My mother was never one to show her emotions, or share her feelings. She was private to the point of obsession, even with us kids. I don’t blame her. What I do know about her life lets me know she has good reason to be the way she is. Her strength, determination, and courage are traits I admire greatly. Through the years, my mental picture of my mother remained unchanged. Even when her knees were bad and her back wasn’t much better, she went where she wanted, when she wanted, did what she had always done the way she had always done it, no matter the pain. She had things to do. Her body had to cooperate. Sheer stubborness and a refusal to accept her limitations worked for a while.
Into her seventies, my mother still drove her big, black Suburban, going about her business just like she always had. She still wanted to be the one to take care of us, not wanting to have to rely on any of us to help her in any way. She had a surgery and argued with the doctor about driving herself home. She wasn’t going to bother anyone with what she should be able to do herself. Needing help was being vulnerable; something she absolutely refused to be. In that way, I see a lot of my mother in A. Pain and hurt have a way of working into your soul and making you afraid of needing people. Counting on others is something you learned from an early age that you cannot do. Part of me understands why A is this way, but part of me is saddened by it because she knows she could always count on me. She often tells me that it doesn’t matter what I’ve done for her, that although she is grateful for me and loves me more than anything, it’s the bad things she has been told about herself that she hears in her head. It’s the constantly being let down by others who should have loved her that left a wound that isn’t healed. I don’t want A to grow up to be cynical and bitter because of what she has been through. I’d like to see her heal. I’d like to see her choose happiness. Much of that is up to her.
I see so much unhealed pain in my mother. Eyes that are always guarded. Trust that she is afraid to give. I wish it could have been different for her also. Now, at 83, she looks at it as a sign of strength and pride that she trusts no one. Personally I would rather be too trusting then to live that way. And I am. I trust too easily. I want to see the good in everyone. I want to believe that there IS good in everyone. Sometimes I’m disappointed. Sometimes I’m not. Sometimes I’m hurt beyond measure. Sometimes I’m not.
I don’t think it is exactly an ADHD trait to miss the passage of time. I think, to some degree we all do that. Sure, I’m completely unaware of the ticking of minutes as they go past, I can be chronically distracted and be late for anything, I can lose entire hours not having any idea of why I got nothing accomplished – but the bigger picture – that waking up one day to learn that years have passed and things are not what they once were, maybe that is universal.
I went on this trip with my mother. She insisted on driving. I knew that was a bad idea, but no matter how old I get, I am not going to argue with my mother. Want to know what I noticed as we drove along, and the realization that set in over the next couple days? Somewhere, when I wasn’t paying any attention, my mother had turned into an old woman. She can hardly walk. (and no, there is no cane or other device to help her, there is no handicap sticker so she can park closer to doors. That would be a sign of weakness – that she can’t do something.) She is tired. She is in physical pain from things that I don’t know about. I keep looking at the enormous swelling of her feet and legs, and I can’t help but get worried. My father had congestive heart failure. She knows that that type of swelling could be a lot of things, but some of them are dangerous and it needs to be checked out. When I ask her about going to the doctor, she is vague. She changes the subject. She doesn’t want to talk about her health. She brushes it off. She can’t feel the fingers in her right hand. Oh, no big deal, she hurt her hand trying to open a jar a few weeks ago. That’s all. Then I watch her as she cannot grasp a cup of coffee because she doesn’t know if she has a grip on it or not. She looks at her hand, moves her fingers and simply says, “I hope they don’t have to amputate my fingers. That would be a bummer.” Again, even if something was very wrong with my mother, she probably wouldn’t tell us. I knew that this would be the last trip I would make with my mother. I’m not saying anything like “the end is near” or being dramatic, but facts are what they are – she will be physically unable to do any sort of traveling. She was never a world traveler or anything, but in my early teen years, she and I did start taking a summer trip every year. We never really went that far. We would go to Tennessee a lot, or Georgia. Later on, she bought a cabin in the Smoky Mountains, and as an adult, I’d take several trips with her there, bringing my own daughter. The memories are good ones.
What I noticed more than anything, was watching Mom accept that this would be the last time she would make this trip to her cabin. (It’s been on the market for a while anyway.) No one had to say it, it just was. It seemed bittersweet to her to be here now. We can’t do much, she sits in the car in parking lots while I take A to do things. I try to only pick things that I know won’t take us very long. I hate leaving my mother in a car somewhere. Oh, it isn’t that she minds, it’s just that I do. She insists. I asked her after breakfast one day if she needed to go back to the cabin and put her feet up. She looked at me like I was insane. “I didn’t come up here to sit in the cabin all day.” She would rather sit in parking lots because she knows A is doing something fun.
The second day it hit A that her grandmother was not well. We were sitting outside a restaurant on a bench while my mother was in the restroom. A laid her head on my shoulder, and I knew from her voice she was trying not to cry. “Grandmother is in a good mood. She’s happy.” I agreed. “Mom?” She took her head off my shoulder and looked at me, tears in her eyes. “You know I feel things.” She sucked in a big breath. “Grandmother is pretty sick, isn’t she?” I told her I didn’t know. I told her that she was having some medical problems that I only knew a little about. She laid her head back on my shoulder. “This is the last time she will come here, isn’t it?” I told her that more than likely it was. She said, “She knows that. She hasn’t said it, but you can feel it. And she’s trying to be happy. She wants it to be a good memory.” After that, A kept taking selfies on her ipod with her grandmother, who loathes being in pictures. She used to not argue too much about her refusal to be photographed, but this time, A wasn’t taking no for an answer. I know she wants to have something to look back on one day. In a few of them, A even said something that made my mother smile.
What do we take with us of the people we love? One day we will only have their memory. I choose to remember the good that is in my mother. Her strength, her courage. Her determination. I choose to remember the good times, the laughs, the trips, the card games. Treasure your loved ones. Never miss an opportunity to show someone that they are important to you. They will not always be there, and sometimes it is our last chance, but we didn’t know it until it was too late.