My 93-year-old mom has been going through a rough patch these past weeks. So have I. I’m her number one caregiver – or as she recently put it, “her best help and her best friend.”
In the past year or so I’ve noticed that she gets into a repetitive pattern with certain statements. Here are several of her recent favorites:
When you get to be my age, you go to bed at night and wonder if you’re going to wake up in the morning.
It’s so strange being out in the world. (Spoken from the front seat of the car.)
That was a looooong time ago. Seems like another lifetime.
Mom had a fall in her bathroom two weeks ago. She was badly bruised up, but amazingly didn’t break any bones. In the whirlwind of the visiting the emergency room, being admitted to the hospital, transferring to transitional care, and returning back to her apartment, Mom lost some things. And found some others.
She lost her sense of time completely. In the ten days she was at the hospital and in transitional care, she remarked over and over that it felt more like months to her.
She also lost a lot of basic memories about her apartment and how she lived her life there. She didn’t lose her memory of the people though. That’s who she is. People first. Always.
She found friends – as she always does — among the staff and patients everywhere she went. That’s my mama.
The experiences of these past weeks have yielded a new favorite refrain. Every time I am with her, she says the same phrase over and over with wonder in her voice: “You just can’t imagine what this is like.”
She’s right. I can’t. The world my mother is inhabiting is a mystery to me. I get glimpses of how lost and overwhelmed she feels. I sense how tired she gets of struggling with the simplest things. As close as I am to her, I won’t ever understand even a fraction of the story.
She can’t imagine how it is for me either. How it felt to see her tumble into a level of sadness and despair I’d never witnessed in her. How it was to juggle conversations with innumerable health care professionals, do her laundry, manage her money, play Scrabble with her, drive hundreds of miles between her place and mine, and eat late night drive thru dinners because I somehow forgot to eat. She sees how hard I am working and apologizes for being “so much work,” but she doesn’t know the half of it.
The truth I am realizing is this: none of us can imagine what it’s like to be in someone else’s experience. We only get glimpses and hints of the whole story. That is when we are called to empathy. To at least try to imagine what it’s like over there. To bring deep listening, an open heart and kind presence to whatever that other person is living through. That’s the best we can do. And it is a great gift.
I hope to bring that gift to my sweet mama through whatever days remain. And what comes after she’s gone…well….”I can’t imagine.”