Nowhere to Run To, Baby...

3 years ago







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I wish there were a rhyme or reason to grief. I wish there were some way to predict when the wave was going to wash over me so I don’t keep thinking I’m going to be okay only to find I’m in much worse shape than I thought.

When I returned to Illinois from California twenty four years ago, I knew I was signing on to be the one who would be there for my parents as they entered their golden years. At the time they were both strong and active. My father still went into the office of the business he owned on a daily basis and my mother volunteered for various organizations and looked after her 100 year old great aunt. But time took its toll – my father developed diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and bladder cancer; my mother’s arthritis in her knees and hips progressed rapidly. One day I received the call that sent me racing to the hospital at 90 mph. My father was at the emergency room and hemorrhaging. He was eventually moved to a rehab unit and the Friday after Hurricane Katrina took out New Orleans, the bladder cancer took him out.

My mother and I had never gotten along. I was a hardcore daddy’s girl and she wanted nothing more than to break my spirit. She and my father had been together for 59 years and she had never functioned as an individual unit. It was not easy to become her caregiver. She hated my husband which meant I could count on little support from him. There were multiple trips to the emergency room, a pacemaker and a stent, and then cancer. It took a lot of patience (which I surprised myself with) and five years, but we had finally found a space we could be comfortable in and even found a grudging respect for each other by the time she passed away.

The one thing I could never understand was her constant misery and unhappiness. She was a very negative person by nature but after my father died, it was as if something inside her had died as well. We had dinner together once a week because she missed having someone to eat with and she needed something to count on and look forward to. I ran her errands, moved her furniture, and stopped by almost every day to at least say hello. I occasionally had to call on my son to help with heavy lifting, which prompted his sister to observe that the two people my mother treated the worst in the world, were the only two people who were there when she needed them. But she could never decide to be happy.

When my husband died very suddenly a month ago, I finally understood my mother’s misery and tears. She had friends, she had family, she had a support network through her church but she didn’t have him. It’s a haunting emptiness that floats in and out of your consciousness on a whim and outstays its welcome immediately. I have found you never know when it will hit you and the tears will well up out of nowhere to overtake you. And he’s not there to comfort you. It makes choosing to be happy the most difficult thing in the world.

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