My oldest son, Patrick, came to visit last week - all the way from the East Coast. It seems like the distance between Northern Virginia where he lives and North Texas where we live gets farther every year. He might as well live on the moon. Or perhaps it’s the span of time between his total reliance on me and my growing reliance on him (and his brothers) that is getting shorter, coloring my perspective.
The sweet sound of baby coo’s proclaiming me the center of his universe is a vivid memory to me, but no memory at all to him. His nuclear family has shifted, as it should, to his wife and children, and I am now an ancillary. Nonetheless, I am cherished, and Patrick came to assess first-hand how we’re coping with PSP, and to lend some practical advice.
Isn’t that funny? My motherly cautions, “Wear a hat. It’s cold outside” have been replaced by filial cautions, “Don’t lift that. It’s heavy.” When did our roles reverse?
As young people, we turned to our parents, school advisors and other elders when making major decisions like where to go to college, and what to study. With little life experience under our belts, these decisions were daunting and we appreciated guidance in evaluating our choices.
Now, it is we, the old folks, who are faced with daunting decisions: how to spend our remaining days, where to live, what kind of environment do we need? But no longer does inexperience hamper our decision making. Instead, we’re encumbered by too many life experiences in our repertoires. Essentially, we can’t “see the forest through the trees.” We feel overwhelmed and want to put our heads in the sand until this disease “goes away,” until we can resume our “normal” lives.
Patrick, however, and his brother Tim, who lives nearby, are able to cut through our paralyzing clutter and present simple options. We listen, and choose, not easily, but with more clarity than we had before. We’ve decided to sell our home (which I’ll address in future posts). It’s too everything - too big, too expensive, too much work, too barrier-fraught for Dale to navigate.
I don’t know what we’d do without the help of these sons who buoy us while we are at sea. They are our living, breathing Gantt charts and they’ll be there to help us bridge each milestone.
At last, I understand my mother’s words from a June night 26 years ago. We had just left the hospital in a haze of grief after my sheet-clad father was pronounced DOA following a sudden heart attack. We gathered at the family homestead to support Mother and to begin the dreaded phone calling. At some point, Mother put her handkerchief in her lap and looked at our faces, her babies, “I don’t know how people with no children get through something like this.” At last, I understand.