Over coffee on Saturday morning, a friend asked me, “How are you processing?” She was asking about moving forward from my mother’s passing in February.
A number of friends have asked this question in various formats, with concern in how I’m handling a new chapter of life.
It’s a question that’s contemplative in response, at times difficult and at times easy to put into words, but I will try to answer. This is more than about mom, it’s a journey of responsibility that began 16 years ago.
I don’t remember the exact date when dad sold his car, but mom and I were both relieved. Dad had been driving past the date of when he should have been driving with macular degeneration. Mom was his constant companion in the car because she did not yet suffer from the same affliction and would let him know when it was safe to cross an intersection or change lanes. I kid you not. When insurance came due, mom put her foot down and that was the end of dad’s driving.
Enter Mary and the sometimes painful all-day Saturday shopping trips. I say “painful” because it was not a time to have long conversations over adult refreshment while sitting on the patio. Mom and dad lived on a budget and would shop to save nickels and dimes, probably the result of living with either a very large family or a single mom who must have also watched their pennies. Our shopping trips consisted of, “We have to go to Wal-Mart for bakery, then to Fleet Farm for a box of batteries. Your mother needs a loaf of rye bread, so the day-old bakery shop is next, then to the other side of town to Piggly Wiggly because they have pork chops on sale. We’ll stop for lunch, then stop at Penney’s so I can buy a pair of pants.”
It was like this almost every Saturday for about six years, with long lists and varying shopping locations. At one point, we went down to shopping every other Saturday because at the time, I was married, and the long days were getting in the way of weekend getaways and being able to stay home on a cold winter day. It never seemed to bother mom and dad, but it made me very tired.
This was just the beginning of Mary turning into the driver, the caretaker, the Power of Attorney daughter, the errand runner, the paper pusher, the appointment maker, the whatever-they-needed-me-to-be adult, and sometimes the parent trying to drive sense into two elderly people.
Around 2004, mom and dad sold their house and moved into an apartment, where they lived for about five years. By the summer of 2009, dad was using a scooter to get around, scraping walls with it due to his poor eyesight. Mom had since developed macular degeneration and was unsteady on her feet, and between the two of them, it was no longer safe for them to be home alone. They made the decision to move into assisted living without me having to beg and plead.
From the fall of 2009 to my dad’s passing in May of 2012, there was an excruciating amount of paperwork, from the assisted living admittance forms, to the Veteran’s pension application for dad, to placing mom on Family Care and Medical Assistance. Early on, I was also going through a divorce and there were many days that I’d thrown myself on the floor and sob the sob of an exquisite pity party after opening the mail and discovering an envelope with more damn paperwork to complete. Days I do not remember fondly or with any amount of grace.
Once mom and dad entered assisted living, the Saturday shopping stopped, although I was still able to take them out for lunch on occasion. I continued to buy clothing and toiletry items for them, but didn’t have to spend the entire day running here and there. Most often, I bought everything for them at Wal-Mart or searched online for flannel pajamas when dad requested them in summer.
Mom lived in assisted living for a total of nine years, five months. After dad passed, the paperwork lessened, but the health issues for mom increased. We went from weekly visits to the restaurant and dad’s grave to my Sunday visits at dinner to help her eat. Instead of talking loudly to mom on the phone, I was talking to doctors, nurses, social workers, aides and hospice staff. Shopping for adult refreshment was replaced with watching mom drink thickened coffee.
My responsibility the last few years was to ensure that mom was well-cared for and that Family Care and Medical Assistance continued to help pay the bills. I was having minimal self pity parties by this time, grateful instead for every day mom breathed life.
This writing is not about me patting myself on the back. Friends and family have said I was the good daughter, but, in reality, there were many times when I felt burdened, when I wanted to quit the role, when I wondered why I had to be solely responsible because my brother lived too far away to help. So many days I felt completely overwhelmed and sorry for myself. Poor me, why does it have to be me?
Like a good soldier, I carried on, but some days were so very hard…
After the coffee date, Natasha and I also had a conversation about the loss of mom, the end of 16 years of parental responsibility, and the guilt. It’s the guilt of feeling freedom and peace from a long-held responsibility. Natasha said it was okay to feel that a “burden” had lifted, while still remembering and loving the sweet lady that went to Jesus over a month ago. I miss holding her hand and waiting for her to say something funny because that was never a burden, only a reminder that all of the paperwork and running and responsibility brought us closer together in her final years.
Today I feel peace and the gift of time. It’s Sunday afternoon and I have nowhere to go. I might run out to the store or to the storage shed to get a few things. Maybe I’ll call up my cousin and see if he’s home. I don’t feel guilty at all. I feel as though God had led me on this path with mom and dad for so many important reasons and now He’s given me new life to fly in my own direction.
It’s a new chapter to just be Mary and plan a fall bike trip.
That’s how I’m processing.