“Growing old is heck,” my senior friend Anna Mae once said (or something similar to that.) She was in her 90s and was experiencing that common senior phenomenon of no longer being able to get out of a car without a few tries. “When did they start making car seats so low to the ground?” My 82 year-old mom says when you’re old that “suddenly” people try to make all your decisions for you – always telling you what is best for you – like you were five again. “All the new aches and pains, the growing list of things you can’t do anymore or remember anymore . . . ,” Mom laments. But as life becomes more challenging for Mom, witnessing her growing frailty makes me sad – feels like we’re moving into our long goodbye.
To better understand why watching Mom decline affects me so much, you must know how much a part of my life she has been or maybe you just have to think back over the years with your mom.
I guess I have been a sort of momma’s girl. Some of my earliest memories are of seeking the safe shelter of my momma as I was always shy, fearful even, of loud and pushy people. Why do uncles think it’s fun to grab up cute little nieces and nephews to playfully hug them till they’re squashed? Staying close to momma was safer, I found. One time at the local department store, my five or six-year-old self specifically told Momma to stay right where she was, looking through a clothing rack, while I bravely explored the immediate area. When I came back, to my horror, Momma was gone! Though she was merely browsing at another nearby rack, I couldn’t see her and felt as if I was forever lost, alone in that big clothing rack forest!
The day Momma stood me in front of her with the big announcement I was a big girl now and the next fall I was going to “get to” go to kindergarten, I thought that was a good thing, until I found out that entailed leaving Momma every day. No, I decided, I’d just stay home. Of course you can guess how that turned out. But elementary school eventually turned out to be a wonderful source of news and entertainment which I loved spilling my guts all about to Momma every afternoon when I got home.
I didn’t share as much with Momma during the tremulous junior-high years, now called middle school to make it less intimidating, I guess. It seems the universal preteen thought is that mommas can’t understand everything that goes on at that age -- like the need to sneak Daddy’s razor to shave your legs ‘cause “pity the hairy-legged fool” that would be found out by the other girls in gym class. Momma was ever much the safe harbor, though, in those days – always waiting at home for me or picking me up from school – like the embodiment of milk and cookies.
Dad was the chosen one to teach my brothers and me to drive, but, Mom, in her way, helped us not be too uptight about the car experience. For example, when she was stuck at a traffic light in our old manual-shift Ford, and the patient driver behind got out of his car to ask her what the problem was, she tearfully replied, “Every time I put it in reverse, it goes backwards!” To be fair, she is a good driver and was still driving at 82 years of age pretty much accident-free.
When I became a newly college-enlightened daughter, I just had to tell Mom all the ways she was archaic in her thinking – those college professors knew so much more than parents, you know. Miraculously, she doesn’t hold that against me now. Mom was and is a patient, sympathetic ear. She has her limits though. She can be good at keeping you grounded with her favorite sayings, such as: “You can’t roller skate in a buffalo herd, but you can be happy if you’ve a mind to” -(a song by Roger Miller); “If wishes were horses, then beggars might ride”; and “Oh well, that’s enough of that.”
The latter of which she says so often that I have threatened to put this one on her tombstone.
Probably the most important role Mom had in my life was that she led me to Jesus. Mom took us kids to church when we were young, and we all got saved and baptized. Though we all strayed a bit later, she was steadfast in her faith. In the 1970s, Mom discovered a deeper relationship with God, and her new joy and enthusiasm for God (and her prayers) swept my brother and me up also. What an awesome, glorious way of living we have now with God because of Mom’s testimony and love for Jesus. Mom and I, along with her sisters, have had wonderful shared times going to Christian women’s retreats; great memories with Mom. Thank you Jesus . . . and thanks Mom.
Since Mom’s last stroke a while back, seems I’ve been on hold, waiting till God says the inevitable, “Okay, it’s time to come home.”
She’s become so fragile.
I’ve watched her body shrinking, hurting, and getting weaker so much that the lifelong homemaker finds cleaning house, cooking, and shopping have become monumental tasks. And maybe even more distressful, I sometimes hear her confusion, worry, and fear in place of who she really is with her determination, assurance, and joy in the Lord. Now, with another health set back, she is weaker than ever; she sleeps a lot and doesn’t talk much. This season of life feels like our long goodbye.
How am I going to get by when our twice-a-day phone calls are no more? Who is going to commiserate (and pray) with me about all of life’s problems? What will I do without her personalized scripture encouragement?
She’s my BFF, (best friend forever).
I will miss Momma . . . I do already.
I keep her voice messages stored on my answering machine for that day when I long to hear her just say my name, “Kathy, it’s just Mom.”
If I had my way, in my perfect world there would be no arthritis, no painful falls, no frustrating forgetfulness, or no dimming eyesight as we grow older. No declining – only peaceful, golden years.
In my perfect world, there would be no need of nursing homes – our elder loved ones would live out their last years happy at home surrounded by family and friends.
In my perfect world, we would celebrate the wisdom and rich memories that come from a well lived long life. We’d have time to listen. We’d have time to just be there.
In my perfect world, we’d always embrace the strength that comes with God’s promise to never leave us or forsake us -- we’d trust His goodness -- we’d rest in His faithfulness. I’d be brave and hopeful for my momma. I am sometimes- but not today -not right now.
These past months have felt like our long goodbye Momma, but when you do leave, I know it will feel like a far too short goodbye. I love you always Momma.
In God’s perfect world, where Momma is destined, she’ll be young again, and free from care, and home with her friend Jesus forever.
And someday, I’ll be with her again with no goodbyes.