Caring for a parent

Another Anniversary: Looking Ahead

I continue to mark the anniversary of my life transition. Two weeks ago I honored the day I said goodbye to my life in North Carolina and had a look back at the past year. The transition from the day I walked out that door was, by intention, a hallway as I drove across the country. Today marks the first anniversary of my arrival to my new old home.

In the days between the two dates, I have had fleeting thoughts of what is next for me: earning a living again, being on my own again, staying here. Having committed to another year with my mother, I don’t have to think about it now; but I do anyway.

I have such mixed feelings. Some days I want it to be tomorrow. I fear I will not last the year without plunging into depression and losing all sense of confidence and self-worth. I have glimpses of fear that when Mama leaves us I will have no inner (or outer) resources left to continue my life independently. I remember the confidence with which I bought a house and lived life on my own for eight years, and I want it back—sometimes desperately—before I lose it. And I worry, probably realistically, that I will be too old to get a job and afford to live again as I would like to.

And, I can’t imagine abandoning my mother; finally sending her to a facility or hiring someone to be with her full time. She isn’t adapting too well to her very part time caregiver; how can I relegate her to nearly exclusive care by someone else? In contrast to her complaints about her helpers, though, she has been so sweet to me lately in her gratitude for my patience and for my sacrifice (her implication, but it is accurate at least in part). When she isn’t criticizing me for putting the blinds down wrong or preparing food unsatisfactorily, she is heart-breakingly solicitous and kind.

And I don’t want to miss anything. I want to see how this goes down. I chuckle as I think that; I am so consistent. I didn’t want medication during childbirth; I wanted to experience the transfer of a life from my body to independence in its pure state, however painful. When a gynecologist suggested I have a hysterectomy because fibroids prevented observation of my ovaries (i.e. as a preventive measure), I said hell no. I wanted to experience menopause—another sort of life transfer—as it came to me naturally. I have a curiosity about life transitions. I have no regrets in either case.

And now I want to be here with Mama; to be the midwife to her passage. And I fear being here. Every morning that she sleeps late, I try to imagine finding her gone. But I can’t. And I am curious about how it will come. I don’t want to find out by phone call from a stranger.

As I muse over what it might be like to stay for the duration—which could be years—I fleetingly think it might be easier if she were not quite so in the altogether. (A thought that makes me think I might not be in the altogether.) If she were not able to be in the kitchen at all, for example, I could make it mine. I could use my favorite brand of margarine in the small green tub, and my kitchen things, and rearrange the storage spaces, and throw out the (dated) ancient spices. At least one room could feel familiar and give me the illusion that I am in charge of my life. If she couldn’t see artwork, maybe I could put mine up. (Mostly she can’t see it, but she would know if anything were to disappear.) I could keep the blinds open all the time. If she weren’t mobile, I could rearrange furniture and accessories and include some of mine. Maybe my cat could be upstairs.

And then I wake up from my reverie. I’m so ridiculous, and selfish. I don’t want that for her really; or for me (well, maybe just a little for me). I am in total awe at her ability to still get around so well, and do so much for herself. And, speaking of independence and my fear of not being able to find mine again some day, she came back to hers after more than 50 years with my father. Maybe what I fear the most is watching her lose her self-reliance. I’m not done learning from her.

I read accounts of others who have done this work, traversing life’s end with a parent; and rather than relief when the end comes, they are bereft. They miss them; they don’t know what to do next. So many others have walked this path, and so many more will to come. Perhaps even my own children. I am helped by those who have gone before and written about it for me to read. It is not a well-marked trail—we all have to find our own best way—but the guidebooks help. I will live our story however it plays out. This is not a life interrupted; this is life. I will write it down. Perhaps it will be my biggest contribution to the world.

7 thoughts on “Another Anniversary: Looking Ahead”

  1. I don’t think I can articulate the ways this post spoke to me. But I wanted to tell you that it did, and that I hope you write all of it down. I learn so much from you.


  2. Hi Gretchen,
    I’m having trouble logging into WordPress to “like” your posting. So here I am…
    I love your vulnerability as hard as it seems at times to feel it. I want you to know you have a friend who holds you in her heart all the time and is in community with you while reading your honest reflections of your life and the unknowing that lies ahead.
    Love you,


  3. I am struck by many things you say and also see that you have a purpose. As difficult as it can be, it is there and you will know satisfaction from it. Since retiring, I miss that sense of purpose and struggle to own my days. Your journey is an inspiration with all of it’s doubt and uncertainty challenging your strength for commitment.


  4. I have always thought you courageous in making the decision to spend time with your mother. What I was struck so strongly by in reading this entry (which I like very much), though it has flittered through my head while reading other pieces, is how courageous you are at examining and facing what is going inside you, compounded by your courage in sharing it with us. It only deepens how I already feel about you.

    Other thought to share, I was not surprised to see you sign up for another year with your Mom – and I find myself grateful (even though it has nothing to do with me), relieved, glad, sympathetic, thinking you’re crazy and a bunch of other things. But mostly I was not surprised because I have wondered to myself many times in the last year as you have shared your experience whether you will/would really be able to leave her side now until the passage is complete. I absolutely trust you to do so or not and for it to be the absolute right decision. But I no longer wonder if staying would be a bad thing, for either of you for you have revealed, consciously or not, that it would not.


    1. Thank you, Marc. All of life is, after all, a series of decisions in the moment, isn’t it? We can dream, we can dread, we can lay plans in advance; but in the end we do what is true for us at the time. And then we go on from there.


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