Caring for a parent, memory loss, Self-care

Into 2014 with a Dose of Kindness

In my inbox this morning is an email from a reader of this blog. She is a friend of a friend and lives in Texas. (I love it when strangers find my blog and write to tell me their story.) She is in the northeast spending time with her 97-year-old mother. She has been hoping for a post from me so she can know that she is known. And so I am writing one.

I think we all long to be known: we read blogs and memoirs, even novels, to find ourselves in someone else’s experience and know that we are seen, that we are not alone. When strangers tell each other their story, they are no longer strangers. We are all companions on the journey, whatever the journey is.

I’m on a personal retreat while my east coast sister is here with Mama. I am in a state of nirvana. All my cares are washing away as I sit in someone else’s house where all I have to do are the possibilities I brought with me: writing materials (including my laptop), my Gaian Tarot deck created by my friend Joanna, movies, books, knitting, food, camera. That’s it. I’m sitting on the sofa watching ferries cruise back and forth in the fog on Puget Sound and looking for the eagle couple that perch in one of the tall firs in the yard. I might get dressed later. Or not.

Before I left yesterday, Mama asked what I did with the green cutting mat that was on the shelf in the store room. Actually, she just asked about the “green cutting board.” I had no idea what she was talking about, but a few questions led me to what she was after. It was on the shelf in the store room. It’s the same one I suggested that she could have used for a similar project several weeks ago when she (wrongly) accused me of throwing away the poster board she had never used but suddenly wanted after we “cleaned up.” I guess she remembered.

I wish she could have just asked me to help her find it instead of assuming I had moved it—or gotten rid of it—when the problem was she couldn’t see it. I wish she could have apologized for her false accusation. If wishes were fishes. I am slowly learning to translate, in my head, what she says into a language that feels more kind to me.

And that reminds me that today is the first day of my One Little Word for 2014. 2012 was “venture,” 2013 was “possibilities.” This year I have chosen “kindness”: to be more intentionally kind to Mama as I strive to do better at understanding how it is to be old-old; and to be kind to myself when I mess up. And now I see a new manifestation: to assume that she wants to be kind to me, even when her words feel accusatory and punitive. She is a kind person; she has always been a kind person. The language she is using is a foreign one, and I am not good at unfamiliar languages; but perhaps I can master this one.

A new reader started following my blog last week. When that happens, I get a message that includes the follower’s profile if they have one. This one did—which led me to her blog. In a recent post she wrote: “This is my journey: to learn to be a daughter of a woman suffering from memory loss; going from knowing nothing to knowing, well, what I need to know to be the daughter my mom needs right now.” I am going to try to be the daughter my mother needs right now.

Another bit of wisdom came by way of a novel last month: “You have to bend your mind around from the path it has always taken to a path where your own direction does not matter. You are there for someone else. It is easier if you don’t struggle against that, if you simply bow your head down to it, acquiesce, comply, love” (The Bookstore, Deborah Myler).

My daughter, Emma, is pregnant. When you are pregnant you have to give up stuff you like to do and that you like to eat—and drink—to give the developing baby what it needs. You have to put someone else first. There is a lot of that giving-up-your-own-direction sort of thing when you become a parent, too; and again if you become a care partner. My direction does matter, I won’t lose sight of that; but right now I am on a side road, and to journey along it with more kindness will be effort well spent.

5 thoughts on “Into 2014 with a Dose of Kindness”

  1. Responses
    I find myself working to be known, sometimes requiring more effort, sometimes less; sometimes it comes willingly and easily. I love your willingness, Gretchen, to re-interpret what your mother is saying; what a useful tool that is.
    One of my 50 books for 2014 is a re-read of Twelve steps to a compassionate life by Karen Armstrong, a former nun. More compassion is always appropriate, though not easy; e.g., my neighbor with a line-up of roaming pets evidenced by deposits in my outback yard! I could be rightfully (read righteously) upset. Nice reality check on my compassion!


  2. Yes, it is necessary to be known and to identify with a larger community, so thanks for posting and for sharing my presence here in the northeast! I was afraid we might lose her last night when we returned from a New Year’s Eve dinner navigating frigid temps and a fresh snow fall. Mom’s coughing was intense and she was exhausted. I was filled with tenderness for her and regretted the days of my visit here filled with resentment and impatience. I like Kindness for 2014! We can all use a dose.


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