Saturday, September 12, 2009

Loving Without Getting Tired

Robin and her mother, dancing in the front yard of Echo Drive in the 1990s.

I wanted to write something about the anniversary of 9/11, but the solution to the problem of asymmetrical warfare seems so far away, I return to the troubles in my own family life. Sometimes they aren't so troubling. When my father said to me the other day: "I've been giving you problems all my life. I might as well not stop now that I'm almost ninety," I had a good laugh. He may be ill, but he has not lost his sense of humor.

Still, one of the unfunny things I'm realizing lately is this: that my sister and I are very misguided when we continue to delude ourselves that we, if we try hard enough, can exert some control over the lives of our elderly parents.

A friend of mine put it best. When I said one day, apropos of the whole situation, "I guess I have to accept that I have only so much control over this." She answered: "You have no control at all." She lost her parents four years ago and speaks from experience.

Our lives are full of the illusion that we have control over things. We think by investing wisely we will end our lives in comfort. We reckon without earthquakes, fires, hurricanes, tax increases, divorces, deaths, depressions, down markets and things like the dust bowl and the Grapes of Wrath.

We assume if we are kind to our children they will all grow up to make healthy and wise decisions. We reckon without personality quirks, innate favoritism, uncooperative spouses, rebellion, illness, bad friends, cults, drugs, punk rock, the fad of tattooing and the Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the Moon Marigolds.

And, as our parents age and grow sick, we think if we can just find them the right nursing home, or have enough money to give them good care, they will live happily until they quietly and safely pass into the great beyond, from whence they can continue to watch over us just the way Spencer Tracy did over Irene Dunne in A Guy Named Joe.

What a load of horse manure that sounds to me today!

I can't even get my parents to install a ramp on the back stairs of their house. I can't even get them to promise to take a break after one hour, from a three-hour meeting with their minister, so Dad can use the bathroom and not have an accident in his pants. I can't make them go to the doctor. I can't keep them from falling down. I can't seem to do anything at all but do the best I can to keep them comfortable while I watch the train coming down the tracks headed straight for them. Kaboom.

I sound like I'm down, but I'm not. I think just getting to the "acceptance" stage of grief at this point is a good place to be. I've been in the denial stage, and the anger stage, and just accepting the inevitability of it all may bring some comfort.

Mother Teresa said we can't do big things and must do small things that make a difference instead. She added: "Do not think that love, in order to be genuine, has to be extraordinary. What we need is to love without getting tired." That's a tall order, isn't it?

I have no idea how she gained this wisdom. She, too, must have had many days in which she doubted the magnanimity of God. I'm certainly no Mother Teresa, yet when I think of what she accomplished in the face of all the world's troubles, it certainly makes my own challenges seem manageable. As long as I learn to accept them and realize I can't manage them. What a huge step that is.

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