During my recent two week vacation in Vermont—gorgeous, beautiful Vermont where the weather was more like September than August, and once I adjusted and got over my complaint that “this isn’t the weather I want on my summer vacation” I had a fantastic, relaxing time—I got a phone call from one of my sisters that my mother was in the hospital again.
When I saw that I had a call from my sister, my first thought was: please don’t let it be THE call, not on my vacation! But just like the weather, it wasn’t up to me, and life takes its course whether I like it or not.
My mother is 89, has lived through the rearing of eight kids on my father’s blue collar income (a feat that couldn’t be accomplished today with food on the table every day), the death of my father from lung cancer 28 years ago, the passing of all but one of her ten siblings and most of her in-laws, and her own serious heart surgery six years ago.
She keeps bouncing back. This time it was gallstones. She’s in rehab now and I have no idea when the final call will come. In the meantime she’ll move back home soon, where I hope her last days will be, and spend her days just as she wants to spend them, watching TV (talk shows for the company and golf tournaments for comfort; or at least this is what I imagine she gets from these shows), enjoying visits from her kids and grandchildren, and chatting with the aides who show up daily to make sure she eats and showers.
Mostly she just sits. And who am I to say her form of sitting is any different than mine on my meditation cushion? My mother smiles a lot and seems content with her life. She doesn’t talk much about her feelings and never complains. She seems to take her physical deterioration in stride. It often looks like denial, but I really don’t know.
I don’t think my mother would participate in one of the Death Cafes that are popping up all over, or want to talk about death over dinner. Or want to be part of my group of five women that meets monthly for three hours, and has for the past five years, to talk about dying. We’ve worked on the practical aspects of death, health-proxies, funeral wishes, wills etc. But mostly we talk about living, always in the shadow of knowing that life is precious and will some day end.
I will be 63 in a few weeks; slightly older than my father was when he died. I am grateful for every day and feel much like Oliver Saks as he described his life at 80, in a recent, beautifully written article: “I often feel that life is about to begin… I feel glad to be alive.”