For most of us, there are things in life we look forward to, things we aim for or aspire to. The list may include finishing school, a particular job, special relationships, wealth, success, or any number of things. There are other things, though, that come our way whether we seek them or not.
I recently spent the better part of two weeks helping pack, load, and move my mom from her own home to my sister’s house nearly six hours away. My mom is 81, and she is dealing with some pretty significant memory issues. Gratefully, this move was something she supported, and she embraced it completely. Nonetheless, it was hard, for all of us.
Over 35 years ago, Mom and Dad moved back to the small town where she was born. It was also the place where they met and married. At the time, there was still a lot of family (from both sides) nearby. In fact, one of the reasons they cited for returning was to help take care of aging family members.
"There are other things...that come our way
whether we seek them or not"
Jump forward to 2018, though, and those relatives are almost all gone. Dad’s been gone for 10 years this December, and Mom is past the age many of those “aging relatives” were when she and Dad moved back there so long ago. Time marches on.
So, like countless others before us, we gathered, officially, to pack and load and move Mom. But we also gathered to bid farewell to a part of our lives – both hers and ours – that is now over. Officially, finally, and completely over.
Mom is no longer the family leader she’s been. While it’s been on the horizon for a while now, it’s suddenly become very clear that Mom is dependent, very dependent, on those of us who come behind her. It’s hard to watch someone who’s been so strong lose her ability to be independent. The process will certainly place demands on my sisters and I, though the biggest weight will clearly fall on my sister with whom Mom now lives. But it’s more than just that.
I’ve suddenly been reminded that I’m nearer the top of the family tree than I’d been willing to admit, certainly higher than I’d ever aspired to be. It’s sobering to realize that what was once so nurturing and supportive and embracing is no more. For me, moving my mom out of her own home is a lot like placing that final period at the end of a sentence. That which preceded it is done.
While I know there are thousands of other families dealing with similar circumstances, it feels lonely. It feels sad. It’s gone from abstract to very, very personal. I’ve talked with, prayed with, and counseled plenty of friends and colleagues in similar situations, but it’s different when it’s my mom.
"I can't effectively care for them
if I don't know something about them"
And that realization has reminded me of something I, too often, forget. For those involved in caring for others (and aren’t we all to some degree), it’s easy to see those we serve as ”customers” or “cases” or “patients” rather than as people. It’s easier to group others by what they require of us than it is to recognize the unique circumstances and needs of each individual.
Every person I meet experiences circumstances that are unique to them. No matter how similar their situation may appear to someone else’s, it is unique and personal to them alone. Whether it be a personal crisis, a health concern, a family transition, or something else altogether, I can’t truly understand or respond to another’s needs without investing the time and energy to learn something about them as a person. I can’t effectively care for them if I don’t know something about them.
As I continue to adjust to Mom’s new circumstances and to changing family roles, I am grateful for the support of so many. My immediate and extended families, friends, and colleagues all continue to pull together to help us care for Mom and to support one another. That means the world to me, and that’s the kind of care I hope to share, at least in some small way, with everyone else I meet along the way. Because, for all of us, “It’s different when it’s my mom.”