This morning I read the first chapter of Cheryl Strayed’s novel Wild. In just 20 pages she takes the reader on a vivid journey through the emotional depths of losing her mother to cancer. We all know someone who has endured some variation of this tortured scenario, maybe it was you, but something about reading this chapter today made me feel utterly jolted by the loss, or for those of us who still have living parents, the idea of loss of a parent. It was today that I was planning to write a blog post on dealing with aging parents and patience. The feelings were near the surface already and now it seemed more timely than ever.
My cousins’ mother died of cancer 11 years ago and the story sounds so familiar to Strayed’s. The havoc that kind of experience and mourning can wreak on someone's mere existence is impossible to quantify. You heal, but the wound seems to always be there. Both of my parents are still alive and simply thinking about losing them is terrifying, yet as I grow older, and so do they, the more I’m able to recognize their mortality. The idea becomes more manageable. I feel awful even writing that, but it also feels like a luxury my cousins and so many others, never had.
After I finished the chapter my first thought was that I wanted to spend more time with my parents. I made a vow to be a more patient daughter, to listen more intently, to be a better friend. I have always been aware that it could be challenging as my parents grew older, but what I did not predict was how damn impatient I’d become with them when I got older. I’ve always been close to both parents. I am so much my father’s daughter; in both appearance and temperament. My mom and me; what we lack in physical similarity we make up for in a shared spirit, stubbornness, and sass. We tell each other things that expand beyond a mother-daughter relationship. I deeply value our friendship but my fuse is short with her.
We recently spent a weekend in Austin together and she had to continually remind me to be patient with her. Her memory isn’t great and she pretty much operates on a “who the f*** cares” mantra more often than not. For reasons both within and beyond reason, that makes me crazy. I talk down to her, which she patiently allows, and sometimes I even let it drive a wedge between the closeness I know we have. Hindsight is always 20/20 leaving me with a sense of regret and a promise to try harder next time. She’s not perfect. I’m not perfect. No one ever is. Yet for some reason I expect perfection from her. Not only is that a waste of time, but it is unfair. Both of our time would be better spent enjoying what works in our relationship while I do my best to dismiss what doesn’t. Just as I’m sure she learned to do with me long ago.
My dad is here now. My mom is here now. I am fortunate that we live close to each other and I truly value my time with them. They shaped who I am today, and I like that.