10 years ago this morning my mom died.
This morning as I was meditating – sitting outside listening to the plethora of different birds that populate our area, feeling the light breeze on my face and the warmth of the morning sun – I was filled with a deep sense of gratitude. Gratitude for where I am in life and for the people that are in it; for the opportunities I’ve been given and experiences I’ve had. I’m grateful for the sense of excitement I continue to have about my vocation, and the promise that I believe it holds for humanity, and at the same time I’m grateful that that same calling allows me to regularly confuse work and play.
And I’m grateful for how I came to be here.
I wish I could tell my mom all that.
Like all parents, I’m sure, she worried about her child. Given that I was her only child, and that the rest of her family was back in Holland I’m sure that put a whole family’s worth of worry into a single bucket. But she never really let on, and she allowed me to grow and explore the world in ways that, looking back, could only have been the things of which ulcers are made.
As my father aged her worry shifted, I think, as she dealt with his growing dementia. Rather than worrying about me on my most recent business trip, she worried if he would trip and fall overnight, often unable to sleep herself as a result. She worried that he would get lost as he refused to give up his car. She worried that he would hurt himself, or worse, others.
Taking care of my dad became her job and her purpose in life, and it wore on her. She took it seriously and completely, to the point of resisting most any attempts at help.
Until, of course, it was too late.
When, after falling ill herself, my dad moved to an assisted living facility and she was relieved of the burden of caring for him she slowly lost her spark and, looking back, her will to live. She’d lost her purpose.
The years of taking care of my dad had taken their physical toll, and yet removing the caretaking task took perhaps a more serious toll on her spirit.
As I’ve said elsewhere there’s a “cause of death” on a piece of paper somewhere, but in reality I believe she died simply because she was tired and had lost her reason, her will, to keep going.
What would I tell her today? I’d tell her that things turned out OK. I’d tell her that she’d done a good job.
But most of all, I’d tell her not to worry.
After spending a few months at the assisted living facility my dad did, indeed, fall and break his hip. He spent the remainder of his days content and well cared for at a local nursing home. He passed away four and a half years after my mom in 2007.
If age-related dementia and the toll it takes on loved ones is a concern to you, something I thought of – also 10 years ago – was writing a letter to yourself.