Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Holding Mom Like Mom Held Him

The above photo is one of the most touching that I’ve ever seen. I was lucky enough to run across it in Facebook this morning.

The photographer – who I don’t know or else I’d credit her or him – did what I imagine is the goal of every person with a camera: (s)he made me think. A lot. This photo make me think of my frail, maternal grandmother, who passed away a few years ago after a long, relatively healthy life (albeit a sad and lonely one toward the end, being a widow and the resident of a senior citizens’ home hundreds of miles from her grandkids and great-grandkids).

It also made me think about my 76-year-old mother, who lives almost 12 hours away and who I haven’t seen in years. As I may have shared before – the memory’s the first to go, they say – we used to be very close but have drifted apart in recent years. This is through no fault of hers; she’s made every effort to stay in touch, even friending me in Facebook and periodically posting “Don’t forget your mother because she won’t be here forever” memes on my wall. I’m almost entirely to blame for what must surely appear to be conscious neglect but is in fact due to two things: 1) I’m not good at juggling the many important people and things in my life, and have gotten worse with depression and the passage of time, and 2) I don’t want to burden or alarm my parents with my problems, my unhappiness and even my shame about certain aspects of my life at 54.

Intellectually I know that my mom would rather be connected and concerned than avoided and ignored, but when it comes to actually dialing her phone number, I almost always dial one or two numbers and then think, “Maybe I should wait until I have some good news to share…” or “I should probably call in a few days.” Even on holidays and after surgeries, I still call late if at all.

I’m not proud of this. And I know that at some point – I hope not any time soon, of course – I will have to face what Anita’s already faced and so many others my age face: the dreaded phone call and resultant feelings of devastation, shock, misery, guilt, loss, sadness, anger and emptiness, the disbelief and the never-ending pain and regret. So why the hell don’t I visit more often, call more often, show love, respect and appreciation while she’s still here rather than in her eulogy?

I really don’t know.

After years of therapy, I learned that I’m holding on to some resentment because my parents decided to move 700 miles away, to abandon me two marriages ago for their own reasons relating to their careers and finances, the weather and the opportunities that come with a significant relocation. They aren’t close enough to loan me money, provide free babysitting, host me for the holidays or fix my house and car like some of my peers enjoy. Their ability to offer advice is limited and I can’t just get in my old, rusty Buick and drive five miles to their home when I need mom and dad. I know this now, and I’m embarrassed to admit it because it’s not like I’m a little boy or even a young, self-absorbed adult anymore. I’m old enough to be a grandparent myself. And I wouldn’t want my parents or my kids to put their own lives on hold to support mine, to pass up opportunities and suppress their goals.

I’m too old to punish people for decades-old decisions and I’m too smart to postpone responsibilities now. I know I have a responsibility to work at being a better son, a better man, a better human being – and to call my parents more than three times a year and visit every three years. If that.

My grandma lived into her 90s so part of me hopes I’ll have time to fix this, to be there for my mom like she was there for me, time and time again, throughout my childhood, challenging teen years, early adulthood and every time, without fail, when I’ve asked for help since then. But of course there are no guarantees and as Ben Franklin or Leonardo DeCaprio or Plato or Aesop or Dr. Seuss suggested, “Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today.”

I probably won’t be able to hold my mom in my lap, to wrap a blanket around her and tell her how much I love her and show her that I mean it by caring for her as she cared for me. But maybe I will. And I hope that if and when I do and someone happens to take a snapshot of the two of us, people who look at it will be able to see the same strength, love and devotion that the man above clearly shows.

I’ve got to go call my mom now.

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