Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Promised Land

I was raised by my grandparents. I grew up calling them Mom and Dad, mostly because that's what everyone else called them, including my mother. And even though my mother and I have a good relationship, we've always been more like sisters, understandably so considering we had the same parents. Dad was 50 when I was born, and Mom was 48. And as I grew up, I realized that my parents were older, not only because I knew they were really my grandparents, but because the age difference between my parents and the parents of the other kids was visible. As a child, it never really occurred to me to mind. So they were older? Who cares? Their age had no real impact on my day to day life. I still did all the things the other kids did. I learned how to ride a bike without training wheels. I had cute stylish clothes. I went to slumber parties. It just wasn't something that I ever really thought about.

Fast forward to my teenage years. It was during this time that it suddenly occurred to me how the fact that my parents were 20 some odd years older than everyone else's parents was going to affect me. They started developing the usual minor age related health problems. High cholesterol, high blood pressure, that sort of thing. People like cardiologists came into the picture. And one day it hit me that I was going to lose my Mom and Dad earlier in life than most of my friends. Of course there are the exceptions - friends who have lost parents due to tragic illness or accidents and other similar circumstances. And then on occasion I would hear about someone's grandmother or grandfather passing away, and at that point I became acutely aware of the fact that I would lose my Mom and Dad.

I think subconsciously, this realization impacted me much more than I was aware. I went to college only four hours away and came home frequently. I stayed in Memphis for graduate school. And every time I contemplated or even attempted to leave the Memphis area, I would become overwhelmed by guilt for leaving my parents because I didn't know how much time I had left with them. Of course Mom didn't exactly help matters. She never wanted me to leave. I was her last child...the baby. And Mom lived to be a mom. She was happier doing things for her kids than she was for herself. And without someone to mother, she just seemed so sad. So I called all the time, went to see them every weekend, involved her in all my major decisions, and basically dragged out her chance to be a mom for 35 years.

When I was 35 years old, I got married. Unfortunately not to someone who lived in Memphis. I moved 12 hours away from my parents to Fort Riley, KS. I also found out two weeks after arriving in Kansas that I was pregnant with Mom and Dad's first great-grandchild. And ever since I finally decided to live my life, get married, leave Memphis, have kids...I have been overwhelmed by feelings of guilt that I abandoned my parents. Mom's health has steadily deteriorated in the time since I moved away. And then she found out that she had lung cancer. Her mental status has worsened as well. She's too confused to manage her finances, and I am 12 hours away and useless. I found out two weeks ago that I am pregnant and yesterday Mom called to tell me that the radiation she had for her lung cancer was unsuccessful, that the cancer has spread, that they are starting hospice care next week, and that she has less than six months to live. And when she told me, all I could think of was what a horrible person I was for leaving my parents. How I should have just not gotten married, stayed in Memphis, and waited until she was gone. Thirty-five years I waited, and in the less than three years I've been gone living my new life, she's reached the end of hers.

I laid in bed last night and wept. My greatest fear is, after everything my Mom has seen me through, I won't be there to hold her hand and tell her that it's ok to go. That her children are grown with lives and children of their own. That she was the best mother I could have asked for, despite all the differences of opinion that we had about things that seem so frivolous now. That she doesn't have to worry because we are all ok and we all love her. That I'm sorry she didn't have more time to spend with Jameson, and that she won't be able to meet the new baby, something that is almost inconceivable to me. Because I know my Mom, and I know that it's things like this that she will be thinking about at the end of her life. "Do my kids love me? Did I do enough for them? Are they angry with me about anything? Are they angry with each other about anything? Will they take care of Daddy after I'm gone?" And I don't want Mom to be worried anymore. She's worried every day of her life, and worried enough for everyone in the whole family, and all I want for her in those last moments is to finally be at peace with her life.

Pope Paul VI said "Every mother is like Moses. She does not enter the promised land. She prepares a world she will not see." My Mom taught me what it is to be a parent, but she'll never the see the fruit of her efforts. She won't be here to see Jameson as a man, or the new baby grown, but she will impact their lives more than she knows. Hopefully she knows just how much she has impacted mine.