“Don’t worry; I’ll take care of it.”
I had said this to my mom so many times it had become a reflex. My normal response, almost my theme song. Mom was overwhelmed by Dad’s death and not completely oriented to her new apartment. Whatever came up, whether it was…
…Dad’s life insurance claims to file
…getting the car title transferred
…confusion about the dining-room schedule
…mislaid tax forms
…checks payable to Dad that had to be re-issued
…unpaid bills found on the table the same day they were due…
my reaction was the same. Don’t worry; I’ll take care of it.
I had made calls, gathered information, set up automatic bill paying, started monitoring the checking account. A legal pad held my growing mass of notes, phone numbers, account numbers, instructions from banks, dates that I had filed or faxed documents, and so forth.
Outwardly cheerful and matter-of-fact around Mom, I felt an enormous burden of responsibility. She lives two hours away from me; I just cannot monitor everything. What if I overlooked some important papers or missed a deadline? What if I made a mistake? I joked about trying to keep my mom and myself out of jail. At least… I hoped I was joking.
Then my sister died. As executor of her estate, I met with her attorney, went to probate court, filed for her life insurance and other benefits, set up bank accounts. Another legal pad; more emergencies.
Without my realizing it, a grim desperation crept into my normally optimistic attitude. I could not get over to Mom’s as often. When I did, efficiency was my watchword — I felt pressured to accomplish as much as possible at each visit. During errands I almost hyperventilated trying to keep pace with Mom’s slower step. In short, I had become thoroughly “wrapped around the axle.”
Finally I realized that I was treating my own mother almost as if she were more of a job than a person. I was coping with my grief (or just pushing it aside) by doing all those errands. How was Mom coping with her grief? I didn’t even know. But now, at least her affairs were starting to run more smoothly. She needed less help.
We began to relax and talk more, including sharing our feelings about Sis. Mom still got confused, but did not seem so lost. She subscribed to the local paper, made some pretty good friends among her neighbors and started playing bridge with a foursome. She’s a diehard Dallas Mavericks basketball fan, but added baseball to her TV repertoire because most of her neighbors are Texas Rangers fans.
During a recent visit, I saw flyers posted around, announcing “Mismatched Day.” Mom, usually very shy, actually planned to wear two different colors of shoes. We giggled about some other possible mismatches, like plaid with floral. That’s when I saw the bulletin-board calendar. Thursday of the following week would be “Hawaiian Day.” I asked Mom about it; she said she had a black-and-white caftan that’s as close to Hawaiian as she could get. My wheels started turning. Mom was going to “Go Hawaiian” the next Thursday if I had anything to say about it.
“I’ll see you next Wednesday,” I told her as I left. Over the weekend I scouted the craft store and sure enough, they had silk-flower leis. Unlike the little plastic worm-like ones, these boasted spacers between the petals and a hibiscus blossom accented with a little fern leaf. I bought four, all different colors — including orange, which Mom does not like. I figured this would encourage her to give at least one lei to someone else.
She laughed when I pulled the leis out of my bag the next Wednesday. I held them up to her caftan and pointed out that any of the colors would look good with it. “Well, I’m not wearing the orange one,” she insisted.
“I didn’t expect you to. You can give some of them away,” I said.
She later told me she had worn the red and the pink leis herself, and had given the green and orange ones to her close friend because they went with her green shirt.
It was just a little thing, bringing those leis. But what a difference it made to both of us. It was so good to drop the seriousness for once; to surprise my mom; to hear her laugh and see her interested enough to join in with the community like that. If you are in “survival mode” and bogged down with burdensome tasks, I would encourage you to go beyond survival and take a little break for just plain fun. As near as I can figure, we all need that balance.
I hope this perspective will be helpful to my Soli Deo Gloria friends and to everyone else, as well.
Thanks for reading!