On Mothers

I’m very fortunate that, as I approach the age of 47, my mother is still with me. She’ll be 84 next month, and she lives in a skilled nursing facility. Arthritis has robbed her of the ability to walk or even stand some days and she had continual health problems that delayed her anticipated knee replacement surgery to the point that her surgeon no longer felt comfortable operating on her, so she’ll be in this condition for the rest of her life. As it stands right now, even if she were able to visit – she’s in North Carolina, where I was born – she couldn’t come stay with us, as we’re on the second floor and stairs are just something she can’t manage, even on her best days.

I’m thankful that she’s in this facility. She’d been in assisted living for some years before this and her experiences there was not good at best and abhorrent at worst. She’s finally in a place that takes care of her the way she needs to be taken care of, she’s continuing to work on her mobility in the hopes that it can be improved, and she has a roommate that she adores. I wish she were closer, though, because I miss my mother and I haven’t seen her in going on seven years now.

While her body is giving out – years of chronic bronchitis have evolved into COPD on top of the crippling arthritis in her knees – her mind is still as sharp as ever. She has her moments when she forgets things, but so do I, and it’s arguable who’s in a worse state in that regard. She’s shy when it comes to computers, but we’ve got a guardian angel there locally that looks in after her and her laptop (she just upgraded to Windows 10, and so far so good).

The fact remains, though, that she doesn’t have a lot of years left (though if she could survive on stubbornness and tenacity alone she’d still be kicking at 135), and I fear that she might not survive until I can make it out to see her at least once more. With my wife’s new benefits, getting the time off from work won’t be an issue, but affording the hotel rooms along the way and the three meals dining out would take us some time to save up for. And that frustrates me.

Mom did the best she could while raising me. She always did what she thought was right, and I will always be thankful for her support through the years. Raising a child with mental illness isn’t an easy thing, and I think she understood what I was going through less than I did – at least I was experiencing it first hand and could have put it into words if I were pressured – and that had to have been a nightmare for her and Dad alike.

I feel like in many ways I’ve either disappointed her by not being able to live up to my potential thanks to the many curve balls that life has thrown me, or let her down because I don’t earn enough to have her closer or visit her more or take better care of her. That’s something that I have to live with.

So Mom, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry I didn’t turn out the way you had hoped. I did the best I could with what I had, and there were so very many times that wasn’t enough to move me forward in life. Chances are good that because of that, the rest of my own life is going to be a very difficult struggle, very similar to what you’re going through on your own right now. I know you take this on yourself, that you believe it’s all you. It’s not. I want you to know that it’s not your fault that I turned out like this; there’s so many outside influences that conspired to make me the way I am that there will never be any one place to point a finger and say “it’s only because of you that I wound up this way.” I can’t say genetically which side of the family this has its roots in, so I can’t and won’t point a finger in either of your directions. I can’t honestly say that the way I was raised didn’t contribute to the situation either – I am the sum total of my genetic makeup and the experiences I have had throughout my life, and you are part of that experience, just as my school experiences and the hell I went through when I was 13 are. I know you blame yourself, so for what little part of this that is your contribution to the puzzle that is my mind, I forgive you for anything that you might have inadvertently done to exacerbate what was already there. You did your best, and that’s the part that I choose to focus on, rather than assigning blame where it’s impossible to do.

And for the part that you had control over – my moral compass, my sense of right and wrong, my desire to treat others well and do good with my life – you did an exceedingly good job, perhaps too good in some ways. (The game that I played frequently when I was staying with you in 2009 during your radiation treatment had a villain side, where you could play someone evil and dastardly, and you did such a good job instilling in me what was RIGHT and what was GOOD I barely ever played that half of the game – I just couldn’t wrap my mind around how to be that kind of person and I still can’t today.) I’m proud of those aspects of my life, and I wouldn’t change that for the world. When it comes down to it, having those core beliefs is far more important than anything you might have contributed to me having a rougher life than I would have liked. For that part of who I am, I cannot thank you enough.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I miss you.

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