The universe has been engaging in high level shenanigans this week, and quite frankly I am exhausted. I took my usual route of constant mindful work to balance out the crazy. As always, action and productivity versus useless handwringing feels good.
Work as prayer, mindful work, using my time wisely, giving thanks at all times, these are the lessons of my childhood from my parents and the great Sisters of St. Joseph, at the incredible Academy of St. Joseph.
While so many have horror stories of mean, and frankly sadistic nuns and priests, I am lucky to have had polar opposite experiences. For twelve years, I had the luck of being in a progressive all girl school. (Luck because the school has since closed down, and before the closure, had to go coed at the elementary level.) The emphasis was on being the authentic, unique, and gifted beings we all are. This is much easier to focus on when the vibe is a girl power, who cares what you look like when your so smart and powerful vibe, where girls were the presidents of classes and clubs, and not just the recording secretaries, as this was the 1970’s, a rare vibe indeed. We were taught to value hard work, the joy of getting things done, and were given total freedom to do so.
By high school we had no set lunch, no study halls, and no bathroom passes. The academic load was huge but to a large degree independent; we could do the work when we wanted. If we wanted to spend our free time (and yes it was called free time) socializing in one of the many lounges, the locker rooms or alcoves, we could do just that. We were taught that we were responsible for ourselves and our time. The auxiliary to this; no assignment was ever
accepted late, and there were no do overs. I am sure we all probably had a sad outcome or two, but the lesson learned was huge. Time and what we choose to do with it is ours; what we choose to do with it defines our life.
So in the wake of the prankster universe, I did, and did, and did. You name it, I did it: studying, choreographing, babysitting, gardening, cleaning, teaching, protesting. The week was fully realized. All the things that give my life value were done, done well and done plenty. I tried all week to live up to a quote John Lewis included in his last memoir, which I have been reading. And for the most part it worked. I actually had a moment of feeling quite satisfied, and in control of life.
Huge mistake that. Sometimes all the work in the world bears no fruit. This message is central to the Lewis memoir, and bears repeating. Sometimes your greatest effort will bring nothing to you personally. Keep trying anyway, for the effort will bring results eventually, and someone else will reap the benefits. That is enough. Be hopeful, not naive, strong and aware but not cynical.
Every message of this memoir is meaningful in everyday life. Life is filled with battles both great and small as I learned yet again when the week that was feeling so successful took a bad turn.
My stubborn, strong and remarkably gritty mom was nearly defeated. A frail bodied 89 year old woman, fell and could not get up. The nightmare happened. A call on Friday morning, from a friend. A too long and convoluted story to tell here; end result she was found down but mostly fine, bruised ribs not withstanding.
But what a scare, and what a test to the emotional work I have been doing.
For the past two years , I have been working on immersing myself in what I am actually feeling as it happens. A revolutionary concept for me. The Lucenas are a family of repressors, good face in public, just get on with it people. In general this works for public functioning; personally it leads to anxiety, ulcers and high blood pressure. My goal is to keep the useful Lucena grit, yet allow for human emotions. It will surprise no one to learn that the only three people not crying at my brother’s funeral were his mother and two sisters. We cried; not publicly, but privately, the Lucena way. It should also not come as a surprise that we are simultaneously proud of the stoicism and find it ridiculous to the point of humor too. So how to resolve this new way of being, and balance what Maria wanted.
It was/ is not easy.
My first reaction was the Lucena fallback. Righteous anger and judgment, if she would just have moved here like I wanted/regularly demanded, this would not be happening. Not helpful. Showing too much concern was also not helpful. Getting choked up, and now being the family crier is also not appreciated. To counteract these tears my mother confabulated a new story (within minutes) where she had not fallen, and lain helplessly there, but had merely experienced a misstep and had simply fallen back asleep in place. Her ribs are not hurt and no idea how the bruises got there. For the record, this new story was not because she wanted to protect me or make me feel better; she was tired of me, my concern had grown tiresome. Sigh, who knows what really happened, the question was how to proceed.
My sister and I sprung into action and started the list; oh how we love our lists.
Life Alert, Care.com, Merry Maids, elder proofing the house (long overdue and STILL against her wishes.) Maria, on Life Alert, “I see those commercials and they make me laugh, and I will not wear that thing." Liz on Life Alert, you wear it or you are out of your house. We have that list ready to go, and I have a plan to basically kidnap her when her ribs are healed, and bring her here as we make her house a safe house for the very elderly, and find a companion to live with her.
For the short term my niece Lori stepped in and
saved the day yesterday. A long visit, a house clean up, a visit to target and body scan had us sighing in relief. Maria was indeed fine, not as fine as she insisted, but fine. A lucky escape. One of my best childhood friends will bring my mom to the doctor this week. We have elder aides set to visit. My mom has agreed to all this, an enormousness act of concession. All she wants to do is die in the home where she raised her family, and she is wily enough to know that she has to lose some little battles to win the war.
All I want is to have my mom here; coddled and taken care of in her remaining days. Maria wants no part of this. She wants her house, her comfort classic meatloaf, her Yankees, and her way. I am realizing that my sister and I will keep making lists and taking care of her from a distance. The fruits of this labor will not be all that satisfying. But the life lesson is again enormous. All we can do is our best, and sometimes our best falls far short of our hopes. Sometimes it’s not even in the ballpark of our hopes, (a baseball metaphor for Maria). Strive anyway, work anyway, be your best self anyway. My mother knows only one way to be. Stoic and proudly independent, she does what she needs to do. I don’t always agree with her, but that is a lesson too. We can agree to disagree, with love, even while aggravated. I have learned to emulate her grit. Now I need to learn what that means for my life.
As always, the learning is connected to the gratitude. I give thanks for all those who are stepping in and helping take care of my mother. I give thanks for the evil genius of Jeff Bezos and the monstrously efficient Amazon, (which may be my personal karmic challenge.) I give thanks for this stubborn, feisty, brilliant woman, even as she is actively killing me. Without her, there would be far less grit, far less education, far less contemplation, far less of everything that gives life color, both beautiful and sad.
So I will move forward this week, using my time wisely, forgoing the handwringing, working towards better things. In the meantime, Maria is still happily at home, hoping now for Yankee victories. Like a beautiful butterfly, her time left is short; may she get to enjoy it the way she wants; may I have the grace to let her.