So this is Letters to my Mother, but I had to take a different tack when I realized that it was almost Father’s Day and I am thinking about the two of them. They were together for over 50 years if you count the time they were dating before they married. That’s a long time – many people don’t even live that long, let alone live with someone else’s presence being central in their life. When my father got sick and could no longer live in their home my mother would go to see him every day. She didn’t have a car and she had to take the bus, but she would make this journey regardless of the weather.
Wow I feel like I lost months from my life – which I suspect I did. I think that the loss of my mother kind of merged with the gray of winter and I let myself have a very long pity party. I became self-absorbed and negative and forgot about joy. And that is such a downward spiral that just feeds itself. While I went through the motions of taking care of everything, I felt like I had lost myself. I have so much wonderful in my life but I just couldn’t really see it. I could give it lip service, but I didn’t really see, feel, smell, hear, and taste the reality of all the good stuff.
I know that I have had depression in the past but this really blind-sided me and knocked me down.
And honestly this feels very fragile too – this feeling better – I feel like I’m recovering from a long illness and I might relapse if I over extend myself too much.
Thanksgiving sent me into an emotional tailspin – Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays, and one of my mother’s favorite holidays. We were always together for Thanksgiving at her home or mine, until 2012 when she was too ill to come to my home, so I had to go see her in the nursing home – a very unsatisfying way to spend the holiday … but I still got to spend the holiday with her – this year that was not possible. So it was surprisingly hard. There was no one else who liked sweet potatoes, so we didn’t have sweet potatoes – I didn’t feel like making them just for myself with all the other dishes I was cooking.
I feel like I’m still dealing with not being able to see her on a day I had always seen her, every Thanksgiving of my life. I listen to songs on the radio, and they are always about “love” as romantic love and losing a boyfriend/girlfriend/love interest, or falling in love, etc., etc. – no one ever writes songs about losing their parents. We just all see it as inevitable, and NO ONE ever talks about it, let alone sings songs about it. Not that music makes things ok, but I have always found music to be healing. It’s probably like parents in general – underappreciated and underrecognized until they’re gone.
Somehow it never matters how much time or notice you have, you never get to say all you want to say, there always feels like there is something you wish you got to say or do. Even though my mother was sick for quite a while before she died, I still feel like I wish I had one more chance to say something I didn’t say then.
So much has been written about parenting a teenager, so I know that my words are unlikely to be all that new or fresh, but I am so struck by it that I have to comment. And just because it’s trite doesn’t make it any less powerful at a personal level.
When my oldest was little – a baby, a toddler – I remember friends with older children would talk about how parenting is a constant letting go process from the time they are born. And as my oldest now moves forward towards adulthood, this resonates so clearly that my head almost rings like a bell: I imagine others can hear my struggle to let go. Because all the other letting gos seemed so small – even though they didn’t feel that small at the time.
Sleepovers at friends’.
School overnight trips.
Watching his disappointment without trying to rush in and save him.
Seeing him make mistakes and stumble along and not trying to catch him.
Knowing he had secrets and having to trust that they were all growthful, not hurtful; about crushes, not suicide.
Having to trust that if there was a problem he would ask for help, and that he had the skills to do that even though the skills hadn’t been tested. Like riding a bike or driving a car – you don’t know how you will handle the obstacle or crisis until it actually happens.
He was an early talker and a late bike rider, but now he keeps most of his thoughts to himself and wants to ride in a triathlon.
I’m just hoping I can stand on the sidelines cheering.
So I think that my loss of my friend has to do with the difference a point of view makes. My friend and I have many similarities: we both have a lot on our plates, both have had a number of losses, both of us value our children and our families. We both tend to be opinionated and feel strongly about things. There are many times in the past when we have stood together and looked at things in the same way. When we have worked together or supported each other.
But this time we are looking at the same thing in such different ways that it appears our friendship has ended.
And that is how powerful a difference a point of view can be.
I see myself as someone who was willing to help out in a crunch. Someone who was willing to go out of my way to be helpful. Someone who was trying to be a good friend, but also had to set a limit because I knew over time I would grow resentful and that there would be a series of problems that would fall like a row of dominoes. If I had agreed to give long-term support, at some point I would have backed out, full of frustration after the dominoes fell. But I care about her and her children, so I wanted to do what I could without that happening. I saw it as a big favor to ask of me, which I didn’t think I could give; but I thought I could do a small part, which was still a big favor in my mind, but not as huge as the original ask.
She sees me as someone who has betrayed her, who she couldn’t count on when she needed me. It took a lot for her to ask for help, and she felt there was no one else. She sees my offer as inadequate and insignificant. It doesn’t solve the problem in the long-run, only offers a short-term fix to buy some time and figure out a long-term solution. She is overwhelmed and desperate and not really able to think about anyone else’s point of view – she’s in crisis. She sees me as hurtful and selfish, as the person with all the power in this situation, someone who could easily give her what she needs, and solve one of the many problems she is facing right now.
She didn’t see it as a big favor for me to give, she couldn’t see the costs or problems it might create at my end. And she thought that whatever problems it might create were minor compared to the problem it would solve for her. Because they were my problems, not hers. Her problem was big because it was hers. My problems were small because they were mine. It’s a matter of perspective – the things close to you look huge and the things far away look miniscule.
And so the favor felt huge to me, but not so big to her.
I am not saying her problem was small – she has one big problem. But if I was to do the favor she asked, I would end up with a pile of small problems which would rival her big problem in size.
It’s all in the point of view.
I just lost a friend. It happened so fast I am sitting here shocked. I didn’t think I was being unreasonable, but they thought I was being selfish, and basically told me so and told me good riddance. And we had been friends for a long time.
Maybe I was being selfish. I guess it’s a question of perspective. I prioritized my family’s comfort over my ex-friend’s needs. It’s one of those things where if you ask me a favor, I will try to do it, especially if the only effort that is required is mine. But if at some point the favor becomes something that is going to require a lot of effort from my family then it is going to lead to a lot of conflict at my end, unless they are also willing to make sacrifices for you. And they may or may not be willing to make sacrifices for you – depending on whether our friendship includes them.
In this case the friendship did not include my family – they basically had no relationship to my friend, or my friend’s children. So when she asked me to take her children to school for the rest of the year, meaning that my children will have to get up 15 minutes earlier, and leave the house 15 minutes earlier, I told her I could do it for a few weeks to give her time to make other arrangements, but I couldn’t do it long term. I know she’s feeling at wit’s end, and like there was no one else to ask. I know she thinks she would drop everything for me and do whatever I asked, and that I am unwilling to show the same loyalty and commitment. I know it took me a couple days to get back to her, because I was having to think things through and think about how it would work and whether there were any other options I could suggest. So I made some mistakes, and I was avoiding the conversation because I didn’t have any good suggestions. And I knew she would be hurt.
But here I am – dumbfounded – I didn’t think our friendship would really end over this.
It makes me really sad, but I really don’t feel I could make that commitment. It was doomed to fail. My kids would have been complaining and dragging their feet. I would have been arguing with them. Everyone would have gotten tardies on some days. My car isn’t very large (it only seats 5 and there would have been 5 of us), and everyone would have been crammed in, especially with musical instruments and backpacks, etc. My kids would be resentful. I would get resentful.
But I guess I was being selfish. And now I have to pay the price.
I weighed my options, and decided that I would rather deal with my friend’s anger and hurt (intense but short term) than my children’s moaning, groaning, arguing and resentment (ongoing, day in and day out, a constant for the rest of the year, long term). And I didn’t realize that the scale would unbalance with the weight of her hurt, crashing to the ground and taking our friendship with it. I guess I didn’t value our friendship enough, I wasn’t willing to make the necessary sacrifices. I must just not be a very good friend.
Would I redo things? I don’t know. I am still in shock.
I met Jim many years ago, and was amazed by him at that time. Here was someone who had his life as he knew it taken away from him, and his response was to become the best person he could be. I think of him as a role model that we could all strive to be like. To be forces for good in the universe. As a young man he was injured diving into a lake – injuries that left him paralyzed – a quadriplegic. I didn’t know him that well, but I never saw him feel sorry for himself – I saw him approach life with an adventurous spirit that wanted to make the world a better place. When he was given the opportunity to participate in research that could improve the lives of quadriplegics, he volunteered for front-line duty – willing to test devices before anyone else, willing to talk with others about his experiences and reassure them, willing to “boldly go where no man (had) gone before”.
I encourage you to google him – you can find old references to an episode of PBS Scientific American Frontiers with Alan Alda that featured Jim, and some interesting articles from the past (People magazine, etc). He was amazing, and I hope I can be half as positive, adventurous and world-changing.
I think it’s funny that my mother always enjoyed listening to me sing in the car – my kids are always telling me to stop (I think because it embarrasses them) – but she was always happy to listen to me sing either with the radio or whatever occurred to me. Maybe it’s that kind of thing like “…a face only a mother could love,” so that because she loved me she was happy to listen to me sing.
And when I sing in the car it’s usually a happy action on my part – you can’t sing while you’re crying (trust me, I’ve tried, it sounds AWFUL and not at all like singing). Maybe the key word is “action” because I can sing when I am mad or sad. Singing is an active, cathartic, engaging thing for me – something that has power, or resonates in my heart.