This week, my mother is moving to an assisted living facility in Atlanta, Georgia to live closer to my brother. She’s going with an open mind and a good, healthy sense of adventure. She knows that my brother and I would like her closer, and she knows, too, that maybe it’s a good time for her, also, to be closer to us. There have been some health scares, which are luckily resolved. And there’s that pesky memory-stuff, that can’t be denied. She’s leaving New York City, which has fed her heart, body and soul for many years. I know she’ll miss it. I will miss going there to be with her, and it will always be “her City” as far as I’m concerned.
But I also know that if anyone has the capacity for happiness inside four walls, or out of them, it’s my mother. She’s intellectually curious. She’s open. She’s observant. And best of all, she’s rarely—I believe I can say “almost never” here without lying—scared. In a world that’s full of stuff to be feared, she doesn’t. She approaches newness as an adventure, and you can include in that gaping category the big unknown, Death. She’s not scared of it. She’s philosophical about it. And because she is, we talk about it openly and honestly. I hope her courage will one day rub off on me. It would serve me well.
“Courage, hard work, self mastery and intelligent effort are all essential to a successful life. Character in the long run is the decisive factor in the life of an individual and of nations alike.” —Theorore Roosevelt
You don’t participate in the moving of a parent without going through a lot of thinking, worrying and sleepless nights. Is it right for them? Is the timing what it should be? Is it the right place? Am I treating this person with love? You go around and around…and in my case, you do it while spending a great deal of time talking, laughing, crying and querying with the very person involved. We talk almost every day, she and I, and while I’m aware of the challenges of aging that are upon her, I’m most often aware of what her body and her mind continue to do really well. When she’s having good days, she’s brilliantly observant, critical (in the best sense of the word), funny. And while I’m being myself and she’s being herself…our ages slip away and disappear, and we snuggle into the comfortable slippers of biological and age-indifferent roles, mother and daughter. I may do a lot for her administratively, but she is still the one who gives hope. Her maternal supremacy reigns on, whether she knows it or not.
Take away the hierarchy implied by familial relationship (i.e., she is older by nature of being the parent), and you have two people who are still the people they were a long time ago in many senses. She still “plays well by herself” (a comment made by one of her elementary school teachers). I still have difficulty finishing projects I’ve started. She still wields a vast and accurate vocabulary. I still love illustrated children’s books. She still gets dressed every morning with a singular and somewhat dramatic sense of style. I still throw my hair thoughtlessly into a clip and say, “Let’s go!” I think we both look in the mirrors and feel slightly disconnected from what we see, our inner voices and selves not matching up perfectly with the ever new arrangement of flesh. We just feel like ourselves. She tells me how young and beautiful I look, and I tell her the same, and our mutual, unspoken inner response to that statement is: “Well, that’s because you love me.”
Age falls away—means little—does nothing but get in the way of the critical business of living the instant. Of listening, sharing, laughing, witnessing, attending, participating…giving comfort where you can.
So when I think about how old I am, the question falls dumb on even dumber ears. I am what I am. I am the daughter of my mother. I am advancing in years as we all are. I am a product of my times, past and present. I feel changed in some ways, and essentially immutable and untouched in others. My spirit shines next to hers, as it does next to my husband’s and my daughters’. I will one day be dust, just like my father and my grandfathers, and unbelievably the offspring of my offspring. But, so what? Now is now. And here we are. And we were all lucky enough to meet and spend this amazing time together.