Open your Eyes and Listen
I have heard that the dying teach us, IF we are open to listening and hearing.
My Mom was not an easy person to live with, or to love. At times she might be described as selfish, demanding, rude…but most of the time she could be described as fun and the life of the party. She loved watching University of Kentucky basketball. She’d get dressed in her Wildcat sweatshirt, pop her some popcorn and watch the games with her gentleman friend (he was at his house, she was at hers) and they’d talk on the phone through the entire game. She spoke of the players with an endearing tone, knew all their names and their shooting averages. Mom also loved to dance, travel, get all dressed up and feed everyone who walked in her door. She was a great cook and seamstress and worked hard.
As the aging process took its toll, some of her less complimentary traits became more obvious. I’m sure the nurses went home at night after a hard day talking about the one patient barking orders at them as they did their best to accommodate her. Unfortunately, through no conscious fault of her own, no amount of attention or helpfulness could help settle or satisfy her.
Mom was a paradox.
When I wasn’t there, we’d talk 2-3 times every day. Her number one topic was wanting me there. However, when I was there, she often sat in silence or focused on the never-ending to-do list. The mind is an interesting thing.
Most of the time she wanted to go for a ride. The nurses would help me load her and her oxygen into the car. We didn’t take her wheelchair since it was difficult for one person to move her around, so we’d just go for a drive.
When she was still in relatively good shape, we’d get a strawberry Blizzard at Dairy Queen, or mashed potatoes and gravy from KFC – two of her favorite treats. I’d drive her to where she grew up, to some of her favorite places, a drive by to see her minister and his wife. She talked about days gone by and most usually with a smile on her face and a twinkle in her eye. A comment she made often was, “life is so short, it seems like a dream.”
What I began to realize each time I got back on the plane from Kentucky to California, was that my Mom was still teaching me and I was still learning.
I learned what gratitude really was during her last few months. I was grateful for so many wonderful people helping take care of Mom, in spite of her feisty self. I was grateful that, for the most part, she was not suffering.
As I watched her deteriorate, I became even more appreciative of how healthy and mobile I was and that for now, my brain was functioning (at least most days) on all eight cylinders. I became even more aware and thankful for my own freedoms, which I will admit until then I too often took for granted.
The freedom to take a hot shower without assistance, being able to go for a walk without a walker or wheelchair, reading and being able to comprehend a newspaper, picking out and putting on my own clothes,and being able to have a meaningful conversation with someone.
The biggest thing I learned was to find something to appreciate every day. Those days we went for a drive brought joy to us both. I discovered that what I thought were the simple things in life were really the most important things…laughing together, sharing a strawberry Blizzard, reminiscing about people we knew, and places we had been together.
Mom passed away peacefully a few weeks shy of her 95th birthday. I know they heard her talking way before she got to the other side.
My wish for you is that you, too, take time now to appreciate those simple things… with those you love, and for yourself each and every day. As Erma Bombeck, an American humorist said, “Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the Titanic who waved off the dessert cart.”
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