My mother always told me that bad things happened in threes, so when my molar cracked, then our garage door broke, I had a hunch something else awaited me on the horizon. Two days later a boulder crashed through my windshield.
None of these events turned out to be catastrophic – merely inconvenient irritants requiring minimal emotion, a little time, money, and someone else’s expertise.
But then a fourth, unexpected thing happened – my mother became ill. With one phone call, I was kidnapped into the world of eldercare, age rage, advocacy and assigned my new role as designated daughter.
When it comes to family emergencies, no matter what their circumstance, they have a way of trumping anything else happening in the universe. State of the Union addresses, presidential debates, a plummeting stock market and even airline tickets to vacation hotspots are suddenly null and void, off the radar screen – drowned out by a tidal wave of worry.
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Naturally, I dropped everything. My heart started beating faster. Writing deadlines, social engagements and sleep were quickly replaced by doctor appointments, trips to Walgreens Pharmacy and endless Google searches researching my mom’s mysterious symptoms.
Waiting three weeks to get into a specialist became our new normal, each of them running endless labs, waiting for results, prescribing new medications and then starting all over again.
William Saroyan, once said, “Everybody has to die, but I always believed an exception would be made in my case.”
This has also been my mother’s mantra for as long as I can remember and even now as she ails, she makes a point of reminding me she has no intention of leaving Earth any time soon. Both of us are missing our Saturday morning ritual of lunch first, and shopping next in search of new Estée Lauder reds, the perfect “carry-everything-but-the-kitchen-sink” handbags, and sequin tops just for the heck of it.
The golden years.
Autumn of life.
The declining years.
Call it what you will, it’s the season of life when more leaves fall, uninvited tragedies show up at your doorstep, and there are more goodbyes than hellos. Here it is only January and we have lost a slew of friends, pillars of our Armenian community: Sarkis Sahatdjian, Bob Der Mugrdechian, Mildred Shirin, Harry Topoozian.
I know my mother is keeping count. So am I, cringing as I accompany her to funerals.
As a baby boomer – it’s also happening to me. Friends and rock star legends dying, joints aching, memories fading. So in some strange way, we are traveling this chapter together – mother and daughter, side by side, tag-teaming the journey. We are struggling some days, triumphing on others.
Both of us stubborn and hardheaded “women of a certain age,” we are well aware of our mortality, still wanting our voices heard, and secretly hoping to dance at our grandchildren’s weddings.
Last week, as I cancelled meetings, a book talk and rearranged a handful of personal appointments, I received a lifesaving note from a trusted friend who always knows when I’m hanging on by a thread. Here’s what she wrote:
“My dear friend ~ my heart is heavy as I search for the words. I sigh repeatedly and attempt to organize my thoughts to express so much in so small a space. Moms. We wouldn’t be here without them, and if you are lucky enough to have a great mom – then you are lucky indeed and blessed in life.
It is so painful, so difficult to witness their decline. To witness their bodies becoming frail. To see their thoughts and memories wander farther and farther away, to try so hard to restore them, or to ease any pain, sometimes failing miserably. To struggle with your own dreams and desires for the day while knowing their greatest desire is for you to be at their side.
I wish you strength and peace as you navigate this chapter. We take care of each other, even when it’s inconvenient. In the blink of an eye, it will be us in their place. Love, Anne”
A few days later, in a quiet moment perched at my mother’s kitchen table, we both apologize, confessing the challenges of such uncharted territory. Admittedly, some mornings we wake up cranky and impatient, exhausted from this new unfolding chapter. There are nights when she cannot sleep and days when I cannot manage my emotions.
For all the times we are afraid, angry, frustrated and tired there are other times when we are good-humored, supportive, forgiving and loving.
We have endured knee replacements, broken hips, broken hearts and family tragedy. At the end of the day, we instinctively lean on each other – just as we have done our entire lives.
Armen D. Bacon is a writer and co-author of “Griefland: An Intimate Portrait of Love, Loss and Unlikely Friendship” and a collection of essays called “My Name is Armen.”