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a deep feeling of closeness

by Judy
February 14, 2013 

It’s Valentine’s Day – a day all about love. Love between husband and wife, between good friends, sisters and brothers, parent and child. What is this love that moves us so deeply? What does it look like? How is it expressed? I asked my 96 year old mother what love is and she said, “It’s a deep feeling of closeness.”  So simple. Then I asked myself, what then is this closeness that evokes so many feelings; feelings of warmth, affection, joy, tenderness and even feelings that are overwhelming at times? I thought of the closeness between a mother and child; how from the very start there is this close bond the mother has towards the little being just newly emerged from her womb, but the closeness does not necessarily deepen, unless there is on-going care and commitment. Love grows and deepens over time, expressed through our actions and can look very different depending upon the context.

In the context I am in now, living and caring for my 96 year old mom for long stretches of time, part of what love looks like is learning when to respond, engage and even “push” and when to let go and let be. It’s honoring another human being’s journey in this life and not trying to make them be like you. At the same time it’s looking for avenues and ways to engage, interest and even excite. In this way, it’s not so different from other “love” relationships. No matter what the context, part of love is respecting another human being, caring for their welfare and wanting the best for them. And sometimes it does involve a bit of a “push” and other times a holding back.

In my mother’s case, it’s quite stark. My mother has these days when she literally just wants to sleep all day. Do I respect her wishes? After all, this is about her life; not what I want. How much to push? How much to give in to inertia? And who decides what is best?  It’s a bit of a balancing act; wanting to find the right response at any given moment; not wanting to be either over bearing or under caring. It’s easy to get confused about that since it’s natural to want to see our loved ones engaged

On those days when my mom wants to sleep all day, if I or her caregivers would literally let her do it she would really be neglected…she would get stiff, lack circulation and her body would get more painful. In other words, she does need to move her body and exercise. At the same time, I feel to tread lightly with her. There is a larger picture …sometimes she really does seem to need or want to sleep and withdraw, and then the next day or maybe two days later, she will suddenly, seemingly out of the blue, want to go out: invite a friend and go for lunch or go to the flea market. It’s like the spark of life comes back and she’s ready for some “action.”

So it’s tuning into the ebb and flow of her energy, not making assumptions of what she might respond to at any given moment and also being sensitive when she is really so tired and just wants to be left alone. The beauty is one never knows for sure what she might respond to, even when she’s seemingly very tired. That pulls me to be creative and think of ways that might prick my mother's interest. For example, recently for the past few months, I have started reading a book almost every day to my mom – something that she would never have been interested in before. We started with an autobiography of the old time actress Lauren Bacall. For weeks, Lauren Bacall entered our lives in a very real way. My mother would bring her up in conversation as if we literally had met and knew this woman. She clearly had entered my mom’s consciousness. Sometimes I would think my mom was sleeping and I’d stop reading, but she would then speak and I realized that even with her eyes closed and seemingly not present, my mom was still listening. As you can imagine, it’s such a joy to find ways to fuel curiosity and interest and also enriches our time together. Now we’re onto the marriage between Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.

So I come back to what my mother said at the beginning: love is a deep feeling of closeness. I experience that with her every day. My mom is so grateful to have me with her. We share a forever history and an ease and sweetness of being. And I am so grateful that I can be with her at this late age; her light is fading but it is still burning. When she smiles, it is so genuine and beautiful. My mom will be the last person in my life who knew me from the beginning and in her own way cared for me throughout. It is a choiceless act on my part to help and give back to her now. That also is love. It’s mutual gratitude, deep appreciation for each other and ultimately for this big mystery called life.

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