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when a glimmer of light is more than enough

being loved without expectation

by Andrea
September, 2015

Yesterday I was sitting with my mother, having a glass of wine at the end of the day in her tiny assisted living apartment, about 6 miles from where I live. Teddy, my dog, sat faithfully by her feet. At one point, I glanced over at her clear eyes and soft skin. I momentarily felt disarmed by the kindness in her innocent face, remembering the time when the tables were beginning to turn, and I could barely see through the clouds. Tonight our conversation was simple and heartfelt. The fact that we were having a conversation at all was more than enough.

I am grateful to be able to say this right now, grateful for the richness of heart that my mother, now 97, brings into my life and into the lives of my family and so many others. While there is not necessarily anything extraordinary about my mother, there is something extraordinary about being in relationship with her—being in relationship with a mother who is almost 100 years old, and where love and learning continue to grow and deepen between us. It's a treasure that I never expected to find. 

I am aware that this experience of gratitude is not what everyone experiences with their elderly parents. It can be a difficult relationship for many good reasons. 

Recently I got together with a friend, and over lunch he asked about my relationship with my mother. He said he was very moved by what Judy and I were expressing in our essays. He also said he was struggling with his own elderly mother, with the changes in her as she ages. His mother, now 93, still lives alone, but caregivers come every day to assist her. Caregivers, he says, that she always complains about. I knew his mother many years ago. I didn’t know her that well, but I knew she was very intelligent and feisty. I liked her.

He told me that his mother constantly complains. "She is so negative, complaining about everything and everyone who tries to help her. It is like her whole consciousness has become clouded with grayness and negativity." "God," he said, "getting old sucks!" He described what many people experience, and why so many draw the same conclusion about getting old. 

I shared with my friend some of my own journey with mother over these past 8 years—how I too struggled with the changes in her life as she went from being a proudly independent and capable woman to someone who slowly was unable to manage her life in the same way. I recalled how, despite knowing that we all eventually get old, it was unfathomable to me that my mother could ever lose the independent spirit that defined her life. But she did, just as someday I will too. And so will you. So will all of us. But I remember how truly tough this time was. That period was the beginning of the tables turning in my life as well as hers. Although I didn't know it at the time, it was a rite of passage into a new order of things.

My friend pulled a lot out of me that day. His quality of listening felt like a sponge. He wanted to know what happened. I told him that I never gave up on my mother. Whatever it took, I never gave up on that spark of light I knew was in her. Then, over time, I started noticing changes in myself and in her. My expectations were shifting. I stopped fighting the aging process in my mother. I no longer needed her to be other than who she is right now. I no longer needed her to be who she used to be. It was as if all my ideas about getting old stepped aside and vanished. Being loved without expectation, I watched my mother relax, deepen and soften into her elderly years, and flower into the beautiful elderly person she has become.

For me, this has been a journey in the dark, guided at times by a mere glimmer of light. That glimmer of light has become my guide, anchor and focus of a whole new order of relationship—not only with my mother—but with life itself. Just as a simple conversation with my mother, it is more than enough. It contains everything, including the sun.

A 40 sec peek into my mother's world, enjoying the company of a dear friend

Caregiver's Circle: Join Judy and Andrea in a monthly conversation about this and other caregiving issues. Click here to learn more

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