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slowing down and tuning into my mom's world

by Judy
July 7, 2014

Recently I read a beautiful essay by Rachel Macy Stafford, a mother of a six year old, who was constantly telling her child to “hurry up.” She describes her daughter as “a laid-back, carefree, stop-and-smell-the roses type of child” and herself as a type A woman who was constantly on the go. At some point she realized what a detriment it was not to honor her child’s world and vowed never to use the phrase, “hurry up” again and to consciously slow down and let her daughter metaphorically “smell the roses.”

In reading this essay I was struck how in many ways it’s not so different from relating to my mom. The world my mother lives in…now a woman of 98… is one where she is no longer vigorous, excited by the new and different and moving through life at a fast pace. In the past my mother did everything quickly and was proud of it and when she had to be somewhere, she always came early. She did not have a lot of patience in general for people who spoke or moved slower than her and found it hard to listen to anyone talk too long. The main time she really relaxed is when she was at the beach, taking a bath or painting.

The world my mother lives in now is very different. I try to imagine at times where she is dwelling; what her consciousness is like. I don’t know if I will ever really understand all that she experiences. Sometimes I don’t think she is awake and listening and it turns out she is. I was telling her about a particular painting I was doing and by her breathing and general manner, I thought she was sleeping, but she wasn’t. Her responses to me were slow, but she was with me the whole time. I realized that she probably is awake more than I think. In the world my mom lives, she has her eyes closed almost all the time because her vision is so poor and lies in bed most of the day. Time has very little significance. Often she doesn’t know morning from night or breakfast from dinner and the year, month and day are pretty meaningless.

Recently her niece, Barbara came to visit and for almost two hours told my mom stories. Remarkably my mother listened the whole time. Now this is not the same woman I knew most of my life. She couldn’t repeat afterwards what she was told, but she was interested while listening.

This morning I told her that I had just spoken to Andrea, my good friend and co-blog writer. I told her that Andrea is up in the Adirondacks with her 96 year old mother. She was surprised to hear the age of Andrea’s mother and said, “Oh, I’m a baby next to her.” I then asked my mom how old she was. She paused for a moment and said, “91.” I asked her how old I was and she said “60.” Surprisingly she got them both accurately incorrect by seven years. When I told her this and that she was 98 years old, she seemed astonished. She said, “You mean I’m almost 100 years old?” "Yes" I said and then I told her she had made us both seven years younger and we both burst into laughter.

So humor still plays a role in my mom’s world.

She is a little like a newborn baby in the sense that she doesn’t stay awake too long and then slips into sleep after some activity. It’s like all the processes have gone into another gear - the slow gear - and still my mom’s thinking is spot on at times. She is still “with it” in many ways.

Just as the mother of the child had to slow down and really tune into her daughter’s world; so I have to slow down and tune into my mom’s world. And I am always finding there is more to go. For example, the other day on the way to the doctor’s, it struck me that my mother was not seeing anything (with eyes closed) and how disorienting that would be. I started telling her where she was, trying to activate her visual memory of places and streets. I had begun to do this already but not so much when traveling and realized I needed to do this more. It highlights to me how “clumsy” I am at times lacking in the sensitivity to really “get” what her world is like and caringly respond. It demands of me so much more patience and attention than I normally have and makes me also see how much more patience we need in general to really “take in” another being’s reality and not do our habitual knee jerk responses.

 It is indeed humbling when one has glimpses into how insensitive we often are without meaning to be. As always these glimpses bring humility and the desire to truly change.

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