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unadulterated sweetness

when the table turns: unadulteraed humor

by Judy
March 30, 2015

I often come back to certain themes, cycling and recycling around them and seeing how they evolve. This time it’s about who we are or who we think we are. In seeing how much my mother has changed, I wonder how much she actually remembers who she was or who she thought she was. I think about how each one of us has our narratives; our stories that we carry about ourselves. Some of that narrative is true, some is based on what people tell us about ourselves and what we choose to remember or hold onto and some is a fabrication or an elaboration of our mind, but in any case we carry an image about ourselves – a whole story that can be very clear and defined or not. In my mother’s case, I think she had a definite image of herself as someone strong, down to earth and upbeat; a woman who was forward thinking and acting; honest and reliable. Much of that was true, but it was not the whole picture. We are so much more than who we think we are; than our particular story.

And what happens when the life circumstances change dramatically? This is the case with my mother. For the past almost three years, post-stroke and nearing 99 years old, my mother has been living in a strange reality. She has been basically bed-bound and for all practical purposes blind. She hardly opens her eyes and when she does, she can’t see color anymore and barely sees form. She often does not know day from night or even at times where she is. She is tired and cognitively, she will sometimes get confused between reality and dream. Her memory in general has faded a lot, but still can be remarkably and surprisingly intact. I have wondered sometimes how much she remembers the woman who she was as her memory dims and her reality is in many ways stark.

Yesterday I was talking to her and asked her if she remembered who she used to be and she said yes. She remembered that she had been a very strong woman and very definite. She also said she was someone who was pleasing to others. This surprised me. I did not particularly have that image of her, but perhaps she did or she does now looking back. She also always said she was fundamentally shy. That one was not so evident from the outside, but perhaps more of an internal sense of self. I remember of course how she was and even that memory is filtered through my own particular view as her daughter and all that that relationship involves.

Observing my mom brings me more awareness of this narrative that we carry of ourselves. And also brings a reflection on who we really are. Are we really who we think we are? How solid are we really and how much do we actually change in different circumstances, with different people, in different environments? We also change over time, but still can carry an image of ourselves even when others do not. A few times recently someone has given me a “compliment” and it surprised me because it did not fit my narrative. How many times does that happen and do we still continue the old narrative in spite of new evidence of “who we are now?”

Going back to my mother, she now shows sides of herself that no doubt were always there or potentially there, but did not show up strongly. My mother is frail and very sensitive particularly to touch and sound. She is very slowed down. She does not like conflict in any way. If she hears it on the television, it upsets her a lot. And in spite of the discomfort she experiences daily, there is a sweetness about my mom that shines through. It’s a sweetness that I don’t remember being there in such a strong way before and reminds me as well of my brother, particularly when he was dying.

This quality of sweetness is very soft, tender and kind – likes humor – and permeates the room so that when people come and visit, they experience a lightness, even a peace. It radiates from my mom (as it did with my brother) – even comes through her face, skin and smile. My mother cannot see this in herself – it isn’t part of her narrative, but nonetheless it is there. It’s almost like the essence of her being – in spite of the difficult circumstances – still flows through. It makes me realize that there is a narrative about each of us that doesn’t register in our consciousness and yet it is felt and appreciated by others. And I can feel how it is part of “my” lineage, runs through the bloodline that becomes more apparent as the outer personality drops away, the narratives fade and what remains is this unadulterated sweetness.


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