Getting Old – #3

To get old is to stop being interested in life. When the interest stops completely, we withdraw and die.

I write this as I sit beside my mother in the cardiac intensive care unit. She is busy withdrawing from life. The nurse said, “There’s been a sudden change in your mother’s condition,” but the truth is that it has not been very sudden. She began withdrawing from life over fifteen years ago when my father died. They were friends and lovers for fifty years.

The withdrawal escalated when my brother, Tim, died of lung cancer a couple of years ago. He was her favorite child, and in many ways, he was the favorite of all of us. Tim made no bones about telling her often that he was going to take care of her when she got old. It was so painful for her to bury him that she cut and ran; she stopped engaging in life. It was all too much. She didn’t want to feel what life was presenting.

Now, it is obvious that she doesn’t have the energy to talk to those of us who hover over her with anxious smiles. She is tired and has great difficulty breathing. A loving sponge bath, a little lotion, a bit of massage, and unflagging love seem to revive her somewhat, but only briefly. The chart says ‘congestive heart failure’ and the nurses use terms like ‘respiratory failure’ while pointing out her 86 years. But the real reason she is leaving us is that she stopped being interested in life years ago, and began to withdraw, ever so slowly, culminating in the present situation.

“What can I do?” I ask myself in panic. Nothing. Nothing except sit and hold her, listen to her ragged breath, and be with her as she exits. Her exit from this world is as painful for me as I imagine her pain was at my entry into this world. I try to talk with her, but she does not respond. I sit back, quiet again, wanting her to wake. How foolish death seems when one is in the middle of living. How foolish life seems when one is in the middle of dying.

She is probably not leaving today. They said she could linger for weeks, but it is obvious that we are in the process of letting go of one another. There were six children once. Now there are five. Who will anchor us, hold us together, and love us once our mother is gone? I sound like a forlorn child, but I can’t help it.

10 thoughts on “Getting Old – #3

  1. Oh, Penny, I share your pain and my thoughts are wrapped around you. I know where you are because I watched my father die several years ago, as his body failed him. He fought hard. He was only 77. You may not realize it right now because of the physical angst you’re clouded within, but you’re already anchored and always have been–to the I AM within. You taught me that, and you taught many others. Her love surrounds you now and will do so even more in the days to come. She’s not leaving you behind. She’s merely going on ahead, just as she has throughout life. Hugs, hugs, hugs.

  2. My spirit sits with you, holding your hand as you hold your mother’s. Love is always the anchor and you are always Love. That is the constant, never changing, regardless of what the body appears to experience. Easy to say, so hard, painful to do, be there, witness, wait. So I sit with you, silently. It’s the least I can give back to you. Hugs & Love to you and your mother. ♥

    • Thanks, Pennie. Good to hear from you. Yes, easy to say, hard to do. I alternate between trying to hang on to her, then wishing she would go quickly and smoothly with no suffering. Dying is such a process.

  3. Dear penny I very much enjoy your blog. And I am saddened to hear about your mum and brother. My heart is with you

    True about withdrawing, elders do that. I guess believe system too controls or directs it:”I am no longer useful”

    Much love

    I am not what happened to me, I am what I chose to become – Carl Jung

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  4. Losing your parents is such a milestone along the road of “Getting old” The ache of longing never goes away. To reflect on there legacy gives perspective – “Genetically I am them, my values were learnt from their example, how they lived guides my life, their love gives me courage and they are forever close”

    • That’s an interesting way of putting it, Phillip, “along the road of Getting old”… I guess it is a road, a very long road, and I just don’t like the idea of traveling it without my mother. Once a mother leaves, the child is on her own.

  5. I hope your mother is still with you and improving. I couldn’t respond to this for weeks because it brought back painful memories of sitting with my mother while she was dying. We sang to her and played her favorite music. But the silence after her death affected me deeply and still brings tears after ten years.

    • I deeply understand about the ‘tears’ thing. I’m right there myself. I think I cried most of November, then both she and I got a grip at the same time. She’s still with us, but only physically. Yesterday someone saw her walking through the Learning Center here at the farm. I thought maybe she was coming to tell me she was getting ready to leave, but we’ll just have to wait and see. She’s not even gone and I miss her!

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