As many of you know, my mother died when I was seventeen. I wrote what follows here three years ago, when I was awaiting the same surgery for the same disease that killed her. This isn’t the whole thing, of course, but it’s a part. I am thrilled to celebrate another Mother’s Day and pray for those of you for whom it is not really a happy occasion. I know the feeling.
My mother’s death changed more things than merely her existential address. Unable to cope with his loss, Dad retreated into alcoholism, leaving me an orphan in spirit if not body. I grew up fast, worked my own way through college, fancied myself a mixture of Sinatra and Bogart’s bandit nemesis– “I did it my way and didn’t need no stinkin’ help.” Managing became my second language.
Emotionally, I performed a dance of simultaneous avoidance and wallowing. A complex feat of genius choreography or an oxymoronic mishmash, take your pick. I cried and talked and prayed when I felt like it, since no one ever explained to me a timetable for grief. Mission accomplished. Moving on. No one ever explained, either, that some effects of loss incubate like a seventeen-year-cicada, breaking into the open only when the cosmic order allows it and you’ve ceased to remember their existence.
At fourteen, my mother lay in a tuberculosis sanitarium fighting for her life, while at home her mother died of PKD. Closely following came the deaths of her grandfather and then her brother in World War II. Her dad found a second wife–a woman who didn’t really want stepchildren–and grew more distant. I don’t think Mom ever let herself become too attached to anyone after that. I know, now, she always lived with the assumption, more than the fear, that those she loved she would lose. I know, now, the attempts she made to control her children’s lives were attempts to make sure they never hurt as badly as she had. I know, now, that she never made plans for her “old age” because she never expected to be old. I know not because she ever got to tell me these things but because I see their colors spread before my own eyes in my own life.
Except for one thing. I have decided to expect to survive. I know modern medicine sides with me this time. I don’t have to wait far too long, as she did, for an available donated organ. Easier cross-matching has made my husband’s willingness to be a living donor a miracle of science as well as love. Medicines are better. Survival and success rates never better. Yet for all I know in my head, the only undisputed known outcome in my experience has been death. And experience usually trumps head knowledge whenever one tries “not to worry.”
Nevertheless, I intend to plan for old age. Since I hadn’t mapped an itinerary for this trip I didn’t believe I’d take, perhaps a schedule of events for this epoch is in order.
I plan to live long enough to:
*Laugh when my children’s children are teenagers.
*Go trick-or-treating with my grandkids and argue over who gets the Reese’s Peanut Butter cups. (I will dress up.)
*See gauchos go out of style for good.
*See the Northern Lights and polar bears.
*Never hear the words Britney Spears or Paris Hilton in conversation. Nor any children that they have or may have in the future.
*Ride a roller coaster.
*See Gidget come back as a popular baby name. (Have you ever actually met anyone outside a sitcom named Gidget? Maybe the American public isn’t as stupid as Hollywood thinks. Wait, Phineas and Hazel. Never mind.)
*Tell my grandkids about walking to school, every day, uphill, with wild animals all around me. (It was across a field, and the wild animals were garter snakes. But still.)
*Rescue one child from hunger, abuse, or fear.
*Sing along with the elevator music.
*Find out just how one “plays knick knack.” (I’ll ask my husband. He’ll be an old man then. He should know.)
*Say “I love you” 31,015 times. (Who’s keeping count?)
*Take a road trip to nowhere.
*Elect a female president I actually want to vote for.
*Be a crazy cat lady. (I may have that one covered already.)
That should take some time. I reserve the right to lengthen the list without notice. After all, it’s my life, my way. Some patterns probably won’t change.