Can you ever really be ready to lose a parent?
Both of my parents are still living and I realize what a blessing it is to say this. But, I’m getting nervous because so many of my friends have lost their mother or father in the past year that it’s evident at some point, my folks won’t always be around. I’m terrified of the day that I wake up and can’t call my parents just to chit chat, maybe even vent or ask for advice. I know it has to happen but I’m just anxious about the possibility.
Nothing is promised in life and it became even more evident to me when I moved to Florida last year. I moved hoping to begin a new chapter in my life, only to realize that the title of the book might be a little different from what I expected. I was so busy living my life that I failed to see signs that my mom was struggling with her health. At first, I chalked it up to her just getting older and needing to slow down. But it turned out to be way more than that.
Weeks into transitioning to a new job in a new city, a phone call from my dad left me nauseous as he quietly said; “your mom is sick and needs help.” I was confused as she was just with me weeks before helping me to get settled. We even had an argument on the phone after she got back home, which proved to me she was JUST fine. Maybe it was denial, but I didn’t believe my dad so I figured I would make a trip to see with my own eyes just what was going on.
My flight landed in Memphis and I headed straight to her house. Walking through the door, I noticed her trying to act like she was well and that she was just tired. I bought it for a bit because I also wanted to believe she was okay and was just getting older. Then I took a peep at the house. I noticed the dog food bowl was empty and asked her about it. Instead of getting the dog food, she reached for the dog treats and poured the entire box into the bowl. It was odd so I asked her about it. She snapped at me and said, “I meant to do that!” Then, I opened the refrigerator and saw a pound of ground beef fully exposed, uncooked and black. I asked her what was it for, and she said……”I’m going to cook it.” At this point, I knew something was off. When she turned her back, I grabbed the meat, threw it in the garbage and took it outside. Things were oddly out-of-place and everything seemed cluttered. She wasn’t remembering much so I was trying to help her out as much as possible and started cleaning and throwing away food that had spoiled in the refrigerator. Tears came to my eyes at one point as I had to stop her from writing a bill out for $10,000 for her electricity bill. She didn’t mean to, but she was losing control and there wasn’t a thing I could do about it.
Suddenly I felt like I had pigtails again and hid my face from her so she wouldn’t see me crying. I was only there for two days but I knew something was wrong and I had to help her. I made doctor’s appointments for her, and instructed my father to explain the changes I’d witnessed, to get her the help she needed. I strongly believe that one of the hallmarks of adulthood is when you realize that it’s your turn to care for your parents after them doing so much for you. I
slipped into rescue mode, flying from Orlando to Memphis on my off days to go with her to the doctor. In some ways, I gained peace and in others I became livid witnessing doctors who thought it was okay to treat my mother as
if she was just another older patient. I was incredibly protective of her treatment, and I wasn’t about to accept the, “let’s follow up in three weeks” foolishness that many doctors pull when they don’t care to research the severity of the issue. By the end of her appointments, I was on her consent forms, the staff knew me by name, and was aware that when I called, I expected prompt responses from them. I felt so bossy and aggressive but inside, I worried each time that we went to the doctor, bad news could become worse. The news was something was in my mother’s brain. A tumor, cancer, all these thoughts were running though my head. . Picking up the phone was a crapshoot as it could be good or bad news and I just wasn’t ready for it. For the first time, it clicked that I was in no way prepared to lose my parents, and I didn’t have a say when the time would come either. It made me become more vigilant as I realized that I have no control over the time when they will leave the earth and the best I can do is help them regardless of what’s going on with me. My mom’s cousin pressured me to get the power of attorney paperwork completed. I was super stressed, trying to figure out the rules for this and was thankful for friends who knew the drill about getting it done right the first time. It was a lot for me to think about again, because it reminded me that one day she wouldn’t be able to manage on her own anymore and I would have to step up.
Meantime, back in Florida, my first instinct was to pray for God’s will to be done. But honestly, I wanted my momma to live regardless what his will was. And I struggled with that for a long time during prayer, asking for her healing, but then backtracking to trust Him for his will to be done because he is sovereign. I think we all go through this tug of war because we are human. While I never want my mother to suffer, I just wasn’t ready to live life without her. So selfishly, I prayed and researched and did what I could. Medication seemed to help her, and I was so thankful to God because I knew things could have been much worse. When she seemed more focused, I began to ask about paperwork regarding control of her finances, her medical needs, and her will. Just thinking about it felt out of my realm just because it was yet another reminder that she won’t always be here. It was difficult to navigate what her wishes were as she still wasn’t fully coherent. I certainly didn’t want to force her to make choices that she didn’t want, and being sick definitely wasn’t the best time to have the conversations. We still weren’t certain what was going on, I wasn’t certain if I needed to move back to care for her, so many questions, but so much reminded that God was in control.
It turned out that something in her brain was a sarcoid. Against my wishes, she had a biopsy to confirm it for herself. Even
though it was dangerous, she wanted to open her brain to confirm it. It was the size of a pea, but with medication,
it showed no sign of growth. Through prayer, God’s grace and mercy, she slowly gained control of her senses and her memory, and is doing 90% better. Months ago, her health took a turn for the worst and I accepted that leaving this
world is simply part of life.
I’ve watched from a distance as my friends struggle to mourn and continue living intentionally when their parent’s pass away. I wonder what will be my response when it’s my turn. I think about my mom’s health scare and however much I wanted to say I was comfortable saying whatever God’s will is for her, my heart begged for just another day for her to get better, just one more day to see her smile again and be in her right mind.
It was and still is a lesson in knowing that God’s plan is something we simply cannot understand but can always trust. How did I get through it? With thoughts swirling about life and death, I realized that fighting the feeling of losing control was not a battle I was going to win. This was the time that my mother’s faith and her teachings would come into play. Normally, we could call and ask her for prayer, or she would send a scripture to remind us of God’s word. This time, I was on my own. And however thankful I was to be in new place, it was also time for me to learn to trust God in a new way. It’s easy to trust him with familiar problems, but the new ones push you to a new level of faith.
We have talked through the will and power of attorney issues, and I am at a new level of awareness of the importance of family. I am no longer driven by career as much as supporting relationships with my loved ones. I don’t take it for granted that people will always be available and know that I’d rather say the simple words “I love you” and “thank you” now than when they can’t hear me. While it’s safer for me to write out my thoughts, it’s become even more important for me to become vulnerable enough to say them aloud as well. It’s awkward sometimes because it comes out of nowhere, but I don’t want to lose the opportunity or have any regrets. I think God shakes us up to remind us of what’s really important. My mother has always been there for me. Now it’s time to return the favor. Will I ever be ready to lose my parents? No. But this experience and the loss of my friends parents has encouraged me to open my mouth and share how much they have meant to me, taught me, and given to me.