When life lead me to uproot myself from Denver back in August, 2017, all I knew for sure is that I wanted to do this El Camino trip. However, money was an issue. So, as hard as it was for my ego to take, I ran ‘back home to mommy‘ in Fort Collins and have been sleeping in her office ever since. She took me in without question and continues to pay me to do the cleaning and yard work around the house even though she lets me live with her rent free. Not to mention she buys me groceries and takes me out with her friends for lunch and dinner just because she loves spending time with me. This too, can be especially hard on my ego, thinking that she is only enabling my questionable life choices.
You can imagine that a 38 year old living with her 70 year old mother is not always easy and patience can run thin for both of us. The biggest difference between living 60 miles a away and living in her house is that I can no longer ignore that the physical work I do without much thought is an increasing struggle for her. Pain has become her everyday acquaintance an wreaks havoc on her mood, sometimes leading us to bicker over inconsequential things. The pain has been unrelenting and simple activities such as walking to and from the car or up the stairs to her room has become overwhelming. And now, having had her second hip replaced just days ago, my Mom is dealing with the pain of healing, and the medications they prescribe her at the hospital only seem to leave her feeling tired and nauseous, without much relief.
I have a tendency to withdraw from all her woes, pretending I don’t notice her griping or complaints about everything that hurts, locking my eyes on whatever is in front of me, appearing lost in thought, not knowing what to say and avoiding her when she is in the thick of it. I know this makes me seem indifferent, the worst expression you can ever demonstrate to a loved one, but it’s a bad habit I picked up as a kid in the public school system. No one can hurt you if they don’t think you care. A sometimes useful survival skill that got me through high school and basic training but not so great when used on family or significant others. Being vulnerable is painful too.
But of course I CARE and I AM affected by her pain, seeing that there may never be any relief for her no matter how many surgeries she endures, that getting older is just plain hard. And it makes me question everything I do or don’t do that could affect my own health down the line. I find myself feeling guilty for allowing myself to use any kind of ‘bandaid‘ even though I know its what we humans resort to, one way or another, to cope with the pain of everyday life. And my guilt leads to blame and I find myself judging my Mom and myself for all the choices we’ve ever made. I nag at her to eat better, exercise more, all the while feeling like a hypocrite for not making more of these “healthy” choices either.
But I know my frustrations with my Mom are just fear-based, that I’m mad at her for getting old, as ridiculous as that sounds, but that, deep down, I just really want her to be okay! I want her to be able to do something like El camino if she wanted to, like her friend, her contemporary and my mentor for the trip, did last summer. I want to travel with her and take her on long walks in far off places or even just for coffee here in town. I don’t want her to have to worry about finding close parking spaces and whether there’s ice on the sidewalks.
I know she getting more and more fragile and that’s just an ever growing reality in the cycle of life. But she’s always been a fighter, already having survived two bouts of cancer. And she has really begun to thrive in other areas of her life after all these years, having just discovered a latent talent in her ‘golden years‘. It turns out my Mom’s an amazing painter. An accidental discovery at a couple of random wine and paint nights. And thanks to her aforementioned friend’s invitation to a painting class, she has been able to hone this skill over the last three years, watching YouTube videos on the side, and has improved dramatically in such a short time. It leads us both to wonder just how good she could be if she had figured this out earlier.
But painting (a word I just noticed starts with PAIN) has lead her to branch out in other areas of her life too, joining a book club, a Mah Jong group, and a travel club that has taken her to Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Paris, and even a tour of the Holy Lands where she hobbled along at her own pace as best she could. Having moved away from Fort Collins in 2011, I have come home to Mom’s only to find her life changed for the better, surrounded by good people who care about what happens to her, and who are willing to share her pain, having had endured their own versions. I guess the pain of growing older seems to subside the most when you have people that empathize instead of blame and shame and I suppose this has been the biggest lesson I’ve received since being forced to really see what getting older looks like up close.
And though my ego can only see it as enabling, maybe my heart can finally see now why my Mom has been so supportive of me making this journey on the Camino. Maybe it’s because she knows just how fast life can pass before your eyes and that she desperately wants me to figure out my sh*t now and not wait till I’m 70. That dreams not pursued, especially physically challenging ones like El Camino, sometimes can be missed completely if you wait too long. I know my Dad would agree.
So, yes, I do want to ‘grow up‘ and stand on my own two feet and provide for myself and my family, doing my equal share in this world, giving back instead of just take, take, taking. But I think the first step is to truly learn how to be grateful for all the good people I find myself surrounded by, especially my Mom, who has always believed in me even when I couldn’t believe in myself. And I know when I go off to do this solo trip, this ‘mid-life spirit quest,’ I won’t have made it there on my own, that I will have only gotten to do it because of the love others have shown me along the way, especially my Mom, who I’ll never be able to thank enough.
I love you, Mom.