When we learned that my brother and sister-in-law who share in caring for my nearly 105-year-old mother would be out of town until the 24th, reflexively, we changed our departure plans—moving the date from the 20th to the 24th—so there would be “coverage” for her.
Not that she needs much of it, which is a blessing for her and us. But we have without much formal discussion agreed that we would try to coordinate our schedules so that one or another of us would always be close by during her remaining time, joking that “remaining time” may turn out to mean we’ll depart (and I don’t mean to New York) before she.
We have arranged to live this way in spite of the fact that she also has two very devoted aides who are available to her 24/7, providing more a sense of security than helping with her few physical needs.
I know that some of our New York friends wonder silently, though with skeptical looks, why with my mother so well tended to, far from infirm, and not on her last legs, why we have arranged to live this way.
Yes, she was a loving and generous mother who took care of us in every needed way. And even in ways not truly required. And she avoided living the cliché of Jewish Mother. True, she took special care to make sure we ate in a balanced way and paid a great deal of attention to digestive and bowel issues, but she was neither a hoverer nor a smotherer and did not live her life vicariously through our achievements. She let go just enough so that when it was time for us to fledge we were prepared for and capable of reaching for independence.
So we do have a sense of reciprocal responsibility--she took care of us then, now it is our turn to tend to her.
But I “get” what our new York friends are intimating—we’re not getting any younger, time is passing for us too, and if we don’t begin to get to whatever it is that remains on what Rona has taken to calling our “bucket list,” when will we get to India, spend time in East Africa, get back to see our friends in Spain, try a winter in Maine?
We should be among the last people to express dissatisfaction with anything. We have relatively good health, our minds are still (more or less) functioning, we are financially (more or less) secure, we move each year from wonderful place to wonderful place (all carefully calculated to be in my mother’s time zone and no more than six hours from her when we’re not snowbirding in South Florida), have spent time in most places that reach out to us, and thus should not have much of a bucket list.
So we spend time talking about the meaning of life. When younger, answers seemed more obvious. It was either meaningless (we were post World-War II existentialists.)—you’re born, you live, you die; or, if you’re lucky, you leave something behind—children, money, a reputation, good works—but for most, the non-geniuses, even if they manage to leave something behind for the most part it evanesces in not much more than a generation.
My mother is in the process of leaving behind.
She was an excellent mother and family member; a skilled and effective elementary school teacher with many former students still testifying to how she shaped their lives; there will be money in her estate; and she is loved and highly regarded by all who she encounters, very much including at Forest Trace, the retirement community where she lives and tends to dozens of fellow residents.
She is a living example of how to live a life of meaning and the lessons from her keep coming. From her deeds and words.
Trying to be as much as possible like her, living as we do, spending part of the year nearby and the rest of the months north of here but in her time zone, I have a chance to figure out my own best answer to life’s meaning. I know this means I’ll never get to the villages of India or see gorillas in the mist, but perhaps I too will figure out a few worthy things to leave behind.