To tell the truth, I really just wanted to cry.
That was my reaction as I scanned the dining room at the Assisted Living facility into which my 93-year-old mother just moved. Not because it isn't a terrific facility. It’s one of the nicest I have ever seen, visited or heard about, with a wonderful and genuinely caring staff. No, it’s not that at all. It wasn’t weariness, either, although it did follow on the heels of a draining four-day transition, including a crushing array of painful and tedious sorting, organizing, shopping and hauling to massively downsize and, sadly, to discard even more memorabilia from a rich life of living.
Not all of it mind you. Two big boxes of family history are headed my way, as I'm the last stop for any chance to digitize and preserve almost a century of living so it can be shared throughout the widespread family. All of the forthcoming scanning and cataloging will be a dose of dullsville ... invited and welcome, yes ... but infinitely time-consuming nonetheless. It includes hundreds ... more likely, thousands ... of photographs, yearbook pages, commencement programs, newspaper articles, announcements and the collective minutiae that memorialize a life, two lives really. My father, who passed away 10 years ago … as one who never let a piece of paper slip through his hands … successfully squirreled away records and magazines from as far back as the 1940s and 1950s that escaped our notice in the decade-earlier downsizing round.
You might figure that the tears are sentimental or nostalgic. I wish it were that simple. Part of it is the pronounced recognition that your parent(s) won't be here forever and there's nothing you can do about it ... even though that’s not exactly a news flash. Father Time will collect his fares with no regard whatever for our undying love and devotion for his passengers. Another part of it … and each of these recognitions becomes progressively more heartbreaking ... is that their declining faculties are immutable and there is no soothing intervention other than our love and care.
It’s also the agonizing reflection that our parents are just not as intertwined into our daily lives as much as they once were. They've done their job. They ushered us into an independent life of our own choosing, but in the process, like the images in an old photograph, they begin to fade as time passes on. By divine plan, I suppose, they play a smaller role in our lives, perhaps to make it easier to adjust to their absence as life continues to turn the dial. In my case, it’s exacerbated by 2,300 miles and an ailing brother whose nearby help is unavailable.
Mostly, though, the tears are about my heartache that the loneliness that often accompanies these life-changing transitions will embed itself even deeper into my mother’s life. Most of her neighbors and dining companions are in the same age group and while they're all infinitely gracious, kind and welcoming, they’re also for the most part ... alone. Many of them languish in almost total anonymity. By themselves. Sitting alone in their rooms for the majority of their waking hours. They're loved deeply by their families, but those same family members are overrun by the demands of distance and their own lives, and do little to energize preceding generations.