The circle of life rolled by while I sat near the entrance waiting for our takeout order. Miniature white sneakers with velcro straps randomly bobbed to and fro. A blue sweatshirt hosted Tigger bouncing on the side. The slightly stressed mother quickly returned wallet to purse, balanced a bulky diaper bag on her petite shoulder, and pushed the stroller all at the same time. The cute toddler was in his own world living it up—smile on his face and song upon his lips.
Right after, a similar image with added wrinkles. Crisp, white New Balance sneakers boasting velcro straps contained stationary feet and swollen ankles. A blue knitted sweater with an embroidered crest and half glasses perched atop the end of a seasoned nose momentarily captured the essence of the elderly man. While pushing the wheelchair from behind, the twenty-something grandson leaned down to say thanks for the meal. A partial smile and wink was extended from a craned neck as the elderly man labored to tuck his wallet into his back pocket.
As a young child, I didn’t see my life as some prolonged journey. There wasn’t anticipation to see how the next day would unfold, what the future would hold, nor the woman I would eventually become. Subconsciously, the last day of school during my fourth grade year was my expiration date. I truly believed that was the day I was going to die. There was no concrete reason to trigger such thoughts and no one else knew what I had been anticipating. I thought my life would end when l fell asleep that night. There was no fear, worries, or goodbyes; just the reliable comfort of my bed and dreams. When I opened by eyes that first morning of summer vacation, I was shocked to discover I was still alive. The morbid thought I had been harboring for the past couple of years was casually shrugged off and never returned.
Now, I’m 36 and my youth seems to be a distant past. There are subtle clues that my age is different now; different in the choices I make and experiences I have. I feel like I’m moving farther away from the beginning and moving closer towards the end. Days and weeks flash by. There are moments when I want to stop time, to linger and take it all in. I feel like there is so much to see and do and the clock is ticking at such a rate that I won’t have the time to experience all life has to offer. Instead, I stick in my comfortable rut and push aside the adventurous thoughts and lofty goals to find security in the mundane.
I know it is just a matter of time; time when roles reverse. The first hint was revealed when mom had hip replacement surgery. I was the one firmly holding her hand and mustering words of calm and encouragement as fear-filled tears rolled down both of our cheeks knowing the moment was there for us to physically depart as she was prepped for surgery. Up to this point, mom was the backbone supporting my big life occasions. During that moment of fear, I had to put my thoughts aside and impart strength and courage for her, so she could have peace with the procedure she was about to endure.
In the family filled waiting room my focus turned to dad. He was up and down, up and down checking the surgery status monitor. Dad suddenly became a finger tapper and knee bouncer. He wouldn’t sit still and couldn’t focus enough to pointlessly flip through a magazine. In all my years, I had never seen him exhibit such behavior. I had to push down the emotions I was having and focus my energy on him. I deliberately tried to distract Dad by engaging him in small talk—their upcoming trip to Hawaii, comments about cute little ones running around the waiting room, and poker strategy as I played online while we waited. This was hard for me to do, since I’m not much of a conversationalist and I typically find comfort with silence during such situations. Dad’s love for mom became apparent during those waiting hours; waiting for his best friend to come out of surgery. I’m so thankful I was at his side, so that he wouldn’t have to endure it all alone.
The week continued with me conjuring words of support and praise during times of uncertainty and stress for my mom. Suddenly, I was in a parental role taking care of my little girl. I neatly arranged her bedside table, fluffed pillows, straightened blankets, checked compression socks, retrieved ice packs, adjusted the room temperature, and cheered mom on with each uncertain step utilizing the walker. I asked the doctor and nurse clarifying questions about medication and asserted myself when physical therapy schedules weren’t followed and contradictory information was given. I was in a mode to ensure mom’s comfort and at the same time protecting her from any problems that could arise.
The time to be discharged from the hospital finally arrived three days later in the late afternoon. Mom rolled out of the hospital in a wheelchair, with a cranky nurse pushing from behind. Getting mom into the car was stressful and laborious–putting both dad and I to the test. This was the time; time to apply what we had practiced and learned during occupational therapy. My protective mode continued as I directed dad to slow down around corners and apply the brakes more gently. We had precious cargo in the front seat and I didn’t want actions that could be controlled to harm her.
It was almost as if we were bringing a newborn home. We were exposed and vulnerable. Dad double checked to ensure her space was safe by removing floor rugs, clearing obstacles, set up the raised toilet seat, and retrieved blankets. All required supplies were at the ready and within reach. I checked mom’s temperature, retrieved ice packs, pulled up compression socks, refilled water, and kept in close proximity when she was using the bathroom in case of a fall. While she napped I made sure her legs were in proper alignment and didn’t cross. All eyes and energy were on her.
Time both flew and crawled during those seven days. I became an advocate and supporter for my parents who had been mine all these years. It’s odd to think how the end of one’s life circles right back to the beginning. Through nurture and determination, the child develops into an independent adult. Over time, the adult reverts back to childlike qualities of dependence. I had a taste of what it is like to be the caretaker of a parent. I’m not ready. It isn’t time.
D. Thompson: 4/2010