how do you do this?

For all of 2017, I watched my mother suffer. I did it mostly during our phone conversations, and sometimes in person. I did it reluctantly and, admittedly, sometimes sparingly. I did it in ways and with emotion that I cannot always say I’ve been proud of. It’s one of those things no one willingly signs up for in this lifetime – witnessing someone you love suffer in pain. But it’s a special kind of agony when it’s your mother. 

Yesterday, it was clear that she’d mustered all the strength she had to come to our house for Christmas dinner. She brought Christmas cookies and a cherry cheesecake. (Because Grandma Pearl would never show up empty-handed.) After everyone had left, Charlene asked me if I had had a moment to stop and just take it all in. To just appreciate that my whole family was home together, enjoying a meal and the spirit of the season. 

The truth is, there was no one moment. From the careful hug I gave her and my dad when they came through the door, right to the end of the day, I just felt so grateful to be able to have them all with us. There was a time I wouldn’t have thought it possible again. And so words actually diminish what I really felt, but let’s just say I had a full heart. 

It reminded me of a long ago Christmas – back in 1988 – when my late brother and his family came home from out West for the first time in years. I think my mom nearly died of gratitude that year just to have us all under one roof again. She was one year older than I am now. And I haven’t seen so many tears of happiness in a long time, but I sure see that the older I get, the closer my own love seems to be to the surface, too. 

As I helped my mom put her coat on last night, there was a moment where I saw her frailty. She has been strong for a very long time, and it shows. I’m so proud of her fighting spirit though. I often wonder whether or not she knows how much her journey has made me a better person. Without saying an intentional word, she’s taught me an awful lot about being fully present and about how to be a good listener. She’s made me a better friend, for sure. 

I’ve learned from her that sometimes you really don’t need more answers to get on with it. “It will be what it will be,” she often says about things beyond her control. In other words, most things will be okay eventually, but not everything will be. Sometimes you’ll put up a good fight and lose. Sometimes you’ll hold on really hard and realize there is no choice but to let go. Her journey has said to me, over and over, that life is about so much more than just steering a course around pain, my dear.

I’m a person who, a lot of the time, doesn’t know what I think until I write it down. I despair over imperfect words way too much. I spend too much time wishing I could more eloquently express what is in my heart. But today, I’m just grateful for a quiet day, under a cozy blanket in a cozy house, to reflect. And that I have a life that gives me so much to be grateful for.

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