When I broached the subject of Mum moving back to White River to live with us, my thinking was that with all the self-development “work” I had done on myself over the years since she had moved away with my late Dad, I would easily be able to handle having her live on my doorstep. Rising costs were steadily eating away at her pension, she was lonely and her health was suffering in the damp and (as we found out when we moved her) mouldy apartment she was renting down at the coast. Although my sister lives in the same complex, she is a single working mother and has her own challenges. It was time for change. Excitedly I set about creating a bedsit for Mum on our farm, spacious and sunny, with views of the beautiful garden. She would be surrounded by our dogs and cats. Mum adores animals, probably a bit more than humans if truth be told, and with us she could enjoy their company without worrying about food and vet costs. As we work from home, both ourselves and our staff would be around most of the time and Mum agreed it would make sense. After repainting and refurbishing the room, I bought new appliances, we sold off all her old stuff and in May 2014 we flew down to the Cape and returned home to a perfect new life for her. Or so I thought. In my work I always teach that we don’t have “buttons” that people can push. Well, Mum managed to find those very buttons! Despite my best intentions Mum managed to drive me to distraction. I had forgotten about her rejection and abandonment issues that reached back deep into her childhood. No matter what I did to try and make her life pleasant and comfortable it never seemed to be enough. We had furious conversations through what my hubby termed the “Whats App Wars”. She was demanding in a subtle way. Her behaviour took me straight back to MY issue of always trying to please my parents and seeking their approval. I was impatient and abrupt with her and I hated myself for it. I needed her to be grateful for all I was doing for her. And of course I knew best what was right for her. I knew what and how she needed to change in order to improve her life. I was the expert after all! The more irritated I became, the more I found myself avoiding popping in to see her. After 14 years of a long distance relationship Mum approaching 80, this was not how I envisaged things. It is said that our family are often our greatest teachers. Deep down I knew Mum had come into my space to do just that. I had a need to reconnect to her. We had never enjoyed a deep mother/daughter relationship.
I took a step back and after reflection knew I had to let go. I need to step away from the Ego which believes it knows exactly what is needed to “fix” Mum and instead work at moving into Mum’s space. Acceptance, loving kindness, patience and compassion was what Mum has come to teach me. Yes, all those things I teach, Mum is now challenging me to live. It’s not easy. I get frustrated when I see how unhappy she makes herself by her thoughts. I know that with just a few tweaks it could all be so different. But it isn’t my life to live. I cannot undo years of depression and stagnation and it’s not my place to. I’m not responsible for Mum’s behaviour. What I can do is love her, see her with “soft eyes” and accept her for who she is with an open heart. I can also decline to become involved in the “mind games” and not rise to the bait. To challenge her in a loving way when the need arises. That is the choice I have. I can love this frail, funny person who gave birth to me. Who will still hold me when I cry. Without her I would not be here.
One afternoon I was walking Mum back to her room after she had joined us for lunch. As she walked past the dresser filled with our family photos, she stopped and peered down at one of her and I together, some 20 years ago when we were on holiday in Hermanus. “Who’s that with you?” she asked me. “That’s you Mum”. “Good God”, she murmured, “where did I go?” Indeed. Mum too was once young, strong, beautiful. Filled with hopes and dreams for the future. All now distant memories and a life filled with regrets. We will all walk this path one day, if we are lucky enough to live this long. Age and frailty will catch up with us. Spending this time with my Mother has empowered me to move into my own senior years paying attention to my health and well-being, to make sure I have a sense of purpose to wake up to each morning, to keep active and engaged with life.
I have seen first-hand what happens as years of doing nothing and moving less take their toll on the mind and the body. I cannot imagine what it must be like to wake each day with “nothing to do” and I am grateful for the fullness and variety of my own life. So I sit with Mum and we drink wine together and as she relaxes she will start talking about the old days, her childhood, the father that died suddenly when she was 12. I love hearing the stories of my Mother’s youth. I accept that she enjoys watching BBC kids channel and laughs at the Telly Tubbies. That she will cut across a conversation with random facts that have no connection to what we are talking about. I work at patience when, for the 10th time I tell her what time her hair appointment is. I accept that she is as content as she ever will be, in her own way. Here I was thinking that I was going to be the one to turn Mum’s life around, teach her how to enjoy life, make the most of it. Impart all of my knowledge and wisdom to her. When in fact the reality is that it is my Mother who continues to be my teacher. The lessons are many and I am the willing student.