No, I have never been one to poke fun of old folks complaining about their ailments because I saw this day coming. I am currently looking into my own health, and it is a pretty yucky sight. An average conversation with my doctor includes such gems as:
I fall asleep at the drop of a hat, I’m clumsier than ever, I cannot remember what day it is, I recently mistook toothpaste for sunscreen, I get vertigo when I’m tired, I fall more often than I stand up, and I suffer from what medical websites might call “brain fog.”
I have asked doctors of all stripes what is wrong with me, and no one knows how to tell me I am aging, and that these things happen when you are no longer an ingénue.
It must be something else.
I just turned 60, and I do not remember my mother breaking down in midlife like this, even though she was widowed. At this age, she still had 32 years of life and wisdom left.
Did she feel like she was falling apart?
These are things I would like to be able to ask her, and sometimes I think of calling her. But she had the temerity to die one night in her sleep, and left me in the lurch. It’s a scandal, but she was happy to leave. No one can blame her for that.
How did she survive six teenagers slouching in and out of her house like swamp monsters, never thinking of cleaning up after themselves.
And the teenage brothers got into fisticuffs every day of the summer. This entertained cousin Angela, a very mature teenage girl sent every summer from the Bronx, to shield her from the violence of the streets. In Jersey, she could watch the fists fly while sitting on the stairs.
Mom would say, “Ooh, if your father would just once use his big Irish fists on those boys, my life would be so much easier.”
But he never did. He would use his six-foot frame, chest out, to tower over them, backing them into a wall and threaten them so loudly that they would flinch. But he would not hit them. Tempted though he may have been.
I, too have a post-teenage autistic man in my house whose behavior is aggressive periodically. We live with an abuser, and if he goes off when I’m alone with him, I am getting just a little too slow to run up the stairs and lock my door.
If I look ahead, I get terrified. We are getting older and he still has fits of anger. It’s not as if he’s going through a phase. He’s not growing out of it.
I asked my friend, Lin, who has worries of her own: If we knew what was coming, would we ever have the strength to go on?
And she smiles a warm smile and says, “If you knew how big the person is who walks beside you every day, through good and bad, you would never be scared again.”
I guess that’s as wise a plan as any. When I’m weary and feeling small, I could remember the lyrics to the beautiful song by Simon and Garfunkel, Bridge Over Troubled Waters. That might get me through.
Doesn’t everybody need a friend like that?
When I was going through my unfortunate cancer treatment, I asked my mother to tape herself reading Psalm 91 from Isaiah, which speaks of security under God’s protection, to give me help getting through my days. It says, in part:
“Say to the Lord, my refuge and my fortress, my rock in whom I trust. You shall not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day: Though a thousand fall at your side, you shall not be harmed.”
When my son, Gregory, was diagnosed with autism, he could no longer talk. He cried a lot, though, and I spent hours rocking him in the high chair and singing him my favorite song from church, “Be Not Afraid”:
You shall cross the barren desert
But you shall not die of thirst
You shall wander far in safety
Though you do not know the way
You shall speak your words in foreign lands
And all will understand
You shall see the face of God and live
Be not afraid
I go before you always
Come follow me
And I will give you rest.
I wish peace and strength to all who are feeling small.