Little did I know those words would come back to ‘bite me in the ass,’ almost 50 years later…
I will never forget the day (I guess I must have been about 16-17) when my beautiful, strong, independent Mom, announced, from the corner of her bedroom, that she could not get up.
“Ma… don’t be ridiculous… of course you can get up.”
“I can’t,” she insisted.
“Ma! Come on… just get up. Just get on your hands and knees, and pull yourself up!”
…but of course, she couldn’t.
She was laughing, but crying at the same time. Tears, that at the time, I mistook for tears of laughter; but of course, they weren’t. I know now, they were tears of fear, embarrassment, panic and an awkward self-consciousnessness, at suddenly finding oneself stuck on floor, for what was probably, the first, of many times to come.
I helped her up, we laughed and had a cup of tea.
From what I remember, she explained that her legs (and arms) just didn’t have the strength, to propel her body upward. She, for some reason, could not maneuver her body into a position, where she felt she could get any kind of upward force or movement going… at least not enough to get her body weight (and she was tiny!) up off the floor!
She was only about 51-52 at the time and I had no idea why my (as I said; beautiful, strong, independent and very capable) mother had become stuck on the fucking floor!
I do however, remember being less than accepting of this unusual fact and, I’m embarrassed to admit, I was kind of hard on her.
When it happened again, as she was either cleaning under the stove or the refrigerator, or putting something under one of the beds, I’d hear myself blurt out, “What do you mean, you can’t get up? Of course you can. Just get up!” …which I’m quite sure was said in a bitchy, condescending, tone of voice, that comes all too easily to a teenage girl (especially when speaking to her mother!)
We’d go back and forth like that for a few minutes, and in the end I’d help her up and we’d laugh. The laughter became more of an uncomfortable, nervous laugh, rather than a ‘Hahaha, boy, this is really funny’ kind of laugh, but we never admitted that to each other.
I realise now (Isn’t hindsight both wonderful and very unpleasant?) that I just didn’t want to admit, that my Mom might be getting old; any more than I want to admit now, that I’m getting old.
She was only in her early 50’s, but I guess she just started to ‘feel all those years’ in her bones and everyday tasks became more and more difficult.
She was pretty lucky, as she had no underlying health problems (like PMR or GCA!) and in fact, she rarely ever got sick; until of course she was diagnosed with lung cancer at 68 and was dead before she was 70.
Sooooo, I bet you know what’s coming, right?
There I was, standing in kitchen, when I notice this ‘crap’ that had built up in the corners, on the floor, under my kitchen cabinets. Without even thinking, I grabbed one of the sponge/scrubby pad things and got down on my hands and knees.
Left side, scrub, scrub, scrub, done.
Right side, scrub, scrub, scrub, done.
Okay, get up.
“OKAY… Get up!”
“WTF! Get on your hands and knees and get up!”
I was barely able to maneuver my body onto my hands and knees and when I did get there, realised I could not (physically) figure out what to do next!
Thank God, the kitchen counters were there! I grabbed hold (for dear life) and slowly, pulled myself up. It took more than a several seconds (and required much more effort than I ever expected) but I was upright.
“Just get up, in-fucking-deed!” were the words that came out of my mouth before I even realised what I was saying!
“Ohhhhhhh, Mom! I am so sorry!
I had no idea.
I didn’t understand.
I just didn’t want to see that simple tasks, such as getting up off the kitchen floor, getting out of the bathtub, or walking up a flight of stairs was becoming more difficult, if not impossible, for you.
Had I accepted that, I’d have to accept that you were getting old; which would mean that you were mortal. And if you were mortal, that would mean that I could lose you, and I guess that thought was just unbearable.
Thank God, it would be many more years, before I would lose you… And I apologise because I never got to say “sorry.” I never got to say that I “understood.” I never got to tell you that I too struggle with simple tasks and my girls have no idea how to react to my frailties. It’s embarrassing and I feel ashamed that I have let them down; just as you must have felt that you let me down.
Please know, you didn’t.
You never could.
You were only human; and it was me who wrongly placed you on that pedestal and put so many, unrealistic expectations on you.
You truly rocked Mom and YOU (more than anyone) made me the woman/person I am today… and for that I thank you, because I like who I am and I love who you were!
“Now, please just get up off the goddamned floor!”