Complicated Relationships

Mom at 90The endless conversations we sixty somethings used to have about parents: whose parents were worst? Most permissive? Most understanding? coolest? Most old-fashioned? Strictest? Which ones were ruining our lives? We're still having conversations about parents, but now we're talking about which parents are still independent? Which need to go into assisted living? Which need their keys taken away from them? Which ones still know who were are? Parents are still a problem. The complicated relationships we had with them when we were young haven't smoothed out all that much. No one but moms and dads still have the power to push our buttons with a look or a word and make us 13 again. Watching a parent decline is excruciating as you feel your emotions rocket from empathy, to sorrow, to annoyance, to fear and back again. Sometimes we want to hold on to anger and feelings of being misunderstood, rather than trying to provide the care and understand we know they need. If we hold on to those primal feelings, we can still believe they are in charge, that they can still make us all right. How do we move to the new caretaker phase with unresolved anger and a need to know why they did what they did? And then it happens. They no longer recall the words they said that are still seared in our 10 year old brain. And there is just sadness and pity.

By William Meredith
What it must be like to be an angel
or a squirrel, we can imagine sooner.
The last time we go to bed good,
they are there, lying about the darkness.
They dandle us once too often,
these friends who become our enemies.
Suddenly, one day their juniors
are as old as we yearn to be.
They get wrinkles where it is better
smooth, odd coughs and smells.
It is grotesque how they go on
loving us; we go on loving them.
The effrontery, barely imaginable,
of having caused us. And of how.
Their lives–surely
we can do better than that.
This goes on for a long time. Everything
they do is wrong, and the worst thing,
they all do it, is to die,
taking with them the last explanation,
how we came out of the wet sea
or wherever they got us from,
taking the last link
of that chain with them.
Father, Mother, we cry, wrinkling,
to our uncomprehending children and grandchildren.

Categories: observations

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