Last week in my Memoirist’s Essay class the focus was on the topic of Spirituality. This is the piece Diana wrote for the class, I know you will enjoy it!
The subject of forgiveness usually addresses forgiving others for transgressions against ourselves. It can be hard to be forgiving, but I am learning that forgiving myself is even harder. Unbidden, flashbacks of my pitiful weaknesses from years gone by will come over me and I am once again condemning myself for one selfish act or another. For example, I am very hard on myself regarding my sporadic attention to my parents in their last years.
My dear friend Shirley was a wonderful example of daughterly devotion; she would call her aging mother every morning at 7:30 a.m. to check on her. This small sacrifice of her time, before she went off to work each morning, was a ritual for her that put her mind at ease about her mom’s well-being. At that time, my own aging parents, who lived only ten minutes away, were lucky to hear from me once a week. I could hear the hurt in their voices when I did call, making my feeble excuses of busyness for my neglect of them. I was very focused on other responsibilities: a high stress job (excuse #1), the challenges of mothering (excuse #2), keeping a household running and even volunteering at church (excuses #3 and 4); I didn’t give priority to my parents. Only when their declining health demanded my presence did I rearrange my priorities.
Products of the depression era, my parents valued their independence, both financially and personally. Asking for help went against the grain! Owning their own home free and clear was an example of what they had achieved through hard work and commitment to family. They never wanted to leave that house, nor did they ever want to become a burden on their kids. But they could not see their way to spend money for someone to come in occasionally to clean or maintain it. They wouldn’t allow any of us to pay for a service either. They were financially able to hire a helper, but their pride would not allow them to act on it. Moving to assisted living? Forget about it.
Reasoning with aging parents is a skill that takes practice and endurance, and I just couldn’t break out of my role of being the child with no power over them. Their house was slowly becoming unhealthy for them. I would occasionally clean toilets and wash some dishes, but a deep cleaning was called for. And then “things” began to pile up. Dad rode his bicycle around the neighborhood every morning, bringing home castoffs on trash days. He had a huge pile of aluminum items in their back yard, which he would work on recycling. But the pile never got any smaller, because he kept bringing home more items. Old lawn chairs were his best treasures. He would replace the webbing on some of them and keep them, but others were stripped and taken to the recycling center for cash. It is what he loved doing.
Inside their home, old newspapers and magazines were all around. Dad saved every crossword puzzle from the daily newspaper because Mom liked to work them. He had months and months of those newspaper pages, stacked on an end table, waiting for her to need them. That pile never changed size either. Small appliances needing repair waited for Dad’s attention; clocks, toasters, you name it, Dad could fix it. But he was running way behind in the task. It was overwhelming to me to walk in to their once tidy home and feel helpless about getting something done.
By the time my mother was terminally ill with kidney disease, I tried to come a few times a week to cook dinner for them. They did try out meals on wheels for a month or two, but they soon declined it because the food “had no flavor” and they didn’t want to waste it. The aluminum containers those meals came in were also stacked and saved in a cupboard.
During those hectic years, I was definitely a paying member of the sandwich generation. Now that I am retired and have time to reflect, I feel guilty for not doing more, being there more, when my parents needed more time than their kids were giving. I wonder about my own future battles with aging and disease and hope I can avoid being a burden myself to our daughter. For now though, I need to firmly remind myself to hand this burden off to my heavenly Father. Self-forgiveness is a really hard thing to put into practice. But, I am trying; really trying.