I was thinking about my mom today. Not because of any of the usual reasons – it’s not her birthday, or the anniversary of her death, or a holiday that makes me remember family gatherings of the past.
Because my back hurt.
I’ve had arthritis issues with my back for the past couple years, starting ironically enough shortly after my mom passed away. I say ironically because Mom suffered serious arthritis in her back for 20-some years before she died, and I probably wouldn’t be writing this if I’d experienced the pain of arthritis before she died rather than after.
My own pain is much less severe than hers was, and it’s under pretty good control with a lovely little pill called Celebrex. But after days like yesterday, when I spent the morning chasing a ten-month-old boy around and the afternoon tilling and raking and hoeing the very wet, very fertile (think cow country) dirt in my raised garden bed in order to get it ready to plant, there’s nothing on this earth short of a morphine drip that would help the pain in my back. And for some reason they don’t let you keep morphine drips on hand for days when you’re just stupid. So today my back hurts, and it makes me think about my mom.
I wish I’d rubbed her back more often.
In the last few years of her life, I was blessed with the privilege of taking care of her to the extent she needed care. She lived on her own right up to the end, but for the last four or five years her health wasn’t good, and I went over to see her nearly every day. That sounds really super sweet and oh-I’m-such-an-awesome-daughterish, doesn’t it? Let’s be honest. This is one of those things that you appreciate much more in hindsight. I admit to you here and now that there were plenty of times when all I wanted to do after I got off work was go home, have a glass of wine, and crawl into bed with a good book. There were plenty of weekends when I didn’t want to leave my beautiful little mountain haven and drive 45 minutes to Mom’s, go to the grocery store for her, spend the day watching the golf channel, then drive 45 minutes home.
Florence Nightingale I wasn’t.
But even though, yes, I appreciate those years more now that Mom’s gone, for the most part, I didn’t mind them while we were going through them together. God had orchestrated things so that my husband was working 1600 miles away for those same years, and I could spend as much times with Mom as she needed without any guilt that I was neglecting him.
We had a little ritual on weeknights. When she wasn’t well, I’d fix dinner for her; when she was feeling pretty good, she’d fix dinner for me. We’d play Scrabble or Trivial Pursuit and watch Jeopardy, and then she’d be ready for bed and I would head home.
I could tell when Mom was having a bad pain day. She would move a lot in her chair, never able to get really comfortable. Sometimes she’s just sit up on the edge of it. When she did that, I knew it really hurt. I’d go over and rub her back for a little bit, and she’d just close her eyes and kind of sink into the pressure of my hands.
Now that I have my own back pain, I understand how good it feels to have someone rub it when it hurts. I love it when my husband gives me an impromptu massage when I’m hurting. It’s a little piece of heaven right here on earth, let me tell you. If I’d known how blissful it felt, I think I would have rubbed my mom’s back a lot more than I did.
And that makes me sit up and think, what else am I missing? What other things am I not doing for people I love – or people in general – just because I don’t know first-hand how much it would mean to them? How oblivious am I to the world around me just because I haven’t personally experienced something?
Maybe it’s human nature; maybe we all tend to be reactionary. We give to the charities that somehow touch our own lives– the cancer society if we’ve had cancer or lost someone to it, the heart association likewise, or Alzheimer’s research, or diabetes prevention, or domestic violence prevention. We tend not to think so much about things that haven’t ever affected us. (Okay, by “we” I mean “I” but somehow it makes me feel a lot better to include all of you.) How awesome would it be if we – I mean if I – could be more aware of all the little needs around me that don’t usually make it onto my radar?
There must be dozens of things I could do every day for people I come in contact with to make their lives just a little tiny bit better, a little tiny bit brighter. I could scratch my husband’s back even if he doesn’t ask me to. I could make an extra meat loaf next time and give it to my daughter-in-law to freeze for one of those days when the world is crazy and she needs something easy to make for dinner. I could take a second to tell the manager at IHOP that our server did just an excellent job, kept us in hot coffee and was exceptionally pleasant. I could let the mom with the three kids under five have cuts in line at the grocery store so she can get out of there before her head explodes. And help her unload her cart onto the belt while she tries to keep six little hands from putting every candy bar in sight into the basket.
If I could do one unexpected thing each day, just one, that brought a small happiness to someone, wouldn’t that just be cool? And at the end of the day, I could think back and not have any regret that I’d wasted another 24 hours.
I don’t have a lot of regrets about my time with my mom. I really, honestly do feel blessed to have been there for her, and despite the occasional periods of exhaustion, I knew while I was doing it that it was a privilege.
But I do wish I would have rubbed her back more often.