It has been an interesting summer for me. I have been “out west” visiting family for some weddings and my annual summer trip. All of that was great, everything happened as planned. Part of the trip was to see and spend time with my parents. I had prepared myself for my mom’s declining state that has been the case for a number of years – she has Alzheimer’s. I knew she was declining. I had been told by my dad and other family members to prepare for what I would encounter. I haven’t been home since Christmas. When I first arrived she didn’t even look up. I could tell she didn’t know, couldn’t know, or didn’t have the ability to “see” me or to let me know that she “knew” me. In my guarded analytical, intellectual way of being, I took that in stride. People have to ask her if she knows me, or ask her my name. That actually irritates me. No, I think it hurts. It is how I protect myself. I don’t want to acknowledge that loss of recognition. Nobody wants to be forgotten. But, somehow I think that act of, “do you know who this is?” helps the questioner. It helps to normalize the situation. And, we don’t know what to say so we default to the “how are you doing” or, the situational equivalent. Maybe the question is just embedded with HOPE she will blurt out your name. She did not.
I have had some moments with her during this trip. One night she looked at me and said, “Hey, it’s you!” She went on to say, “You’re here.” Then the funny, “Do you have a job?” I responded somewhat shocked and a little taken aback. We all laughed. My mom even laughed. It was a real laugh. It was a laugh from the depth of who she is. It was from her core. It was HER.
My aunt said, “There she is! That’s her!”
And then…she was off again with foggy eyes to some far away world locked deep in the confines of her deteriorating brain.
My aunt and I just smiled…and cried, and she said to me, “Remember this forever. There she was, just for you.”
Two nights later, I was putting her to bed again. She was quiet but quasi-alert. I looked at her and had a short talk with her telling her that it was OK for her to make the transition and move on to see everyone who was waiting for her.
I said, “There are so many that you haven’t been with for so long. It is really ok with us if you are ready to make that trip and move on. We will always remember you and love you. We will take care of dad. But, there are hugs to be had, a pot of tea waiting for you, and I am sure the Garden Club Alumna Association is ready for their next new/old member.”
I stood up and said, “Good night, Mom.” She looked at me with the clearest smiling eyes and plainly said, “Good night Rich.” I dropped to her beside. I hugged her. I wept. I pulled back to look at her and she said quizzically, “Do you have a problem?” I replied, “No, no problem. I am just happy.”
She is still with us. Holding on for something, I think it has to be her decision to leave. The other day my dad, my cousin and I were chatting with the hospital chaplain. He was asking about all of us and how we were coping. Then my cousin started to speak. She reflected that mom has always been the person in our family to make things happen, have a party, host holidays, umpteen weddings, graduations, and mini reunions. She is the one that has been the “go to” in the family (on all sides) for years. She was the person everyone would call when we needed to access the family hard drive for an address, a memory, and questions. I had thought this was the case and all this was true, but was I just biased because she is my mom?
It was nice to hear my cousin say this. She continued to reflect that it is hard for all of us to understand what will be a new way of being in our family. My cousin said, “When our roles change, it throws people off for a little bit. I don’t think we are really ready for that.”
There’s a little gadget that keeps the wheels from falling off the axle, it is called a linchpin. Marketing wizard and writer Seth Godin wrote a book, Linchpins. His definition of a linchpin is someone who is indispensible, someone vital to the organization. That’s my mom. I have been cleaning things at my parents house to stay busy and help my dad with that unbearable task. Finding treasures, and lots of what the hell did she keep that for?, I have been trying to understand life without our linchpin. It has been scary, sad, and a little lonely. But in all honesty, life goes on. It has to. It’s how the world works. Linchpins wear out and they go on to other places and become the omnipresent teacher and guide. They were here for a reason and they prepare us for this point in our lives. The linchpin becomes indispensible in a realm of our psychic force that whispers in our ear when we need it the most. These linchpins are that “gut feeling” and the invisible force that we just know “would want that.” And sometimes that slap of reality that we know would not want/like that.
In leadership roles, we have linchpins and we are linchpins. We learned to assume such a role passed down from someone before us. We have the ability to take those lessons and transform our linchpin energy into something of value for others. It’s important that we slow down on occasion to notice the lesson, feel the energy, and soak in the moment. We can take those opportunities to learn and grow from our sage teachers as they share with us out of love and care. They are just preparing us for the time they can’t be here any longer to do it for us. As leaders we have the ability to do the same.
We have to take those lemons add some sugar and make lemonade. Things get tough. Struggles happen. They make us strong and resilient. Take hold of those times that seem a little sour, that sting a bit on the open wound. Learn the lesson. Grab the gifts when they are offered. Like my aunt said, “Remember this forever. That was her.” Mom served me a little cup of lemonade…a couple of ‘em. And as usual – everything tastes better when mom makes it.
“The miracle is this: the more we share, the more we have.” –Leonard Nimoy