Have you ever had that feeling, like when you ride a roller coaster and hit the biggest hill? It is the feeling of butterflies in your stomach like it will fly out of your mouth. It provides a sense of immediate euphoria, a natural high, so to speak. I had that today, and I wasn’t even really coasting down a hill on a roller coaster. I was simply driving down the ramp to get on I-55 South from Perryville to Cape Girardeau, Missouri. I have been under some stress and strain lately and was just trying to get home with two kids in the backseat when I happened to look up and experience it. I suddenly felt like a bird, flying high over the Southeastern landscape of rolling hills and crops. In the distance, I could see the tip of the Bill Emerson bridge that graces the Mississippi River, some 30 miles away. I imagined myself as that bird, coasting in the wind stream, just simply being for a moment in time. No responsibility, no one depending on you for anything. Just simply being a part of nature and something bigger than myself. Relishing in the beauty of what was before me without tears of despair.
For a split second in time, probably for 8 seconds, I was that bird flying high above the rolling world and all its problems. Euphoria was mine and it was beautiful, invigorating but discouraging all at the same time. Because once the car stopped, the music shut off and my foot touched concrete, I suddenly was thrown back into the mayhem my life has been the past week. The ride was over and reality set in strong and hard like the boulder (known as the World) Atlas was forced to carry in Greek mythology.
I stated above that my mom has been ill. I wish I could say this was something sudden, but it is not. It has been an ongoing thing since I lost my dad. Slowly I have watched her mentally slip away from me and crawl into this hole I have been unable to drag her out of for some time. How unfathomable it is for a child to suddenly realize they are no longer the child, but the parent of their parent. That is what I have become; my mother’s caregiver, support system and lifeline. A slew of hats for one daughter to wear, and I am not sure I am up for all the challenges it brings. I want to give my mom the best, do my father proud. I thank God for my better half in all this. How could I accomplish those tasks without my spouse?
Four years ago I lost my father. He had been ill, a slow and gradual deterioration that he hid from all my family, myself included. I have this feeling my mom has been doing the same thing. Despite efforts from everyone around her to become a part of us and create the next phase of her life, she has struggled with not having the love of her life around day after day. I admire her for that love and dedication towards someone. It shows the amount of love she has for this world and those around her. My mother is an amazing woman, she has taught me all I know in terms of how to be a genuine soul in this crazy world. She has laughed through life, had her ups and downs, and been completely imperfect and wonderful. As much as I am a part of my dad I am just as much a part of my mother. So seeing this deterioration of her life and health happen before my eyes while I have been helpless to stop it has killed me inside. A slow death that hits you suddenly, like a train plowing across the tracks.
It has made me think of the many responsibilities, or “hats,” a daughter wears throughout life. How does the saying go? “A son is a son until he takes a wife, a daughter is a daughter for life.” My mother told me that a long time ago, way before I was married or even dating anyone. Almost like her own premonition that I would be the one to nurture and help my dad and her as they aged throughout life. I didn’t have the opportunity to care for my dad, although I would have if he had offered the occasion. There wasn’t enough time for it and I lost a piece of that responsibility.
Now we turn to my mother whom I want to care for, but I also want her to reciprocate that care with optimism and gumption to get out of bed every day. One of my latest hats, I guess. One of the many other hats I have acquired throughout my life. Being a wife to someone I love dearly. Being the best mom I know how to be to my children and trying to be supportive and active in the lives of my friends and family. So many hats yet my head keeps shrinking somehow. Or maybe that is what happens when you take on the heartaches and hardships of others and forget to make time for yourself. You forget to breathe in and out, to survive and be present for the ones closest to you. My big fear with all my hats is that my daughter has experienced my emotional processing of several “hat falls.” She has seen me grieve over the loss of an unborn child, a father and now the health of my mother. Will that forever change her for good or bad? I always talk openly with her, but I am so fearful I am making her into an “old soul” too fast and stripping her of childhood naivety. Despite efforts to hide the few anguishing moments I have had, she seems to sense something in me, a need for her hug and comes running to the door.
Perhaps it is the same connection I have had with my own mother in the past, maybe not so much in present time because I am trying to raise my own daughter. But there are definite correlations and I am fully aware of it all. Yet, the emotions continue and again I switch hats with every hour of the day. Each change brings a variety of sensations. Frustration, anger, fear, sadness and heartache are all swimming around on top of my head while waiting for me to reach up and grab the proper “attire.” I am taking care of my mother now, helping her get well and back on her feet. Am I doing what my dad would want and agree with regarding her healthcare? I will never know and I have never felt so far away from him. No calming words and reassurance that all will be okay. I am swimming through medical jargon alone because my mother is not able to really tell me honestly. I rely on others’ advice, but in the end, I just wish I had my dad here. It is hard to explain the hat of an “only daughter.” Wanting to be in so many places at one time and realizing you can’t. How awful a realization that is for someone of my personality. I have always been a person to do it myself. Go it alone, but now I can’t do that and I have shed tears over the loss of that independence. Yet, the support I have from my family, my husband and even my kids lift me back up to see the dawn of another day. To put my Scarlett O’Hara shoes on and say “tomorrow is another day.” I can do this, and it will all be okay in the end. There is no way on Earth I could survive without them. I just have to get to a place I feel comfortable with, and I have to get my mother there too.
Therein lies the road as it diverges, one path easy, the other rough and rugged. Time will tell which path we are led down. Time will tell me which hat to wear next.
The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
–Robert Frost (1874–1963)