Dear friends,

I’ve been quiet for some time now, leaving this space empty of my reflections even as I’ve missed the solitude offered by writing and the friendships nurtured in this forum.

I had surgery two days before Christmas. It was nothing very serious, an ailment common to women my age, but it sucked the wind out of my sails in a surprisingly fierce way and I’m only now beginning to lengthen my stride.

While recovering at home for two and a half weeks, I did little more than sleep, watch television and read. Mr. Mom kindly fussed over me and many friends sent greetings (and flowers and chocolates!), but I’m exiting the experience with a new appreciation for the fortitude required of aging. No wonder, I thought to myself many times, that old folks fail after surgery. The isolation is real and discouragement easily sets in when both mobility and workaday distractions are in short supply. To be honest, I had a bit of a frightening glimpse of my future. (And while it may be, God willing, two decades my future, it’s still sobering to have tasted the bitter pill of senescence.)

Once my doc gave me the thumbs up, I rushed back into the world at something very close to full speed. I’m running again, a lick faster than I was before surgery just because I’m determined to beat back the crone that seeks to claim me. I’m traveling quite a bit for my job (three weeks in a row this month). I’m filling my weekends with quilting and classes and dinner parties and decorating projects, all in an effort, I think, to deny my age.

But I’ve also sat in the stillness quite a bit, too. And the most surprising revelation of my quietude is that my parents weren’t crazy after all. I think of my mother in the last 10 years of her life and, for the first time, I understand her.

I understand her heightened indecision and her anxieties and her sudden tears and her longing for more time with loved ones. I understand her careful step and her anxious questions and sleepless nights and seemingly endless need for reassurance. I understand the lines of her face, pulled downward by gravity but also by apprehension as the uncertainty of her adult children’s futures weighed heavily on her. I understand her heart, so eager, so full, so ready to give its all even as her energy lapsed.

And I wonder what it would have been like to have had this understanding in her presence? To have held her hand as one who knows, rather than as one whose love is strong but whose discernment is impaired by the ego and impatience of middle age?

I don’t dare ask why because that is a fool’s errand, but I do wonder, and then hope my ponderings lead to at least a snippet of hard-earned wisdom I might share.

In the mean time, I sit with her. In my meditations. In my dreams. In the quiet of my mind. I hold her hand. I tell her I love her and miss her. I tell her how wise she was. I marvel at her courage and generosity. I ask her about my children in the hope she’ll reassure me as she did when they were babies and I was the most tentative of mothers.

I write her name, Colleen, in every corner of my heart and sing the song of her devotion as my lullaby, trusting her love to lull me through this night.

With gratitude {for understanding that is better late than never},

Joan, who’s looking forward to Spring and every form of rebirth that goes with it





  1. I appreciate hearing your perspepective on this as I see in my mother now much of what you say about your mom back then. I will do my best to remember it when I’m with her (and when I’m not). Thank you.

  2. I hear you loud and clear on these issues. I was fortunate enough to mostly understand my mother during her aging. The person I wish I had understood more is my former mother in law. By now she’s probably back on this plane somewhere. I wish her well and a family who loves and understands her better than the one she left some years ago.

  3. Most of the “crazy” I’ve pronounced came from simply not knowing, not seeing. The tenuous behaviors you describe can be a response not only to aging but also to illness, accident, or even proximity to another life severely shaken. Baseline assumptions inevitably change on both sides of that parent/child divide.

    Our situation is better or worse than years past depending on who you ask, but the current reality is clear. If you are not in peak physical condition for whatever reason…you pay a price, and it can be a high one.

    Glad to be able to move through alarm more immediately to relief in your case, as you are obviously very thoughtfully processing your situation. Perhaps you’ll communicate with your own adult children in ways that will allow them earlier entry to your well earned wisdom? Lay those realities out, I think. When the kids are ready, they’ll find their way back to whatever lessons are there.

  4. Juanita Clark says:

    The phrase “take time to smell the roses” becomes meaningful when we are slapped down. Some say when we are down we can look up to God. As in so many phases of life you make them into learning experiences. Understanding may come later but thankfully it comes and comforts us. I, too, understand my elders so much more now. I could not understand why my mother made so many trips to the grocery store. Now I know that she did that because she could not make many trips back and forth to the car in one day to get the groceries in the house. She disliked junk mail and now I know it was because it was an effort to carry it with her other trash out to the trash bins. What is so easy for young legs is so very hard for old ones. Guess who goes to the grocery store several times a week now?

  5. I have a very contentious relationship with my mother for various reasons, some things that I cannot change and some that I can. As usual, your words have given me much to ponder. Thank you.

  6. I have a number of friends in their 80s and 90s — my “Other Mothers.” Your post is a powerful reminder of how blessed I am to have these remarkable women in my life.

  7. Such a sweet, poignant post. I don’t know if it’s possible when we are still a living person’s daughter to have such insight or be truly empathetic re: what our parent is feeling/experiencing. It seems to me that is a hard-won perspective that is only achieved through loss and grief. The good news is: just as you don’t expect or even want Kate to trouble herself with your frailties or worries, Colleen wouldn’t have wanted or expected that from you. She knew how much you loved her, just as you know how much your children love you.

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