I’ve been meditating a lot recently on attachment and the sorrow that comes from the loss of something you’re attached to.
If you’ve been reading for awhile, you may know that the last couple of years have been a period of big change for me. I left the job where I had worked for 31 years. I took a new job at a completely different kind of company, a smaller company that was scaling up (as opposed to a very large company that was struggling to reinvent itself or, rather, struggling against reinventing itself). I suffered a flood that, although caused little physical loss, was a mental and emotional struggle as we had to move out with all our possessions while they replaced the floors. I fell, several times, injuring knee, hand, ankle, and teeth. My husband’s parents left their home in Florida for good to live with their daughter’s family in Pittsburgh. My father was diagnosed with, and is learning to live with, Parkinson’s; a change which he is managing physically through boxing (don’t ask; it’s working for him) but which leaves him slower-articulating than he likes, which means that he speaks on the phone reluctantly, and has taken to emailing us instead. And I found out this weekend that my favorite aunt – who is closer to my age than my parent’s – has undiagnosed Alzheimer’s; undiagnosed because she refuses to take the test and keeps firing doctors when they propose it. She is living now in a senior community that offers a more assisted living for when she finally gets diagnosed, which it sounds like won’t be long now, for her big sister tells me that she can’t work her cell phone or even really read, or take care of herself anymore, though her mind is strong enough to resist diagnosis.
And my mother has suffered a number of illnesses that have left her a different person, and me, missing the person who she was.
My mother was never a mom the way you think of a mom. My sister, who is also a mom, greets her kids when they get off the bus with fresh-baked cookies. My mom was usually MIA when we got home, hiding in her greenhouse, surrounded by her plants. My sister-in-law takes long bike rides with her kids; something my mom never did. On weekends, she’d pick up a load of bricks and build a new back patio, or replant all the shrubs in the front yard, protecting them from a freak Easter snow-storm (in Tucson, which dates this incident in this age of global-warming) with plastic grocery bags. My other sister-in-law spends time on her kid’s education, practicing Spanish with – and discussing Spanish literature in Spanish with – my niece, and standing over her son while he finishes his science papers. My mom rarely knew what we were doing in school. I can’t remember her ever drying my tears when I fell or holding me when a pet died or sharing a pint of ice cream when a boy dumped me. My mom was never that kind of mom, and that’s not the mom I miss
My mother wired her own house. She hiked a local mountain every day. She traveled the world, going to countries where others didn’t. She chose a job that allowed her to live and explore Thailand, Ethiopia, Paris (well, not quite the same thing). When she retired, she explored Egypt, married a man younger than my middle sister, opened a house-painting company, and took to house-flipping.
She’s not the same person that she was. She’s been slowing down, physically, for years, and I accept that. But now she spends much of her day sitting, and resists efforts to help her get back on her feet. And, though she’s never been outgoing, my mom has always found ways to collect a small circle of friends to hang out with. Now she stays home all the time, meeting only with the one or two friends she made before getting sick, and doesn’t put herself in a place where she might meet more. Always passive-aggressive, she’s dropped to new levels of passivity, spending most of the day, playing with her phone or watching TV, my mother who always hated TV. She’s gone from an active, happy, brave person to a depressed elderly shut-in who refuses get out of her chair – and I don’t like it.
One of my favorite meditations reminds me that suffering is caused by attachment to the idea of what was, or what we think should be. So this suffering is of my own making, resulting from not accepting that people change. But I still miss my mother.
One of my favorite meditations says:
I am of the nature to grow old; I cannot escape old age.
I am of the nature to get sick; I cannot escape illness.
I am of the nature to die; I cannot escape death.
All that I have and everyone that I know is of the nature of change; I cannot escape their loss. I came here empty-handed and I leave empty-handed.
My actions are my only true possessions; I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the path on which I walk.
Some people don’t find this comforting; but I do for some reason. When things get really bad, I repeat it over and over to myself, sometimes – on very bad days – in tears. Sometimes with rage. Sometimes with determination.
Everyone I know is of the nature of change; I cannot escape their loss.
And I still miss my mother.