It is a world that I don’t want to understand.
She crochets, moving her knitting hook backwards and forwards, her fingers moving in an organized rhythm. In her ear, she has headphones, listening to an Indian song that helps her recall a memory of her past. She smells of baby oil, rose perfume, and a mixture of Indian spices. Rising grom her chair, her weight shifts from one side to another, one hand grabs her knee, while the other has a firm hold on her steel walker. I sense she wants to taste the remnants of her old life, climbing the fresh almond trees in India or going to the horse races with my father near their old home.
She is my mother and I call to her in my loudest voice. She doesn’t hear me, blaming the radio being too loud or my daughter’s laughter taking over the room. I confess sometimes when she speaks, I don’t really hear her. Part of her is living backwards because there are no empty spaces in that life. In the morning, as soon as she awakes, she tells me that she dreams of my father, her husband and how he asked her to cook something for him. Other times, she will say, “Remember when Dad. . .” and I don’t let her finish because I’ve heard that story about a thousand times. In her bedroom, her companion is a book or the power of prayer or muffled cries.
It’s a life I don’t understand, the edges of my experiences are defined by moving forward. I wake up in the morning, grabbing the momentum in the air, as I venture outside for my early run. With my husband, I am going to the park, dining with him at our favorite Italian place, the need to dream about him doesn’t exist in my world. My days are filled with laughter, in my silent moments, I recall the belly laugh of my daughter or I chuckle deep, the vibrations of my joy echo in my body, particularly when my husband tells me a funny joke.
It’s something I can’t reconcile in my mind, the very different lives that my mother and I share even though we live in the same house. There are times when I want her to enjoy my world, but I don’t think she can. What she yearns for is the life contained in her dreams. She has a thirst for yesterdays and a sense of homelessness haunts her heart. It’s a widow’s life and how the boisterousness of everyday life betray her. She is here, but isn’t really here.
Sometimes when I try to coax her to be here, telling her to release her grief, she tells me in an even, but hollow tone, “You don’t understand.”
Do we ever really understand what any one person is truly going through? How do we comfort others when we don’t appreciate or completely understand the circumstance?
Flicker Image by alancleaver_2000
Wow, Rudri. It makes me so sad, her living in the past and not in the moment. I guess without your father her present doesn’t have the same meaning. It is heartbreaking. Especially when she has you and your husband and your daughter to enjoy.
So very, very sad. And beautifully written.
“Part of her is living backwards because there are no empty spaces in that life.” WOW. That part really got me. This was painful to read, but beautifully crafted.
To me trying to walk in another’s shoes is a gift – and almost spiritual. Perhaps it requires a giving of self to the experience of the “other.” As human beings, we are not always able to achieve this. Sometimes, I just say to myself, just listen . . . and it works, because we can’t live another’s life or experience their past in the same way. Maybe the appreciation comes in listening.
Thanks for the thoughts this morning, Rudri.
I don’t know, Rudri. You seem to capture the painful quiet of her present and future quite perfectly. Maybe we can’t feel what she feels, but we can understand that her life has been filled for so long that looking forward seems so empty in comparison to looking back. And memories are what we crave, even now when there’s so much more life ahead of us. I, too, would likely take comfort in the memories, in the voices and hearts that filled my life for so long.
It saddens me to think that we’ll all find ourselves where she is one day. Or we’ll be the one who left the hole in someone else’s heart and existence. Either way, time marches on, as they say, and we’re left behind or swept away.
I think I get this. I know I don’t want to know or understand what it’s like to be a widow.
As usual Rudri, this is beautifully crafted – so very poignant. Statistically of course it’s women who experience this at the end of life and it’s something I dread and so try not to think about. Growing old is not for wimps.
I think you understand her better than you might realize. Your words speak of understanding, powerful understanding. Having faced loss so young, I can say this. Everyone’s pain is different, but it’s all the same. How we choose to live with it though, can be nothing but our own. Your love buoys her in ways you might not recognize. It’s completely obvious here. You do understand.
Lovely post. Reading about your mother and her longing for your father brought tears to my eyes. It sounds like she would give anything to experience (again) what you described yous day as: going to the park, planning a meal with your husband – going forward. But that she is lost or shut down without father. Grief is tricky and different for all. As hard as it is and as impatient as I may get, I do find that just listening and sitting with someone is typically all they want.
“It’s something I can’t reconcile in my mind, the very different lives that my mother and I share even though we live in the same house. There are times when I want her to enjoy my world, but I don’t think she can. What she yearns for is the life contained in her dreams. She has a thirst for yesterdays and a sense of homelessness haunts her heart. It’s a widow’s life and how the boisterousness of everyday life betray her. She is here, but isn’t really here.”
I hope neither of us gets to understand what they feel every day. My hope is that my husband and I meet God together.
This is so so powerful. I have just been pondering this question recently, namely can we ever truly understand someone else if we can’t truly understand ourselves?
What a truly poignant post. thank you, Rudri for sharing this.
This is wrenching, Rudri. “Living backwards.” Quite an image. So lonely. And it fits.
I remember watching my beloved grandmother disappear, slowly, into her memories. She would sit and watch the birds, feed the squirrels from her window, retreat to her inner world. She seemed unreachable, and yet content somehow. But for those of us who loved her, we just wanted her moving forward again – with the rest of us.
A beautiful post.
Oh I’m in tears! This hits home for me Rudri. As you know, my mom will be living with us as well, although her story is a little different from your mom’s. Hers is a life of bitterness, lived with a man who caused her tremendous pain and shame. I know she’s happy for me that I have found someone who could give me more than she ever had with my dad, but I also feel guilty that someone as wonderful as her couldn’t have lived a better life. Her dreams are probably engulfed in regret and darkness and there’s nothing I can do to change them for her.
While your mom may miss her past, at least it was one worth remembering. And from her you learn to treasure what you have now so you too may have dreams bathed in sunlight like hers…as bittersweet as they may be.
Part of her is living backwards because there are no empty spaces in that life.
What a profound and poetic line.
I think we cannot know others emotional depths. Sometimes our experiences give us a little window into others lives. And we can listen. If our hearts can bear it. I worry about who my mother will be if she loses the mooring of my dad. This piece reminds me of when my sister in law moved in with us for a time, broken by a long relationship filled with emotional abuse. She was there, she shared our meals and our lives, but she felt to me like a ghost. Never a calming or easing presence, never solidly there. She could not move forward, from shame over the lost years and who she thought she should be.