Saturday, June 29, 2013

Taking My Turn

By Zinta Aistars

Mama and Dad, May 12, 1951

Taking my turn, because someday it will be the turn of the next generation, and then the next, and, hopefully, if we don't finally explode this glorious planet, the next.

I've been mowing four acres of very tall grass this morning, catching up on business and on regular household and farm chores, but the mower coughed and stalled at the end of the second acre, forcing me to take a break.

I tell myself I won't get annoyed. I hit my pace, there is much, much work to be done, but if I have to take a break, so be it. Time to learn patience. Mowing those rows, I've had plenty of time to think and to review the week behind me.
Make plans, they say, and life will turn them topsy turvy. Happens. I went into what I expected to be a busy week for Z Word, LLC, and so it began, with a wonderful interview in Galesburg (Michigan) for an upcoming article I'll be writing. As chance had it (and I'm not a believer in chance or luck), I was on my way home, wondering at the weird, soft feel of my car's tires, trying not to worry, when my cell phone rang with a call from Mom. Dad had taken a spill overnight, going through the house to unplug all things electrical as thunder and lightning filled the skies. He rounded the corner, head took a spin, and the corner took him down.

I was close by, so it was no trouble to take a quick detour and drop in to check on things. I thought it warranted a trip to the emergency room, and Dad and I took the drive.

Friday afternoon, four days later, I finally drove home to Z Acres. But I brought my father home from the hospital first. That's always a sweet trip, hospitals suck, but this ride was sweeter than most. So much had fallen on all our shoulders during the week, including a flat tire on my car by the time I pulled into my parents' driveway that Tuesday, and another flat tire on my father's van when I parked it in the hospital parking ramp, same day. Does that even happen? Two flats in one day? Completely unrelated, sure, yet I still don't think much of chance or even bad luck, so, looking back, I put it down to yet one more straw on this camel's back to teach me patience.

Thing is, I was a good soldier. I took care of everything that needed it. Made arrangements, asked questions, gathered information, played taxi, got both vehicles to the mechanic, picked up prescriptions, researched after care, made grocery runs, and pressed on medical staff that failed to deliver the quality health care my father deserved. Bit too much of that. I postponed my work, rescheduled my appointments, and made room for theirs. And when Mama woke one morning during the week, sitting on  the edge of their bed, crying softly, I got up from the living room couch and went to sit beside her. I wrapped my arm around her and rocked her gently, and while she wiped away tears, I thought about how once up a time, she had rocked me, and she had wiped away my tears. As my father had, too.

Life cycles. Journeys we all take. My shoulders were weary with the load of the week, and it was just one week, but when the head physician took a step back from his earlier decision of moving my father to a nursing home and/or rehab center, and recommended instead a return home--my father had rallied and found new strength under that threat--I found myself suddenly in a mess of tears. My father took one look at my watery face and got misty-eyed, too, stretching an arm out toward me. His other arm was still too sore to lift from his fall.

Dancing with my father, New Year's Eve 2000
The good soldier finally had permission to shift some weight from my shoulders, and I found myself weeping tears of relief. Daddy was coming home. I wondered, how did my Mama feel? What is it like to be in their years, looking into the future? What can it be like to have your partner of more than 63 years be told he is not coming home? I watched the shadows cross my mama's face, and had to remind myself to be patient, be patient, learn patience with all the flat tires, repeated questions, resistance, forgetfulness, fears and occasional irrationality.

We will all have our turn. That is, if we are lucky enough to ever be elderly. The alternative to me was not having them around, and I don't want to sit on the edge of my bed, misty-eyed, looking at the blank place in my day ahead. So go ahead, give me the hassle and hurdles to jump. Give me the tests of patience. Give me the aggravation that is love. Nothing tests us more than our relationships, and our very first, our primary, perhaps our most important relationship is the one we have with our parents.

From that primary relationship, we inherit our weaknesses and faults, but also our strengths and qualities. We will all have our turn ... if we are lucky. Someday I will annoy the heck out of my children when I am a crotchety old woman insisting on my eccentric ways ... that I never be moved from my Z Acres, no matter how unsuited it may be to an older woman getting even older; that I have my coffee beans ground fresh every morning; that my food be organic and not store-bought; that my books be always at hand and plenty of them; that my time of solitude be held sacrosanct.

My sister, bless her heart, arrives in the evening to take her shift. For the next day or so, I can catch up on my work. I can have a moment to myself again, to walk my otherwise daily walk around Z Acres, to just breathe. She calls, and we compare notes, and agree to meet soon to talk strategy.

They've been there for us. Now, we must be there for them. It is hard for them to accept all this help that sometimes feels like an intrusion. All these people coming by, my mother sighs, visiting nurses and occupational therapists and who was that last guy anyway? I remind her to consider the alternative. Change isn't easy for any of us, and most of us have a hard time accepting help. I don't want to take away all their independence, nor do I want to lose all of mine.

Let the juggling begin. I accept the challenge of learning more patience. I could use a dose. Growing older is tough. Being alive, really alive, is always a challenge.

I'm so glad they are still around, and still helping me grow.


  1. This was lovely, and I so know these feelings. Thank you for this.

  2. Thank you, Anne. One delight this week has been doing bank runs and pharmacy runs and other errands for my dad and hearing so many people ask about him, tell me what a sweet and gentle man he is and how they wish him well. I hear that so often, and that part is medicine to my heart.

  3. Hi, Zinta. I'm so glad I'm up at ridiculous o'clock to find and read your beautifully expressed reflections (It's 4:50 a.m. here in the UK). There's so much in there that we people of a certain age can relate to. My own parents went long ago, far, far too young and I have no siblings, but my wife's mum is a the age when we're on call for exactly the kind of emergencies you describe. And life does seem to test us at such times by piling irritation on top of problem on top of tragedy, but we do come out of it stronger, and more complete human beings, don't we?

    BTW We also have a rural home - on a much smaller scale than yours - that will test my future ability to cope with hedge cutting, grass cutting and so on. Our children will have a wild patch of real estate as well as an old curmudgeon to deal with if I ever see old bones.

    Best wishes to you and your parents. Stay strong and cultivate your sense of humour. It's a life saver.

    Kind regards


  4. Your tale has brought tears to my eyes, having already walked this walk with my parents, and now they are enjoying their heavenly reward and I miss them so much. But I have a treasure-trove of memories and so many things surrounding me to remind me of them, and I feel their blessing on me everyday. Yes, what you are doing now is only for a short season. I know you will have no regrets. (((HUGS))))