We Are ALL Doing Our Best

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It’s Christmas, and you know what that means… It means that people apparently turn crazy.

Not really, but kind of.

And then you hear all these songs everywhere you go about this being the most wonderful time of the year. But it seems like everyone is mostly rushing around like idiots trying so hard to complete everything that they are just WAY too busy to enjoy the season.

This is not true of everyone, but there are enough crazy ones out there that it gets kind of tempting to join them.

But the thing is, you have to slow down and take a breath to notice the ones who are truly exemplifying the true spirit of this season. And I’m not talking about Christianity or Jesus or any religion at all. Not specifically anyway. What I’m talking about is kindness.

If you were to ask me about all the problems going on in our world today, I would tell you that what I think we need most to fix them all is kindness. Kindness for our friends and family. Kindness for strangers. Kindness for the earth we live on. And maybe most especially, kindness for ourselves.

What we forget is that we are all doing the best we can with what we have to work with in the moment.

WE are ALL doing the best we can. Repeat that to yourself. We are all doing the very best we can.

Do you think that’s bullshit?

I don’t. You know why? Because we cannot possibly know more than what we know right now in this very minute. We can try harder tomorrow with what we learned today, but we can’t do shit about that right now. Right now, we are all doing the best we can.

Sometimes our best is yelling at doctors and nurses over the phone because they won’t listen to you about how sick your mother is. Sometimes our best is baking 6 dozen cookies and getting all the shopping completed for Christmas. Sometimes our best fixes a preschooler tantrum and sometimes it starts one. Sometimes our best is good enough, and sometimes its not nearly, or maybe it is just exactly right. It all depends on the moment, and the expectations, I suppose.

When my mom was in the last few weeks of her life, I had a song in my head all the time. It was actually from a show my daughter directed last summer. The song is called, “A Little More Homework,” and it’s about how we all are works in progress. How we’re all doing the best we can, and we should try to recognize and honor that if we’re going to be friends, because we really do depend on one another. I listened to that song almost every night in my kitchen as I made dinner in the month while my mom was dying. I didn’t know why I was listening at first, then at the end, as my mom was picking out the last gifts she was going to give anyone in her life, I got it. My mom was the perfect living example of that idea, especially in the last years of her life. She never saw people for who they were exactly, or for who society would judge them as. It was more like she saw them for who they were trying to be, and she looked for the best in them and knew that they were striving so hard all the time to be better.

We played that rather unconventional song at her funeral. I realized that if she had any kind of message to tell people, other than simply, “Love one another,” it would be to give each other a damn break and know that we’re all trying.

So I tried to exemplify that today. I tried to look at every person that I came across as someone who was trying… The cashier in the long line at the store who probably had her own Christmas shit to be doing. The people I almost bumped into in the crowed aisles. The lady on the phone who was trying to help me fix some back child support I’m owed. Everyone. I thought of every single person I came in contact with as someone who was trying their very best.

Want to know why I did that? Not just because my mom believed that and would’ve wanted that, but because I am doing my best all the time. Aren’t you? I mean, really? Aren’t you? Your results may not be what you had hoped for in every instance. And some days, you may have more to give to your own cause than others. But really, don’t you try your hardest?

And the thing is, once I started to look for that, once I started to see everyone as someone trying their very best, then I had all these people being really freaking nice to me. I found people in all corners of the store and in every aisle just downright friendly and full of Christmas spirit. The crowed stores and the throngs of people turned into a lovely place to be. Really. Just like that.

So, that’s my Christmas wish. That you may look at everyone, treat everyone, like they are doing their very best today. Know that while they may not be perfect or anywhere even close to perfect, that we ALL have a more homework to do. And that we all still deserve a kind smile.

May your days be merry and bright, friends.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z4SzJGYWg18

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My Mom

untitled-0290It was 46 degrees this morning. The snow has all melted and every standing object is covered in dew. The frozen lake is a slick layer of glass with ice heaves and broken pieces of concrete jutting up along the shoreline. The fog is so dense that I can only see the world in pieces, nearly everything hidden from sight in the dull gray light. It’s mid-December, but it feels like no season at all.

untitled-0253My mom died almost 2 weeks ago. And like this weather, it makes no sense. It makes no sense that life can go on so completely without her, or more so, that I can.

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This was not sudden or surprising really, my mom passing away. She’s battled health crisis after complication for 15 years now since her initial heart attack in 2000, and she’s had lots of good times in between. But we saw her cardiologist last February and he told her she only had maybe a year left, more if she got very, very lucky. There was nothing more he could do for her. It’s been a downhill slide since then, with an increasing number bad days where she could barely move around her tiny apartment because she was so weak. But then she’d bounce back and I’d try to forget what was looming.

I worried a lot that she would fall, as she had blood clots in her legs and such severe arthritis that her legs bowed. I called and texted half a dozen times a day to check in. Ironic, since she fell in October anyway, and she did it at 4:30 am when I was asleep. I woke up at 7 am to a phone call that she was at the hospital and she couldn’t walk. Then they found the fracture in her pelvis.

I knew then that it was the beginning of the end. Not just because hip and pelvic fractures tend to point toward that in the elderly, but more because I just knew her body could not handle one more big problem. She already had so many. She really wasn’t even doing well before the fall.

I stayed positive for her and told her she was doing so great and how proud I was that she was working so hard in therapy. And she was trying so hard. But she just declined anyway, adding more problems to her list like pneumonia and severe anemia and the inability to keep food down. They found what looked like lung cancer, but since there was no way to treat it in someone so sick, she refused the invasive biopsies.

It finally become clear to her too that she wasn’t going to walk out of that nursing home. And when she realized, she had me help her choose Christmas gifts for everyone and order them online. Then she wanted to be moved someplace else, and to be put in hospice in hopes that they could better control her pain and suffering. It took longer than I wanted to have her moved, a little over a week, with me on the phone for hours trying to get her help, and then going over to see her struggle to breathe and be so sick. I finally got her signed up for hospice and moved to a new facility. It was the last day of her life. My only wish is that I could’ve gotten her there sooner so there wouldn’t have been so much suffering at the end. I am truly glad that her last hours were peaceful.

Like this warm foggy December day, I’m not clear about what I feel. Sad, of course. I miss her. And I kind of don’t know what to do with myself after so many months (and years) of doing things for her. But the past two months have been so very dedicated to her. Daily visits, of course, but also buying what she needed, paying her bills, doing her laundry, taking care of her cat and her apartment, dealing with her insurance and banking. Living her life, basically, plus talking to doctors and nurses and hospice. The list goes on and on.

Then it was planning her funeral. And now, she’s gone. And all of that is gone too. The space left behind feels huge.

untitled-0276But do you know what I feel most of all? Relief. Because I don’t have to watch her clutch at her chest because she can’t breathe and can’t even get a word out. Because I don’t have to watch her so ill from trying to eat. Because she is not disappearing before my very eyes anymore. And I have to believe that she is in a better place, even if I don’t believe in the traditional version of heaven.

Still, I wish she was here for me to talk to. For me to send texts and photos and to tell the stories I keep thinking of that I know she’d enjoy. I keep forgetting that I don’t have to check in on her. I wonder when that will stop.

But what I do believe is that she is with me. Not only because my mom believed that and told it to me many times over the years, but because it’s true. My mother grew me inside of her, and the very fabric of my body was knit together out of pieces of herself. I am her, at least in part. That is just science.

No matter where I go, she’ll be a part of me. In the songs that remind me of her, in the stories and memories we share, in all that she taught me that helped shape who I am. In my children who I made from myself. I truly don’t believe that anything in this world just goes away.

My mom is still here, I know this. Like the world covered by the fog, she’s just beyond where I can see.

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Rest in peace, Mom.

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Patricia Ann Roth

February 9th, 1946 – December 4th, 2014