As I sit down to write this article, I find myself just twelve hours away from a brief road-trip out-of-town to visit with family for the Thanksgiving holiday. It has been years (how many I could not even tell you) since we have been in the same room together. My mother is getting older and infirmed. My sister lives out of town with her husband and two fur-babies. I work too much and take on more than I should. In and of themselves, these situations are not particularly unique or disturbing, but when viewed in their entirety, they don’t make for a venerable Hallmark-moment. So, the fact that the stars have aligned, and we will be under the same roof for an afternoon is a pretty remarkable thing. I feel like I should take this opportunity to write about the concept of “thankfulness” and “gratitude,” which would be befitting for obvious reasons, but I have opted to touch on something a little more meaningful (at least in my eyes), which is family.
I have had many roles in my family—good and bad—that have over the course of my lifetime shaped me into the man I am today. I have been my mother’s “little king,” my sister’s biggest “pain in the ass,” and my father’s greatest disappointment (he actually volunteered to be an assistant coach for my Little League baseball team, so he could hang with boys he could be proud of, hanging out with them more than he did me). I cannot, in all honesty, say that I didn’t deserve some of these designations, especially my mother’s. I am pretty sure I did, in fact. Positive or not, I played my parts and things moved smoothly along in their typical dysfunction, as they always had. Things fit. I fit, although things were always a little tight around the crotch.
Things changed, as we did. Priorities shifted. Families and careers were started. Lives were launched. Moving trucks were packed-up and rolled out-of-town (or out of lives) with drivers that did not care much to look back in the rear-view. My definition of family had already changed by then. It was no longer the most basic of social units that ensured survival or emotional support. Instead, it was a reminder that fairy tales we were told as children were not real. Love was not always enough. Family was not always there for you. Daddies did leave. Familial bonds felt more like shackles and a new life was a U-Haul ride away.
A lot has happened since the “Great Escape.” Marriages and divorces. Births and deaths. Hirings and firings. Fortunes made and lost. Good health and bad. We have all run the gamut and, while a little worn for the wear, we all managed to make it through to our 49th Thanksgiving together this November 2018. What makes this one special? My mother.
Her battle with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s has been an arduous one, but her decline has accelerated, greatly, the past two years. After many attempts to keep her at home, it has become evident that the best—the safest—option for her is to have her placed in a nursing home. She will move into one in her hometown of San Diego, Texas the first week of December, so this is really the last time I will ever be able to have a normal Thanksgiving with her. While I have been preparing for this transition of hers for almost five years now, the reality of it is frightening. She has been the glue that has held our broken family together, since the very beginning and, now—maybe for the first time—it feels like we will now have to fend for ourselves and keep things from falling apart, again. I worry that I am not up to the task.
I moved back home four years ago, after a twenty-year stint in Austin, Texas to be closer to my mother and help support her, as her health began to fail. After having been knocked around by life a time or two during my young and middle adulthoods, I began to see “family,” differently, as I entered my 40s. I was able to see my mother with more clarity and better understand WHY she did some of the things she did that used to tick me off, as opposed to HOW she did them.
I guess parents of every generation do the best they can with what they know and the resources available to them. In retrospect, how can I blame her for that? Once I got that, the decision to move down wasn’t really a very difficult one to make. There was no choice: she was my mom and I had to go. I have no regrets.
So tomorrow, my mother and her husband Henry, my sister, and hopefully some of her kids will sit down for the last traditional Thanksgiving we will have together, meaning one that doesn’t involve nursing home cafeteria trays. We will laugh—probably cry—and enjoy each other in a way that we haven’t for too long. I guess I could say that I am thankful to have the family back together, again, but that would be misspoken. Our family was always intact. Most of us just disconnected, but true to form, mom is the one to bring things together: the center of our worlds with a formidable gravitational pull. I am going to miss that. For now, though, I still have time to continue being her “little king” and—hopefully—the biggest pain in the ass my sister has ever known. Why mess with tradition?
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Photo Credit: Hannah Busing / Unsplash