Maybe it’s just me. All my life, I would reflexively and constantly envision where my life was taking me, and how the people in front of me would fit in to that picture. Some people would get the lifetime pass, but for most I had to be able to loosely identify how we fit together. Would you be helping me? Would I be helping you? Would we be able to hang out and relax together? Did we entertain each other?
If the answer to all of those was “no”, chances are I would stop investing the energy it took to maintain a relationship – after all, why bother? If I couldn’t lay out a scenario where we would interact somehow, what was the point? I just had difficulty separating the person from the purpose. I don’t think it came from a place of selfishness or greed, I believe it was a natural progression of how I viewed life’s goals and tasks; how was I going to get where I wanted to be? Alright, I’ll admit, written down, that does look selfish.
This logic made for a paradox when I would think about my Mom. I loved her more than anyone else in the world – after all, she was Mom. But I couldn’t really pin down what it is that we would do for, or with, each other. As my life took me to Germany, then to Paris, and appeared to heading down a wildly unpredictable path, her health and her memory started to fail her. It became harder and harder to just have something to talk about. She couldn’t relate to the frustration of being an American living in Paris, after all, and even if she did, by the end of the conversation she might not remember what I said at the beginning. She was too proud to talk about her own problems, so she would always bounce the conversation back to be about me, even though I knew damn well she wasn’t really following what I was saying. Although my love for her never wavered, I did struggle to see how she would be an active part of my life as we moved forward. This brought a certain amount of guilt and frustration with it.
At the same time, I felt like I was reaching a similar crossroads with my friends back home in Michigan. We would always have things to talk about, and old stories to reflect on, for sure… in the way that ‘family’ would always have me connected to my Mom, ‘history’ would always connect me with them. But some of the same concerns remained – would we be able to keep relating to each other as my passport got more stamps and their houses got more kids?
Then, Mom was gone. Suddenly, none of my previous analysis or planning or interpretation meant anything. She was just – gone. One night, talking to a friend, talking about the hell it was for all of us, for Mom to be in pain and suffering, and for us to see it, I wondered aloud if it would just be better if this was over. She then said something I’ll never forget : “right now that might seem like what you want, but when she is gone, you’ll give anything you have to have five more minutes with her”. Truer words were never spoken.
She was gone, and in an instant I realized that it didn’t matter what we said or what we did – it was simply the fact that she was there that brought all the joy to me. It was the way she smiled at me every time I saw her, the way she answered the phone like she just won the lottery… It was my constant. I learned that I had taken that for granted my whole life, that she would always just be there, probably because my mind wouldn’t let me even imagine the alternative.
In the aftermath of her passing, though, came a realization equally as powerful, of how blessed I was to have the friends I once doubted. Yes, our lives took us down different paths, but when the time came, and they were needed – they were there. Once they were there, it didn’t matter what they said or what we did; they were there, and that was all that mattered. Although I was too much of a mess emotionally to verbalize it at the time, I was aware of the sacrifices people made to be there, and it got me through the hardest period of my life.
So now I carry forward, still sorting out what happened and where to go from here, but I learned a lesson that may be the most important I ever learn. Be there. Just – be there. Even if you don’t know what to say, or there’s nothing to say, or you don’t know how you’ll get there – be there.