Taking Stock

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So after that traumatic spring/summer season, I wasn’t myself during the trip back to south Texas. I’d spent most of the months of August through December feeling a bit off, even weepy at times, a disposition I couldn’t shake off. When our Christmas Day reunion arrived, I was numbed by the discussion of those who’d passed away in the previous year; my emotions were ragged. I’m not someone who tends to feel sorry for herself. I fall into the glass-is-half-full camp, typically optimistic and cheerful. But I hadn’t stopped to reflect on why I was so off my game. On Christmas Day, I realized I had to stop and take stock.

Certainly, the source of much of my emotional dis-ease was my mother’s passing. She had been healthy and fiercely independent until suddenly, she wasn’t. We children were blindsided by her dramatic physical and mental decline. Both were completely unexpected, but maybe that’s how it always happens. We see our parents as constants in our lives, don’t we? What can we believe in if not the certainty that they’ll always be there for us, cheering us on, and guiding us around life’s pitfalls? Unlike Dad, who had been gone for over thirty years, Mom had been a permanent fixture in my life, all my life. She had lived all her years in the same community, never moved from the home I was born in, never changed her phone number, and never left the house after dark. I always knew where she was. How could she be gone now?

Even before Mom’s final years, her world began to shrink as one after the other of her lifelong friends passed away. She dearly missed their company, grieving for them and the social life they had once enjoyed. She pined for the evenings of bygone days, of living rooms filled with laughter as couples played progressive Euchre at card tables in each others’ homes. Even though the local seniors’ centre offered Euchre games several times a week, she showed no interest in attending. “I don’t want to play with strangers and I don’t want to make new friends.” Those were her last words on the subject.

Mom used to tell me that the older you get, the faster time goes. She hadn’t always been right about her many pronouncements, but in this one, she absolutely was. My sixtieth birthday, seemingly only yesterday, had been a delightful milestone. I had just retired, and was embracing a promising new life unencumbered by work, or cold and snowy winters. There seemed to be no limits to the exciting new possibilities that were waiting for me to find. Those ten years blew by so quickly, that on my seventieth birthday, I felt an icy ripple go down my spine. If I lived as long as my mother had, I’d only have twenty years left. I couldn’t even grasp the concept of my life ending.

Twenty years? It’s not possible that I’m nearing the end of my life! Not yet! So many fears, both big and small, leaped into my heart. There are so many things I still want to do, but more importantly, I cannot die the way my mother did. I want control and choice over my death experience. I want to die pain-free when I’m ready, and with my loved ones all around me. But not yet! No, not yet!

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Barbara Tiessen is a retired RN who lives with her husband in southwestern Ontario but winters in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. She researched her genealogy, wrote and self published The Schoenfeld Russlaender: A Mennonite Family's History in 2015. More recently her interest have focused on writing short stories.
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