A past piece of prose from 2007…
Fear of the Inevitable
When I turned 50, I could no longer avoid thinking about growing older. It was getting harder to keep from gaining weight, my joints hurt when I woke up in the morning, and I knew my greatest fear would not be long in coming true.
Many people fear dying. Many fear the pain, infirmity and illness that inevitably come with old age. I probably have a basic fear of those things lurking somewhere in my brain, but the thing I fear most is becoming invisible.
I first encountered this phenomenon when my mother came to visit after my father died in 1994. She was 75 years old, and though her back was bent a bit, she looked and sounded younger than her years. During that visit she and I went to a local restaurant one day for lunch. The waitress came to take our order, and after I had made my selection the waitress said to me, “What’ll she have?”, nodding toward my mother. Taking immediate umbrage to the slight, my mother spoke up, “SHE will have a ham sandwich and a cup of coffee.” As the waitress moved away from the table, my mother began to sputter with indignation. “What does she think I am? Deaf? Do I look like someone who is hard of hearing, or who doesn’t have good sense?” I told her to let it go and forget it, that some people are just rude, but this was only the first of many such incidents to come.
This same scenario repeated itself in many different venues. When I accompanied my mother to the bank, the teller spoke to me and not to her. When we made a purchase at a department store, the clerk automatically assumed it was me making the purchase. When she visited the church our family was attending at that time, few spoke to her, though they spoke to my husband and me. Later, when she had moved into our home, younger neighbors came to visit and often ignored her, even going so far as to sit turned away from her to speak to others in the family.
My mother complained bitterly about this phenomenon, and I couldn’t blame her. However, I was powerless to do anything about it, other than to remind those involved during a particular incident to speak to her as well. It was a sad realization that she had become invisible. She was still present here on the earth, but the earth had essentially stopped acknowledging her existence.
In her younger years my mother was a very knowledgeable executive secretary. She had a quick wit, a ready laugh, and walked more quickly than anyone I can remember. Everyone enjoyed conversing with her, and my friends during high school dubbed her as one of the “cool moms.” Two years ago one of my best friends from high school, who had become very accomplished and was now a corporate trainer, told me what an inspiration my mother had been to her. She said, “Your mom was the only mother I knew who was a successful career woman. Most of the other mothers stayed home, but yours was a role model to me, showing me that it really was possible to have a successful career and family.”
My mother’s quick wit is gone now, though she occasionally shows flashes of the old sharp sense of humor. Her perfect memory has slipped, and she forgets many things. She has difficulty carrying on a complex conversation. As a result of her desire to be fiercely independent, she suffered a fall last year that caused a head injury and debilitation, from which she has never been able to fully recover, and she now lives in a nursing home. I speak to her on the phone daily, often several times a day, and our conversations center around her discomforts and helping her to figure out what day and what time it is.
I have a hard time accepting this mother, this person who gradually became more like my child, as she came to be more and more dependent on me for many things. She is so unlike the person I knew and looked up to for most of my life. I don’t know this mother, and I fear her, because she is showing me what lies ahead for me.
I have been acutely aware, therefore, that I too will slip away and become invisible in time. This is one of the reasons I feel the urgency to write for publication. I will eventually pass away, but there will be something still here on the earth that says, “I was here,” some words and thoughts I have written that will continue to acknowledge my existence, that may influence and/or help someone, somewhere.
When my first story was published many years ago, I said to myself, “Yes! I have finally achieved immortality!” At least, through my writing, I will never become totally invisible…
(Note: As some may know, my mother passed away in September of 2010)