I was gone for four weeks, tending to Mom, then came home for a week before going back. Mom said it wasn’t worth making the trip and I might as well just stay but I disagreed.
It was good to go home. It was good to have a break because when I went back to her place, I could have a do over. I wanted to be different than I was the first time. The first time I had too many expectations, too much internal drama. The second time I went back with a mental model that changed everything:
I didn’t go back as a daughter.
I went back as a home health aid.
I prepared by imagining myself in the chartreuse polo shirt worn by the aids where she lives. I imagined wearing one of their badges with my name on it, pinned just below the logo on the shirt. When Leda and I arrived, I showed up mentally in uniform. My mom made a remark about Leda. She probably meant it to be funny but it came out sounding snarky and I felt my chest puff, ready to defend my dog.
I stopped myself. Asked, “How does the home health aid feel about this?”
The home health aid looked at the dog trotting into the bedroom to lie down on the carpet. The dog appeared to have taken no offense. The home health aid decided that if the dog wasn’t bothered, neither was she. The home health aid let it go.
That is how it went for the next twelve days. I was surprised at how often the home health aid decided it didn’t matter, how much internal dialogue went away. Gone: Should I say something? How would she feel? How would I feel if I don’t? What would I say? It was an efficient way to live.
A few times the home health aid spoke up, when she thought it mattered. But when she spoke, she wasn’t trying to tamp down her anger and sound calm because she wasn’t angry. She simply said what she thought with few words. Most of the time, what the home health aid said to herself was, “She’s an old lady, acting like an old lady.”
On the first trip, I wanted to take a more Buddhist approach of non-duality, along the lines of this, from Thich Nhat Hanh:
“As long as we are caught in the idea of a separate self, ignorance is still in us. When we see the intimate relationship between what is self and what is not self, ignorance is healed and suffering, anger, jealousy, and fear disappear. If we can practice no-self, we’ll be able to go beyond the questions that make people suffer so much.”
No-self might have been too big a stretch for me with my mother. A reach within my grasp was to be the home health aid. The aid does her work, goes home, sleeps well.
* * *
Chewing the Cud of Good
It had been closed up for four weeks, waiting for me, wafting scent into the air to greet me. I opened the door and smelled wood, not pine like a hardware store but oak. The smell wasn’t obscured by me or Leda or whatever I had cooked the night before. This is what the condo smelled like all by itself. Last year the condo endured a gut renovation. This year it holds me. It makes me happy every time I see it.