At 86, mom’s health may fail, but not her motherly spirit

Jim Cosgrove and his daughters
Jim Cosgrove and his daughters

Last week my mom fell and broke her hip. When you’re 86, you don’t have many options.

“I don’t want the surgery,” she said. “It scares me. Just give me the pain medicine.”

Through her medicated fog that was interrupted by an occasional dagger of pain, we continued one of our regular conversations that pretty much sums up parenting.

She started by apologizing and saying how guilty she felt about my siblings and me having to care for her. This coming from a woman who had spent the better part of a decade being pregnant, suffered two miscarriages, birthed eight babies and put a hot breakfast on the table six days a week. Oh yeah, and a hot supper.

“Guilty? After all you did for us? It’s time for us to take care of you,” I said. “I can’t even comprehend how many diapers you must have changed. And they weren’t disposables.”

She waved me off with her frail, bony hand. “That was nothin’. Besides, that was all I had to do. It’s not like I had another job.” My mother has been known to exaggerate, but she excels at understatements.

When people would ask how she and my dad managed such a large brood, she was fond of saying, “Oh, we didn’t know any better. That’s just what you did.” As if that explained everything.

“We had planned on having a dozen kids,” she said. “But after Sheila was born, the doctor told me not to have another, that my body couldn’t handle it. But I told him, ‘You’re wrong. I’ve got to have one more.’”

Against her doctor’s recommendation, she had one more. And that baby was me. I’m grateful that she also excels at being stubborn and defiant.

“I feel like I should be doing something,” she said as agitation and restlessness set in. “What’s the point of me just laying here?” But then she paused, no doubt catching herself in what she perceived to be a lapse of faith, and added, “But who am I to say? It’s in God’s hands.”

“Doing” is all she knows. She’s been doing for others her entire life, and her doing is part of the reason she ended up in the emergency room. She was up folding laundry without her walker when she fell, even though someone else cleans and folds her clothes. I can’t say I blame her, though. It’s one of the few things that give her purpose.

And I think purpose is a huge part of what being a mother is all about. They never stop loving and doing. They never stop worrying and feeling guilty. They never stop being mothers. And we never stop being children.

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