The world is full of other worrisome perils that prevent my mother from undertaking many activities, including typical parental tasks. When we were growing up, she spent a lot of time in bed. To calm herself, she relied on a heating pad, tranquilizers, whispering to herself, and reluctant massages from her children.
I was well into adulthood before I finally realized that my mother’s many fears apply only to herself. It’s perfectly fine for her children to do all of things that terrify her and to endure far greater risks. When I was in my early thirties and she was in her fifties, before I understood that her fears were limited to herself, when I still held onto an idealized image of her, I was worried about telling her I needed major surgery for a mysterious condition that required the removal of my spleen. Both the cause and the prognosis were unknown.
Because Mother was so easily distressed when we were growing up, I told my siblings about the operation in the days between the diagnosis and surgery and cautioned them that I didn’t want to tell Mother until it was over. I thought she’d be too upset and panic that I would die, especially since the problem was unusual and the outcome uncertain. But my sister Anne eventually convinced me I had to tell her, that not knowing would hurt her feelings when she found out; she still idealized Mother then too.
I braced myself for her not handling this news well at all. Instead, I was amazed at her reaction: she was completely calm, unperturbed. Sure, she was surprised and expressed conventional concern the way you would if someone you barely know told you this same information when you ran into them at the grocery store. But she wasn’t worried and never thought to ask if I was. Back then, I didn’t understand that she is oblivious to what happens to other people and how they are feeling, even her own children. It did not occur to either of us that she visit after the surgery to help me recover or offer comfort.
Copyright 2014 Sarah Meyer Noel. All rights reserved.