I have been fortunate to be underemployed for several years. That seems like a terrible thing, but for me, it has been a blessing that money will never overshadow. Both my parents are in their 90s now. Since the day I left home in the 1970s, I have been too busy with “life” to make the drive down to Austin and spend time with them. At first, my wife and I would drive down for major holidays. This continued through the early childhood of our first child. By the time the second child arrived, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter at home just seemed like a better option.
I lost touch with the family I grew up with.
Since I was laid off 5 years ago, I needed money, even if the money came from part-time work doing things a professional with an MBA and years in the high-tech industry should never be expected to do. I painted houses, I did yard work, I hawked products at the State Fair of Texas, I did in-store demos…whatever I could find.
My family in Austin was generous with little jobs to help me keep a roof over our heads and food on the table. They offered me jobs at good pay. They even insisted on giving me more than I asked for and loaded up my car with groceries and put “gas money” in my pocket for the return trip to the DFW area.
However, none of this, as much as I appreciated it, can compare to the benefit of simply getting to know my original family again.
Today, I am working to get a young business off the ground. I no longer take on part-time jobs from my Austin family. However, my “day job” still takes me down to Austin on a monthly basis. I stay with my parents each time I travel to the Texas Hill Country so as to not miss an opportunity to spend a few more hours with them.
Recently, my mother has gone into a serious decline. Twelve years ago, she was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. The best doctors in town treated her with a variety of medications which slowed the inevitable, but the end is at hand. After living in the same house since 1959, she is now living in an extended care facility. What could have been a sad end to an extraordinary life has turned into a glorious send off to a woman loved by many.
I never knew the impact she had on so many people until I spent several hours by her bed in the extended care facility. If my work life had not been interrupted by a devastating lay-off 5 years ago, followed by a protracted return to full employment, I would have missed one of the greatest events in my life.
I spent some wonderful time with my mother two weeks ago at the assisted living facility in Austin. As she slowly fades, communication is becoming difficult. At moments, she could answer questions, at other times, I had to guess what she was trying to communicate and at other times, I just sat next to her while she slept.
I saw some of her many friends drop by to see her. They could not tell, because they were only there for a few minutes, but I could see the changes on my mother’s face as she recognized their voices and she smiled, faintly.
Sometimes, after they left, my mother would start to talk to them, having rallied a bit from the visit. It would only be a few words, repeated over and over, facing in the direction where her friend had been moments before. She was loved much, because she loved much.
It was not depressing to be there with her. It was a chance to just spend time with her as I’d said, for so many years, that I should do. Over the seven hours (over two days) I sat next to her, I was rarely alone for more that 20 minutes before another friend or family member would show up. I saw friends lavish love on her and tell me their favorite stories about her. I saw family members giving selflessly to her as she had done for them for so many years. I saw the best in people, brought out into the open as they expressed their love for the woman who gave so much to me for so many years.
I think that we all say that we hope we go quickly and do not linger, but this lingering departure of my mother has given so many people a chance to express their love for her while she still has some ability to experience it. This is a good closure experience for many of us who have already started to miss her.
As I woke up in the house where both my father and mother lived until recently (the house where my 92 year old father still lives and where I grew up), I was struck by how empty the house felt without my mother in it. Not lonely or depressing but empty. One small person was missing, but that small person is the heart of that house.
Good Luck and Godspeed.