Musings in medias res

A long time ago I wrote a post about being a certain age and how it unites those of us who might otherwise have little in common, the feeling that a lot of people in my generation that life is often living us, rather than us living life. Late in 2016 when Richard Armitage was quoted in translation as wanting to move back to the UK, I thought that (apart from my ignorance of the specific circumstances that might have moved him to say it), it’s part of the mood of mid-life for many of us to make some kind of an emotional or geographical return, even if it’s primarily an attempt. I also know, that for people in their mid-forties, the parental question starts to become acute even as certain structures in our own lives are no longer infinitely flexible (even for those of us don’t have children’s lives to accommodate). His parents are at an age when they’re not as bullet-proof as they were. I can imagine that he does enough traveling that dealing with the vicissitudes of the London – NYC flight corridor in winter has deteriorated into a chore rather than a delight, even in first class. And, too, he has another wrinkle in his life that I’m familiar with: the role and tasks of the child who’s moved away while the other has stayed.

So, when Armitage tweeted about his mother’s situation a few days ago, my heart sank. And I thought simultaneously, “Welcome to the club of children with noticeably aging parents” and “I’m sorry.” Longtime readers may remember my blogging about my situation with mom in 2012-13. I don’t know how it is for him but I know how it was for me. There were things I clung to, but in the end my demands were not rational but simple: I just wanted someone — anyone — to fix it. If there were a devil to sign my soul away to, I’d have done it.

There’s a tension there, insofar as at midlife, we’ve been fighting and waiting for so long to be the ones who decide. After years of deferring to the judgment of my seniors, of paying my dues, what I learned with relatives in the clutch of the health care machine was that I am again — or still — not in control. That the professionals are often equally helpless is not really a consolation. At some point I realized that between mom’s age, modern medicine, costs, geography, and other commitments, I’d also joined the “club of no options,” or at least no options I liked. He has fewer constraints than some of his peers might, but the ones that really matter are still there.

And then there are the fruits of that tension: watchfulness, worry, fatigue, cluelessness, hope, frustration, boredom, anger, grief. Not that there’s never joy or discovery, because that can be part of the process, but in that setting positive recognitions were always fleeting. For me, the reminders that time is finite were never more in my face than during my mother’s final illness, even with respites here and there, as treatments were more or less successful. Even if and when we were rescued by the universe and the doctors repaired my mother’s body and matters resumed their daily march forward, we had still been put on definitive notice. If being unable to control events returned me to the unhappy childlike state of relative powerlessness, the countervailing weight was there, too: not wanting to be an adult if it meant responsibility for such inexorable knowledge.

In all of that I learned that I can’t say “everything will be fine” because in the end, it’s not true: something always changes, or the parameters of the term “fine” become so elastic that they no longer hold the concept upright. What works today will not work tomorrow; what mom could swallow on Monday morning nauseated her in the evening. I have not believed that whatever G-d ordains is right for many decades now. I’ve learned I can pray and I believe in doing that, and I have decided it helps, especially if it leads to action, and I appreciate knowing that people do it for me. But even the biblical writer who advocates casting one’s bread upon the waters concedes that there are no guarantees, that we do not know what will prosper or where the rain will fall. All he can say is that if we think only of those things, we will never act. All is vanity but / and we have to keep on living, and figuring out how to do that under the changed circumstances of illness is intensely difficult.

So like everyone else I’m thinking of the Armitage family; like many I’m praying for the presence of mind of Mrs. Armitage’s doctors and for her speedy recovery. I’m thinking about what Richard Armitage may be going through at the moment and wishing him both vulnerability and fortitude. And I’m feeling that weight of adulthood that never really goes away any more. I hope he’s learning to deal with it better than I have.

~ by Servetus on January 11, 2018.

11 Responses to “Musings in medias res”

  1. It is an intensely difficult situation to be placed in – you have expressed that very concisely in your post. Having been in the situation myself, albeit only for an extremely short time as my father’s health deteriorated within the matter of days, I very much feel for Mr A – and for everyone who is dealing with such a situation or has ever had to deal with it. It is everything that you listed: frightening, frustrating, depressing, infuriating, making us feel helpless, sad, annoyed, guilty etc. And yet at the same time it also surprises me that I feel like that. It’s not as if I didn’t know that I would eventually lose my parents. That our parents’ lives are finite (like our own), is a reality we live with. But knowing that doesn’t make it any easier to prepare for the inevitable and/or avoid the onslaught of emotions.
    What alleviated some of the emotional pain during that phase for me, was the network of friends online and offline, and their consideration for me, sending me good wishes, distracting me, listening to me. I hope Armitage has such a network around him. Actually, I think he does – he has always come across as someone who is considerate and caring when it comes to his friends and colleagues. His attitude will be reflected back to him in times of need. Nonetheless, one can only wish him – and his mother – well.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Friends have helped a lot. It’s good he’s in England (I presume anyway) where his oldest friends are.

      I don’t understand why we don’t think about it in advance either — maybe the prospect is just too horrible to contemplate.

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  2. “For me, the reminders that time is finite were never more in my face than during my mother’s final illness…”
    That!!!!
    And at the same time I couldn’t process the knowledge that we were in the stage of last goodbyes in the final months with my father……

    “I hope he’s learning to deal with it better than I have.”
    Amen to that!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Very well said.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Ces instants sont encore plus cruels pour les personnes sans descendance. Pour traverser ces moments douloureux, déstabilisants, il est facile de se projeter (ou de se réfugier) dans l’avenir de ses propres enfants.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hadn’t thought of that, but it’s certainly true (although for me, the thought that I will never have to subject children to my deathbed has been very consoling).

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  5. Having made it through chemo and radiation 17 years ago now your post here brought back many thoughts and feelings. I think in retrospect it was harder on family than it was for me. My way of dealing with it was just to get ‘er done and pretend I was normal (which was far from the truth but whatever works). The potential reality of not being there for my very young children at the time was the scariest part of the whole thing. That is quite a motivator to power through whatever treatment needs doing. And every day since, at some point each and every day, is the thought “time is finite” as you wrote and every day is the feeling that your body betrayed you and you are essentially a ticking time bomb. RA has often spoken of his admiration of his mother. He must feel helpless and devastated right now. A serious illness in the family is all consuming on so many levels.

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    • I can imagine it’s different for the patient — and also just harrowing if you have young children. I admit that my own perspective on this question is influenced by my lack of descendants. I was talking about this with dad the other day. No one is depending on me, and that makes a lot of decisions easier.

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