Archives for posts with tag: health

I had been waiting for the call for much of my life, the one that said my mother was dying. Over the years there have been many calls–for urgent care visits, doctor’s appointments, grocery runs, help cleaning the apartment. It’s always serious. This time, it was real. Interstitial lung disease has no cure. The lungs continue to develop scarring so that, with each cold or respiratory event, they can no longer take in sufficient levels of oxygen. This time, her lungs finally gave out. The times I saw her in the last six weeks, I could see, too, that she was sick of living.

“In case something happens” was an oft-repeated refrain. For my mother, the emotional earthquake of the divorce was compounded by a tsunami-force illness, and she almost died. I was seven or eight. Nothing was the same after that. The anger she threw at my father stormed around me, the only child of two deeply incompatible humans. Add to that the bitterness oriented toward her mother would rain down in phrases–“I am a much better mother than her” and, “you’re lucky to have me.” Meanwhile my child sized body absorbed her vitriol year after year, until I left.

My mother was not loving, but she was kind. Some years ago she shared a memory with me of a Mother’s Day elementary school assignment. Apparently I had been instructed to write something about my mother on that thin, off-white, lined paper–the kind with a dashed line between two solids an inch high and with space to draw a picture. While my classmates compared their mothers to sunshine and roses, I wrote, “my mother is kind.”

My mother was angry. Her gaze was like flint with her cool blue eyes and pale skin. When she smiled there was a kind of forced compulsion in her facial muscles to do so. And yet, I can’t truthfully say that she never smiled; it just always seemed awkward. Or perhaps that was just with me. Emotions are foreign territory for some families. I only remember seeing her cry twice in my life–the second time was around dusk when she thought she had run over a racoon and killed it. Any time she told me to do something I thought I had already gotten it wrong. The thought of ever trying to please her burrowed deep within me. It just wasn’t possible.

My mother seeped bitterness some days. The divorce and her illness took away a great deal of independence financially, emotionally, and vocationally. Searching through files for the title to her car, I found cards from my grandfather with notes saying things like, “I hope this helps get you through for the next little bit.” She hated needing assistance. She hated the one who left her vulnerable. She hated how I adored my dad and wanted to spend time with him. The worst thing I could ever do was become financially dependent upon a man.

My mother was not well. She stayed alive through sheer determination, and a fear that I would turn out like my father without her constant correction. On bad days, her conversations were disjointed, jumping between present to past back to present. I remember one particular phone conversation during a heat wave–in the midst of telling me the refrigerator in her apartment didn’t work, she suddenly recounted a story of when my father couldn’t fix the fridge in our first house. When I asked her why, in God’s name, is she bringing up something from 30 years ago, she thought it made perfect sense. A broken fridge is a broken fridge.

My mother had big dreams. The sheer number of organizational self-help books, notebooks from certificate courses, and health guidebooks she left behind, is fodder for black comedy. She never spoke much of travel, limited mobility and adult onset diabetes curtailed her energy and desire to do much. Yet she loved nature shows and calligraphy. I found prints and cards in her apartment that I had sent to her from South Korea, along with other drawings she had collected. She always said she was aiming for a Japanese style in her home.

My mother was kind. Cleaning out her kitchen, I found thank you notes left for her from neighbors. She had only been there less than six months.

This Mother’s Day was quiet, almost ordinary. The previous two had passed with no communication between us. After an especially distressing phone conversation a few years back, I had had enough. Yet there was always the weight of wondering when to get back in touch. Getting back in touch requires having something to say, and I could never find the words. So, as I learned from childhood, at some point you just stop talking.

On Sunday, while social media was a blur of flowers, hearts, deep thoughts, and sincere sayings all dedicated to the wonder of mothers, I sat in anticipation of this coming Friday when I’ll join her coworkers in remembering my mother.

Let’s be honest. Jane Fonda’s 7 am workouts were fun and highly entertaining for any variety of reasons. Back then, all you had to do was just get physical to work off the bottle of wine from the night before. Yes, doctors were coming up with all sorts of calamities and connections between bad behavior and poor health, but there wasn’t the high-strung phobia surrounding every molecule of every substance that entered the body, like there is today. We can no longer use styrofoam for food and plastic must be BPA free for our filtered water pillaged from a distant spring in a developing country–yet how is that indicative of health? It’s good to know which foods and elements our bodies consistently reject, but does everyone and their dog need to be gluten free? And how much should our employers know about our allergies, ailments and stress-induced illnesses?

I’ve been thinking a lot about Health lately. And I have come to the decision that I hate that word. Irrational? Most likely. Yet consider how often we see the words health and should together, or health and tips, or health and better. In our guilt-ridden society, health has become a way for us to divide ourselves according to chronic ailment, health guru, gym membership, latest diet, latest barre technique, or the rejection of it all. There is no such thing as practicing common sense to ‘stay healthy’ because even common sense requires a regimen of some sort. (And has anyone else noticed the sometimes militaristic language around getting fit?) We have found another way to categorize, distinguish and, therefore, label one another. With labeling comes judgment.

The desire to live a long life is biblical. Setting a standard of health against which all others should aspire to meet is not. Why is it we can spend so much time, energy, digital space and money on fitness programs yet fight against affordable health care for all?

Here I must confess to you that much of my discontent comes from a series of ‘ill’ health-related instances. Frankly, after the past few years of wondering why my body isn’t doing what I think it should be doing, I am a bit more than fed up with the holistic health garbage spewing out of the Oprahnator. It feels like a distraction. Being a better person can start with our health routine, much like brushing our teeth in the morning helps us smile. But our society has a way of fixating on the health routine, and not actually becoming a better person to others. Will feeding ourselves organic whole foods translate to making sure kids have breakfast before school? Will running three to five times a week help us to see our neighborhoods better? And if we’re all supposed to be able to do a triathlon, how do we know what aging looks and feels like?

How do we know that keeping our bodies and minds fit is the best way to spend our 70, 80, 90+ years?

Eventually, we all cross over into the untouchable category of immobile, and then in the eyes of society, we drop out of sight. As Qoheleth would say, Vanity, all is vanity and a striving after wind.