New Ways of Loving… growing up as we and our parents age ~ ~ what an awesome chapter, putting the mega wise into Jewish Wisdom for Growing Older. As always, Rabbi Friedman’s words are in italics, mine are standard. Oh, and there’s a baker’s dozen of favorite passages & snippets, not the usual ten – could have been even more!
Great opening to an awesome chapter in Jewish Wisdom for Growing Older! And Rabbi Freidman jumps right in, sharing her visiting mother asking her astonished daughter if Dayle had anything she wanted to ask about the family. All topics were on the table. “Mom listens. She is not defensive. She does not argue. She does not apologize either. She just receives and acknowledges. – – Rabbi Friedman was stunned by her mother’s offer because it was so outside their previous experience with each other. My own mother seriously opened up in her final few years – “Whoever is ME is changing so fast it is hard to keep up at times. It feels like more is bubbling up to the surface than ever before — well, since I fell in love, married and became a mom for the first time. As I write this in July, we are even thinking about putting together my very own web site, which seems … well, I do not know what it seems, but it does. Talk about “the times today are a-changing” — I would not have dreamt that I would set foot anywhere near a meeting of people considering the role of women within the General Church, but there I was on July 8, feeling right at home, sitting front and center, and enjoying it immensely.”
Rabbi Friedman could have freaked at her mother’s offer. A lot of people would have or even lashed out. Peter did, when Mom offered to open up – “I needed you to do this years ago” was his response. My mother changed after 87 years of simply not seeing me – trust me, if anyone had cause to say “too late” it was me, but I chose celebration over inflicting retribution.
Bravo to Rabbi Friedman for keeping her heart open, for matching her response to her mother’s offer – “I plunge in, mostly telling, not asking, giving voice to hurts I’ve carried for decades…” – rather than shutting her down. She kept an open heart that welcomed wonders she never thought were possible.
The encounter made Dayle wonder – what happens to relationships between parents and children as we both age? One consequence of expanded life spans is extended years of relating to parents in mid-life and beyond. – – It made a difference, being able to interact with Mom in my middle middle age, as she inched toward & into her nineties. We both saw life differently than ten years earlier -and- we’d experienced things that didn’t happen until that wrinkle in time. At 87, Mom was embraced thinking about personal growth – through Stephen Covey & Nathaniel Branden & Marianne Williamson et al. At ninety, the two of us were part of the Women’s Retreat at Tonche – Mim was, too. That same year, Still Here came out & the two of us read it – together. Mom couldn’t have made the same leaps she took in her late 80s any earlier, because the triggers that fueled her leap didn’t yet exist.
While hundreds of volumes have been written about the demands and difficulties of caring for aging parents, relatively little attention has been paid to the developmental opportunities and challenges of the bond between aging parents and children outside of that dimension. – – see above
Clinical social worker Vivian Greenberg suggests that relationships between adult children and their aging parents “can produce a balm powerful enough to heal generational wounds.” This “bonus” time can offer an opportunity for transformation. – – As incredible as it would have seemed five years earlier, by the time Mom slipped from us in 09/01, the two of us had identified the core issues that raised a ruckus between us & had taken steps to address them. At the same time, my siblings had cut off close connections to Mom, in part, I think, because the evolved person was so different from the Mom they knew & distrusted the transformation that others applauded. Mom grieved that they kept their distance, yet took comfort in making attempts to reach out & draw in, intentionally/mindfully using her memorial celebration as a final connection.
Indications of our parents’ aging “are intimations not just of fragility, but also mortality. We start to grasp, and not just in an intellectual way, that our parents will not be here forever. – – It’s a shock to realize after the last parent is gone that WE are the grandparent generation.
We bring our histories with us into this new stage of life, including conflicts, tensions, and expectations. … As we and they face change or crisis, old, negative patterns may surface, as Vivian Greenberg suggests, “like tire tracks that have been driven on over & over again, with deeply rutted patterns and details of every tread etched in sharp relief.” – – Both Mom & I saw those deeply rutted tracks & took different routes. My sibs stuck to what the familiar, however rutted.
As we approach our most primal connections, those with our mothers and fathers, there is often a great need to break through to the heart. Growth and healing are possible, but we need to make ourselves ready. – – We need to keep our hearts open, which translates into voluntarily leaving ourselves vulnerable to people who trigger our deepest darkest places. It is NOT easy, but unless we make ourselves ready, if the opportunity to connect in new, wondrous ways presents itself, we won’t recognize it or we will & ignore it or throw in their face with what we consider well-earned contempt. Glad I chose the former approach.
Truth is the very ground on which a mature life is built. The trait of truth is concerned with our ability to see and acknowledge reality. Practicing truth means letting go of illusions and distorted thinking, meeting the world as it actually is. – – It seems to me that what rings true as reality is different for each of us. Are my sibs maliciously twisting the truth when they call me a liar – to them, I am. Having heard what they based that belief on, see how it seems true – at least in their eyes. I was available for Mom when she was open to change because I’d accepted my way of seeing things as inherently distorted, ditto hers. Once we let go of being the ONE who was right, things were easier, letting go of seeing with a single eye, accepting that we each meet the world as it is for us. I accepted both of us as flawed AND doing our best, she did the same, and that made all the difference.
Nina met the truth of her mother’s life, and it transformed their relationship. What made it possible for Nina to open herself to her mother’s truth? She brought curiosity and compassion to her new encounter with her mother. This approach allowed her to appreciate her mother’s life as she had not before. When we meet our parents with curiosity, we come to a deeper understanding of what they have undergone – – the suffering, the struggles, as well as the triumphs. Looking at the truth with compassion allows us to see that our parents are flawed human beings. – – Yes! Yes! Yes! This captures exactly what both of us did that made us able to speak with, instead of past, each other. I absolutely love this passage because it speaks directly to my experience with Mom over those final years.
Facing our parents as real people helps us to grow up, to let go of grievance, and to relate as best we can to the here and now. Vivian Greenberg write, “Children… who see their parents as imperfect, vulnerable human beings can forgive them, discover ways to encourage intimacy with them, and live their own lives free of crippling guilt.” – – A book rests in my brain like a good stew, its flavors settling in before being served up to the world. That Your Days May Be Long… our sacred calling to nurture a 5th Commandment mindset is all about honoring our parents as vulnerable imperfect flawed human beings who carried their own burden of past damage & their own stories that we don’t know.
When we are able to embrace their humanity – neither elevating them to peerless icons we place atop a pedestal to worship ~nor~ as demonic villains condemning themselves to the lowest hell – we are freed at the same time we free them. When we draw closer to our earthly parents in their fullness, we draw closer to ourselves in our fullness, and are then able to draw ever close to the Divine.
Accepting the past is not easy. One of the reasons that people hold onto anger and grievance is the deep-seated fantasy that it might yet be possible to get what they never had. – – Oh, to have learned that years ago! I was manic about figuring out what made my family tick because deep down I wanted all those earlier confusing hurtful damaging moments to miraculously transform themselves into different, whole & happy moments & memories. The endless cycle of full-hearted yet doomed attempts kept happening because my unrecognized end could never happen. Once I realized what I really wanted to happen, how strangely satisfying it was to endlessly & futilely pursue the could-never-happen fantasy, it could be seen & brushed away. These two sentences are BIG BIG BIG!
If we let go of unreasonable hopes about our parents, according to Virginia Morris, we might “actually enjoy what is rather than constantly feeling cheated by what isn’t. Like Nina, we might come to appreciate our parents as we were not able to before. We can look for shared ground and savor the time we have. If it happens that our parents’ difficult traits remain challenging, we will gain peace by surrendering the quest to change them. We relate to them as adults, with as much openness as we can muster. – – Because I got to the point of being able to look for common ground & enjoy the time that was left to us, I can now do the same with my oldest brother, whose traits are just as challenging as ever yet bearable thanks to giving up my old unspoken but always there “Why can’t he change?” reaction.
With softened hearts, we can grow more compassionate. This compassion will land not just on our parents, but also on ourselves, and it can help us grow and deepen as we grow older. – – This describes the blessing promised us within the 5th Commandment. Says it all. In keeping our heart open to new ways of loving, we remain open to the ultimate WOW – a relationship with our own self & with the Divine that surpasses imagination.