Patient

There’s a thing on Facebook right now that looks like a happy face, except it’s made up of letters, like a word search. You’re supposed to look at it and write down the first four words that pop out at you, which supposedly describe you. One of mine was “patient.” (The other three were charismatic, passionate, and sweet. Sweet?)

I know, it’s just some random Facebook thing. But patience has been on my mind this week. And I don’t usually think of myself as patient. I suppose I could have just as easily seen “impatient” in the word search. But I didn’t. That’s kind of interesting. I’ll take it as a compliment.

I just got back from Chicago, where I’m from, and where I went for a few days to see my mom, who is recovering from surgery. My aunt and uncle were generous enough to offer to let her stay with them while she recuperates, which was such a relief to my sister and me, since we are both on the East Coast and neither of us could get back home for an extended period of time. (Yes, we feel sufficiently guilty about it.)

She had a tumor removed from her intestine, and thankfully it was benign. But it was major, invasive surgery that also removed part of her stomach and parts of several other organs. And she’s a 73-year-old new widow. It’s a lot for one person to take.

As I expected, she was weak and tired. She wasn’t in much pain from the incision, which was good. But she couldn’t really eat — not because the thought made her feel sick, but because she couldn’t really taste or smell properly, she said. She was uncharacteristically down, which you would also expect. My sister and I even noted that the fact that she’s sad and frustrated, though it’s hard to watch, actually means she’s showing more honest feeling than she usually does (she is of the “it’s all going to be fine!” school of emoting).

I didn’t love seeing her sick and sad, of course. I tried to help her by offering some perspective on just how short a time it’s been since her surgery (three weeks this Wednesday). I pointed out that just from Thursday, when I arrived, to Saturday, when I left, she seemed better. I tried to help her stay in the moment and not get too frustrated about her tiredness and how hard it was to move the way she wanted to (she can get up and around by herself, and was doing laps in the hallway, but it was wearing her out pretty quickly).

She’s not generally a patient person. She always needs to be going, going, going. Her mind works that way too. Since my dad died in March, she’s been attending a meditation class once a week, which was really a huge step for someone like her. So she is practicing slowing down and being present. And who really wants to be present when the present sucks — you’re in a bed, you’re tired, there are tubes sticking out of you, and suddenly you feel old?

I really felt for her. But I hope, too, that a bit of what I said got through. Accepting her extreme tiredness and just letting her body have the rest it needs is really the best thing she can do. The body knows what it needs, and hers needs to repair itself extensively. It needs her to be patient with it, to let it do its work.

I did an okay job being patient myself, I think. Though she didn’t want to eat, I tried along with my aunt and uncle to suggest things. When she refused outright, it felt a bit frustrating, but I also reminded myself that it will come, in time.

It’s nice, and easy, to remain present when you’re somewhere beautiful, like the forest preserve near my home on a gorgeous fall day, where I was this morning. It’s harder when you’re in a bed in a house that’s not your own, by yourself, thinking about all the decisions you need to make and hoping and praying you actually will be okay after a surgery you really didn’t expect to take you down the way it has.

I hope she’ll be able to be patient with herself when it’s not easy to be.

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