Guest post by Jo Ann Butler
A few years ago I crossed the Great Divide. If you are a woman, you know the one I’m talking about. My eggs have passed their ‘use-by’ date, and I no longer need birth control. I faced that aspect of aging with great delight, for many decades ago I decided to remain childless. Perhaps that decision was never mine to make.
I think that personal biology made the choice for me. When you look at our family photos, my sister was holding a baby doll from the moment her arms could wrap around it. I wanted to be a cowboy. One Christmas I got a rocking horse, and also a doll of my own. Photos show a beaming Jo Ann in cowboy hat on her noble steed. My parents insisted that I play with the doll too. After they convinced me that I carry it ‘right’ instead of by one foot, I mounted the horse with my passenger, and stuck the doll’s bottle in my holster.
Years went by and I became interested in boys, and then in men, but not in motherhood. Don’t get me wrong. I like children. Other people’s children. I earned spending money by babysitting, and played happily with relatives’ offspring. But I wasn’t driven to bear a child of my own, and my biological clock never rang its alarm as I grew older.
Now, at the ripe old age of almost-58, I am facing the prospect of becoming a mother. My own mom was diagnosed a couple of years ago with the first stage of dementia. She didn’t tell us, though we’ve noticed that she’s more forgetful. But this summer, when she took 18 hours for what was normally a 6-hour drive from Pennsylvania to New York, we heard the diagnosis from her doctor.
My mother and I have always been very close, and I’ve told her many times that I’d care for her when she needs it. She cared for her childless aunt, who had cared for her own relatives. It is a loving task that I want to do for my Mom. I’ve even had a dress rehearsal, so I know what I’m in for.
For several years my partner and I lived with his aging parents as they needed more help. His mother was an uncontrolled diabetic, and his father had had his first heart attack when he was 39. Modern medicine is capable of wonderful things, and bypasses and stents kept Burt alive until he was nearly 87. However, heart failure made his last few months an ordeal. Using my experience working with severely handicapped children, I nursed Burt until he took his final breath. I would have cared for Virginia, but a fall put her in a nursing home, and infections from diabetes killed her a few months later.
I loved Burt far more than I ever loved my own father, who was a caustic and critical man. Caring for Burt was a sacred experience, and I do not use that word lightly. Watching him weaken, fighting the inevitable, and trying to hearten the rest of his family was gut-wrenching, and an extremely moving experience. Soon I’m going to do it again.
Hopefully Mom’s problems will not go beyond forgetfulness, for her type of dementia is slow to progress. Perhaps it will grow no worse, but perhaps it will. We are preparing now. She is leaving committee seats at church which she has held for years, and I am familiarizing myself with her accounts and papers.
I am also preparing myself to become a mother. Mom’s sister is 95 now, and a stroke has brought her to childlike dependency. I’ve watched my cousin take on the task of ‘raising’ one more child, and the love and respect she brought to the task is inspiring.
When Christy asked me to write this, I said that we were still working everything out. I can’t think of better words to end than what Christy told me: “Nothing is ever perfect or settled. You do your best and love your best with what you've got.” And so I will.
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress. James 1:27
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