Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘mother’

We Will All Become Orphans

Sadly, I have had numerous opportunities over the last year or so to note that there is not a single language on earth that has a word or name for a parent who has lost a child. Words exist to describe a surviving spouse, and of course we have a word in most languages for a child without parents: orphan. The word conjures up Dickensonian images of waifs and wastrels in varying degrees of distress and underdress, under-fed and unloved. In reality, despite the ubiquity of this stereotype, there are many, many ways that one becomes an orphan. Indeed, in a proper order of events, each of us will be orphaned by the loss of a second parent.

It is somewhat amazing to me how many people have lost a parent early in life through abandonment. A mother or a father simply ups and leaves. No forwarding address or email, just gone forever. It hurts just to type those words. What must it feel like to live them? Still others lose a parent for years on end before that parent actually dies. Mental illnesses of all sorts, most commonly the various types of dementia, essentially wipe a loved one’s personhood off the planet long before the empty shell passes on. It’s a rather cruel joke, that, to see what looks like your Mom or Dad sitting across from you like some kind of reasonable facsimile, an avatar perhaps, but not really Mom or Dad. Mourning begins years or decades before anyone sits Shiva.

In the end, though, orphanhood comes for us all, in one way or another. My friend Bill, the surgeon, expresses surprise and a sense of something that is a bit more than frustration, though slightly less than anger, at what he calls the “final reckoning” deathbed visit. Why, he so often wonders, do so many people, so many sons and daughters feel the need to achieve some sort of closure, some sort of final peace in the last waning hours of a life? Mind you, this is a man who practices “live and death” medicine; his point, forged so close to the fire, ought not be missed.

Mothers and fathers are no more or less flawed than any other humans. For most of us their flaws lie cloaked behind the curtains of devotion in our childhood. As we ourselves age, certainly if we become parents, those curtains part and we begin to see more of the whole person who makes up Mom or Dad. Blessed are we who find more to like and love behind those curtains. One hopes at worst that what we find does not dim the glow of childhood memory. Bill’s point, or at least what I think he is saying, is that we should know that orphanhood is inevitable. There is nothing that you can say or do on death’s doorstep that cannot be said or done long before you approach the threshold of your own orphan status. Bill would say that closure is important, that he understands and supports the compulsion to make sure that your parents know that you love them. It’s just the timing he’s wondering about.

Why wait until the cusp of orphanhood? Why not discharge regrets and express your love and gratitude when you and Mom and Dad can might have time to enjoy what comes next? Together.

 

Leaning Home on Mother’s Day (Sunday musings)

On one Sunday each year we celebrate the Hallmark Cards Mother’s Day. My work buddy Ken actually has it closer to the mark when he says that there are actually 363 Mother’s Days, the other two being Father’s Day and Ken’s birthday. While I love that sentiment we all know that a super-majority of mothers actually give a super-majority of their working hours to their kids, either directly or through the prism of worry while they (the mothers) are at work. There’s not much celebration going on there. For all of its gifts, motherhood the vocation is chockablock filled with hard work and worry.

In my day job a large percentage of my peers, especially my younger peers, are women who are also mothers. I have said (and written) that the pressures on these women is infinitely greater than that on those of us who are fathers because of the fundamentally different demands of what constitutes the minimal expected parental involvement of a mother. Heavy stuff. It is especially daunting to attempt to climb a career ladder that is in addition to what must be done just to do a good job each day in the office. To be a physician leader on the national level is to commit to countless days and nights away form home on top of those that are standard fare for a “regular doctor”. Face it, not a single dad in the same situation is ever asked how he feels about the stress of being away from his kids.

Not a single mom goes through a day without having multiple people ask them just that.

Listen, there’s just no easy answer to this dilemma. One need only look at the tragic epiphany Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook had after losing her husband to an accident shortly after her book “Lean In” took every woman who ever worried or wondered about the cost of success to task was published. Ms. Sandberg was adamant that women had no choice but to compete on a level with men. Indeed, that it was their duty, for themselves and for all other women who would follow. She and her book were tone deaf to the realities of life outside the bubble in which every executive/professional was married to a wealthy entrepreneur and had nannies, housekeepers, and cooks. Single mothers, in particular, had trouble finding themselves in her philosophy. One leaned in without a thought to what one might be leaning OUT of.

Ms. Sandberg just published another book, “Plan B”, in which she deals with her grief at losing her husband. To her credit she also revisits her original thesis on what it means to be a mother as well as a woman who has the potential to reach the pinnacle of their respective careers. The pain of her realization of the time she could have spent with her husband and children but didn’t fairly drips off the page. It is truly heartbreaking. Although I was quite frankly repulsed by the arrogance of her first book I can find nothing but the deepest sympathy and sorrow that it took such a loss to open her eyes to what she now realized she’d been missing.

You can only lean in to one thing by leaning out of others. You can have it all I guess, just not all at once.

There is no right or wrong answer here my friends. Certainly no right or wrong answer that I would ever be presumptuous enough to offer, for sure. Only that each of us, mother or father, makes a decision about what it is that we have to do in our own little families. Those of us outside someone else’s family should simply be as understanding as we can possibly be, you know? I wish for Ms. Sandberg sake that she’d been a little more sympathetic before she was tragically forced to be empathetic to those folks who walk in different shoes. For my professional friends I simply wish for a few moments of thought so that they may make a conscious decision about the path they will take; a career will drive away with you if you don’t take the wheel.

Being a Mom is hard work. I’ve not seen anyone in my life work harder than my mother or my darling wife, both of whom stayed home with their children until the school years had passed. They, too, sacrificed, in their cases leaving careers behind, as did my sisters. By leaning out of the traditional workforce their choice was to lean in to their families. Men do that, too, you know, but that’s probably fodder for Father’s Day musings, right?

So for today let us all wish a Happy Mother’s Day to all of the Sheryl Sandbergs out there, to all of my professional colleagues who are trying so hard to balance their professional potential with their desire to be the best moms they can be. Happy Mother’s Day to the moms who spend each hour of their day in the full-time pursuit of the being a mom, looking wistfully at careers that once held so much potential. Happy Mother’s Day to each and every one of you who wake up each day and go to sleep each night thinking and dreaming and hoping and worrying about your kids. That’s what moms do, no matter what else they also do, right?

Finally, Happy Mother’s Day to my Beth, mother to “The Heir”, “Lovely Daughter”, and “Lil’bingo”. We are the family that we are because you chose to be the mother you are.

Sunday musings on Father’s Day

Father’s Day is a big deal for me every year, just not so much in the traditional “Dad’s day off” kind of way so many fathers seem to celebrate. My idea of a great Father’s Day has always been to in some way, shape, or form hang out with my kids being a Dad, or with my own Dad, being a son. This is the first Father’s Day for me since my Dad passed away, a transition for sure, but it’s also the first Father’s Day since I became a grandfather. Lots and lots of emotions competing for a spot in the limelight today.

I’m a little bit late out of the box with musings today. The man cub was into hanging with his Papi, and that’s just as good on Father’s Day as being around my kids. All of them were around this weekend, too. Li’l bingo got married last night and that added another daughter-in-law to the fold. Another child to celebrate on Father’s Day. It’s quiet for the moment, the excitement of the wedding now just a gentle buzz of fuzzy memories and and soft smiles.

Being a parent has been the single most difficult thing I’ve ever done. For that matter, it’s still the hardest thing I do. This is likely the case for any of you out there who have kids, too. Technically it’s not really all that complex, and the work itself isn’t all that too very difficult. I mean, sure, sometimes that full diaper spills over, or for that matter the first not so great experience with adult beverages spills over, but really the clean up is just a clean up, just like any other clean up. What makes the whole enterprise so bloody hard is that you simply care more about the outcome of your work as a parent than just about anything else you’ve ever undertaken.

My Dad wasn’t there but all three of my kids were together yesterday, The Heir and Lovely Daughter there to support their no longer little brother and his wife on their big day. The night ended with countless best wishes for the new marrieds, followed by round upon round of “Happy Father’s Days” for the Dads present. It felt right and it felt good and it felt like success. Like my own Dad would be proud of the Father I’ve become. Three happy and successful kids and me, Dad, feeling pretty good about the whole parenting thing. Until they all gave me my Father’s Day hug, got in their cars and headed off to their own homes, leaving me to worry about whether I’d done enough to prepare them for tomorrow. And then tomorrow after that.

It’s Father’s Day, after all.

I’ll see you next week…

–bingo