Photo credit: Marnie Stetson
“How was the dog park?”
That’s how most of my daily phone calls with my Mom start these days. Since my father died suddenly and unexpectedly about 11 months ago, I talk to my Mom every day.
We have always been close and always in touch, but now that she lives alone the daily connection feels crucial.
She always answers, “it was very hot today,” “there were so many dogs,” “one dog jumped on me.” She answers something about the physical and daily reality of her trips to the dog park. I imagine her walking to the park with my Dad’s dog. Abbey is big, easily 75 pounds. I’m sure she could pull my Mom over with one big lunge, but she was trained by my father, and she is well-behaved and predictable.
They are at home at the dog park. My dad created the dog park in the town I grew up in, and so I have been there many, many times. I know how Abbey loves to go to the jumps. I know what dogs she likes and which she chooses to avoid. I know that the heat bothers her just like it bothered my Dad. I can easily visualize my Mom’s walk because I do it with her whenever I am there. I think the certainty and familiarity of their daily visits to the park make it a conversation we have easily.
I wonder if my Mom suspects what I am really asking is: “Are you OK?” “Are you grieving too much?” “Will you take good care of yourself until I can visit again?” Those questions would be too much.
“You worry too much, Marnie,” she would say. She would not be wrong.
My mom is strong and healthy and in her 80s. Does she know that every morning I wake up thinking about her? In the before (before my Dad died), I knew that they watched out for one another. He’s no longer there to do that job, and I want to protect her. And there is so much to protect her from–sorrow and loneliness, phone scams, COVID, aging.
I can’t protect her from everything and often it feels like I can protect her from nothing. I’m thrown back into those feelings of helplessness I experienced as a young mother. How do you make an unsafe world safe for those you love too much?
You don’t. A fact I know in my brain, but one that still occupies too much of my thinking life.
Just as I did when I had young children I struggle with the idea that I can’t take away all the pain and uncertainty, not for me, and not for my Mom.
So, I’m left trying to sound casual, reassuring, not revealing how desperately I need my Mom to be OK. Instead of asking the real questions that swirl in my mind, the unanswerable ones, I ask, “How was the dog park?” and I pretend that it is a question that asks only that and nothing more.