I was barely awake, my eyes still closed, when I heard her crying. At first I thought it was a dream, but as I became more and more alert I recognized my mother’s voice, her sobs loud enough to reach the baby monitor across from her bed.
Quickly I got up and went downstairs, and found her lying face-down on the floor, bleeding profusely from the nose. She had managed to get herself completely dressed, including shoes, so there is no telling how long she’d been up. Or down, as the case may be. “Hold on, Mom. I need to get help.” I called the case manager, who told me to call 9-1-1. Then I yelled for Craig. Somehow we managed to get Mom into a chair. “Have someone put away any animals, get her list of meds, and wait out front for the ambulance” the operator told me. And get dressed, I added to my mental list.
As I scurried about, Craig kindly asked her how it happened. “I just didn’t want to be a burden any more. You already do too much,” she protested.
“But Mom,” I chided, as gently as I could. “You are family, and we’re glad you’re here. We want to keep you safe!”
At the hospital, they took x-rays and found that she had a “small break” in her nose, but that no serious damage had occurred. So we took her home and let her rest, and I wondered what more I needed to be doing that I wasn’t already doing.
It’s funny, and yet it’s not, that this is a question very similar to those I’ve asked myself in the past about the kids: What more should we be doing? How could I have let this happen? And my personal favorite: If I just love enough, shouldn’t everything be okay?
It’s a hard pill to swallow, that even the best and most loving caregivers won’t get it right 100% of the time. There are going to be times when … well, when it feels like love falls down on the job. Why? For the simple reason that loving someone is not the same as controlling him or her. We can choose our actions, but not the consequences.
I can wrap my loved one (young or old) in bubble wrap and bed restraints. But that is not love, though it is the only way to ensure their safety 100%. But love? Love is a lot harder. Love is what makes you stand with them after the fall, and help them find their footing again.
It’s probably the hardest lesson in caretaking, figuring out where my will should end, and theirs begin. Giving Mom room to stay as useful and self-reliant as she can, even if it means that sometimes we fall together. And to teach my children the same, so they don’t look to me to do for them what they should be doing for themselves.
Today I was reminded that, even at its best, sometimes love will fall.