There was a white rosebush outside the house where I grew up. It grew in a stony, rocky area between the house and garage where we kept our trash cans. Nobody paid much attention to it. I can’t imagine that the soil was particularly nourishing. We didn’t water it. It was shaded by the buildings, so it didn’t get much sun. Still, that rosebush thrived and, year after year, it yielded beautiful white blossoms at Christmas. White roses were more of a Christmas tradition at our house than poinsettias and holly.
After we moved out of the house, I made sure my mother had white roses at Christmas every year. Sometimes, it was a table arrangement. Sometimes, it was a corsage. Sometimes, the roses were artificial. Sometimes they were real. Sometimes, when I was particularly poor, it was just a Christmas card with white roses on it. No matter what, there was some form of white rose for my mother at Christmas.
In November this year, my mother announced that she did not want me to buy her white roses. She felt they were too costly, especially for something that didn’t last very long. Instead, she said, she wanted me to wait until spring when the stores were selling those sad looking dormant rosebushes (or maybe “rose sticks” might be an appropriate name) with the roots in a bag and plant her one of those.
“Oh crap, something else I have to figure out how to do,” I said. On the inside. On the outside, I smiled and said, “okay.” At least I figured I had a few months before spring to read up on rose resuscitation techniques. Who knows, maybe she would forget the whole idea.
A couple of weeks later, we were at Big Lots and a group of cub scouts were selling small plants for a couple of bucks. You guessed it. They had one small white rosebush, with a few little buds on it. My mother thought it was a sign from God that we should take it home and I should transplant it.
We took it home and I googled “how to transplant a rosebush.” There was a pretty explicit, lengthy set of instructions. Instead of trying to integrate the whole magilla, I focused on the first step, which was to wait until spring in order to prevent frost from killing the newly transplanted rose. Google-sanctioned procrastination! Right up my alley. I explained this to my mother, who seemed good with waiting until spring. On the outside. I started working up to my new project by moving the potted rosebush from outside to inside.
A couple of weeks went by and the rosebush was looking pretty rough. The term “scraggly” comes to mind. I put it back outside, hoping some sun would help. No luck. Every time my mother mentioned transplanting it, I brought up the Google instructions. Finally, though, the rosebush seemed terminal and extraordinary measures were warranted. My mother pointed out that it was unlikely that we would have frost in central Florida. Back I went to Google to refresh myself on the rest of the long list of directions. Armed with a print of the page, I went to the local home store and tried to purchase mulch, potting soil, and peat moss. When I came face-to-face with the bags of these items, I discovered that I couldn’t even pick up the smallest bag of each of them without the aid of a chiropractor. Not to mention that the cost and quantity seemed to be pretty much overkill for one tiny rose plant. As I tried to figure out how I was going to explain to my mother that transplanting this rosebush was not cost-effective and was possibly hazardous to my health, I noticed a small bag of something called “potting mix” a few shelves over from the gargantuan bags of mulch, potting soil, and peat moss. Sensing a conspiracy, I checked out the label and discovered that the $5 bag of “potting mix” contained…. mulch, potting soil, and peat moss! What a bonanza! I purchased the potting mix, feeling very accomplished. I was starting to get the hang of this gardening stuff.
Since I was on a roll, I went over to my mother’s mobile home and starting digging the hole. I followed the directions from Google and stuck that little rosebush right into the ground. Filling the hole back up, I just said a prayer and hoped for the best.
Two nights later, there were record low temperatures. And frost.
God must have sent angels to blanket that rosebush, though. Against all odds and despite my complete ineptitude, it flourished. Within a couple of weeks, new buds started to blossom. The bush is growing and roses keep on blooming!
It strikes me that this rosebush might be a microcosm of all the caretaking tasks I have taken on for my mother.
I won’t say that there are not real challenges and difficulties associated with caring for my aging parent. Cleaning and medicating her feet and legs took some getting used to. Doing her taxes wasn’t high up on my wish list of things to do. Fighting with the wheelchair to get it in and out of the trunk of the car everywhere we go wears me down some days. Navigating around crowded theme parks and stores can be very frustrating. Opening doors to restaurants using my backside is an acrobatic skill I never really aspired to learn. Cleaning her bathroom is not a pleasant task. Coordinating and attending doctors’ appointments can suck up a day like thirsty kindergarteners suck down juice boxes. Even the thought of comparing insurance companies can cause my eyes to cross. Dealing with the various contractors I’ve arranged to do work at her house at least doubles the burden involved with dealing with the various contractors at my own house.
These are all very real challenges and I wish it wasn’t necessary to deal with these challenges. I wish my mother was healthy and hearty enough to do all these things herself. Still, I love that I can do these things for her. If I can add to the happiness and freedom in her life, I want to do it. My mother has always put me before herself. Now, it is a gift to give. The time I spend with her while helping her is also a gift. We have a lot of fun together. I am learning things about her and her past that I never knew. My mom and I have always been close, but there is now a new dimension and richness in my understanding of her and of our relationship. We are playing a different kind of music together now, my mother and I, and I am enjoying the new song. Yes, there are days when I may get a little overwhelmed, but, for the most part, it is great. The real challenges involved with the help I provide are actually no big deal.
The biggest difficulty and stressor, though, is much less tangible. The biggest difficulty and stressor is my fear of doing something wrong. It feels like a big responsibility to be such a strong influence on the way someone else lives, spends money, and gets medical care. I want my mother to make her own decisions about her own life on her own terms as much as possible. I always want to do what I can to relieve her of any undue burden. I try very hard to find the right balance to preserve her independence and autonomy while also doing things to reduce any difficulties in her life. Still, I know that, more and more, she is relying on me to present her with the best options, give her good advice, and implement the decisions. The idea that I might do the wrong thing is really where the burden of caretaking comes in for me. It kind of haunts my thoughts. What if I lead her to a decision that costs her more money than she can afford? What if I recommend a doctor or insurance plan that means she gets inferior health care? What if my complete lack of mechanical ability and visual reasoning means her home isn’t as safe or as comfortable as it could be for her?
What if I can’t make her roses grow?
Yes, I think I should take a lesson from my adventure with transplanting the rosebush. Maybe all I need to do is just the best I can with all the decisions and projects that my mother needs. Continue trying, with whatever ability I can muster, to help her lead the happiest, most comfortable, and most independent life she can. Then, all I can do is trust God to take my efforts and make them blossom into roses!
Most of us believe that every day is a great time to build our relationships and demonstrate our love to those who are important to us. This weekend we have an extra special opportunity to honor our moms and those people who have been mother figures in our lives. Happy Mothers’ Day, all you moms!
So what are your thoughts? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at www.terriretirement.com.
Have a wonderful day and stop and smell the roses!