“Why am I here?” my mother asked me when I was visiting her at the nursing home.
I explained that since she wasn’t able to walk anymore, she needed help and this was the best place. She thought about my answer and replied, “Yes, this is a nice place, but why am I here?” Thinking maybe she hadn’t understood, I tried to explain it a bit differently, the point being that she was no longer able to live on her own. She looked away nodding that, yes, she knew that, but I could tell she was still pondering her question.
A little while later she looked at me and with more determination and said, “I don’t understand why I am not home. Pépé and Mémé (my grand parents) were living at home.” I wasn’t certain what to say, so I didn’t say anything. She continued: “Francis (her husband, my father) was at home also. I just don’t understand why I’m here.” Her look was contemplative and concerned.
I understood her question and her anxiety. She had envisioned the end of her life in her home, as it had been for her parents and my father, so a nursing home wasn’t part of it.
I didn’t want to use her impairments as an explanation again; that was clearly not giving her the answer she was searching for. So instead I changed the subject and hoped that the distraction would alleviate her angst and it did for a while.
But again, she asked me directly, “Why am I here? I don’t understand.”
At this point I replied with the only thought that popped into my head. “Well you know you’re ninety-nine, Mom.”
“I’m ninety-nine,” she repeated. “That explains everything!” Her face brightened as she repeated to herself “I’m ninety-nine,” a smile filling her face. I was relieved and a bit surprised that that was the answer that explained her predicament.
A few times during the afternoon she looked at me and repeated, “I’m ninety-nine.” I even overheard her on the telephone with one of her grandchildren saying, “You know I’m ninety-nine” with certainty and resolve in her voice.
Her reaction made me laugh; it was charming. Her age was the explanation she needed. It wasn’t that she didn’t know how old she was, but it was hearing the truth of her age in that context that allowed her to understand that she had outlived everyone she knew, as well as the expectations she had for her own life.
Answering my mother’s question and easing her mind was hard since I didn’t actually know what she was asking me. As it turned out, I said what seemed like the most obvious thing and it worked. What was evident to me wasn’t for her, since she was trying to understand her life as she imagined it should be, not as it actually was.
My experience with my mother has made me wonder how often we do the same thing; that is, try to explain our lives by how we think they should be instead of how they actually are. If my mother’s example teaches us anything, it is that our lives might be easier to understand if we let go of how we think our lives should be and just accept how they are.
What about you?
Have you ever found that your perception of how things are supposed to happen gets in the way of how life actually is?
I’d love to know.
Here is a blog post you might also enjoy reading. When Perception and Reality Differ—How Do We Know What’s True
Here is the link to the post Click Here
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