A little over 2 months ago, my brother passed away. In the scorching heat of August, I went to work in the morning, planned his funeral service, cared for a heart broken mother and moved her in with me. While my husband and I knew that she would one day move in with us so we could care for her, we did not realize it would be under such urgent conditions.
Moving in itself is stressful. Death of a loved one is stressful. Getting a new roommate on top of it all-very stressful.
After a whirlwind month filled with tears, logistics and trying to unclutter almost a decade worth of new belongings into our home, my husband, daughter and I went on our planned family trip to Italy. Before my trip, I joked that I had no time to grieve and would most likely have a breakdown over a bowl of spaghetti in Rome. There were no breakdowns, just lots of lighting of candles in various churches throughout western Italy.
Upon our return, we popped my daughter back on a plane for her return to U.C.S.B., and only two short days later, my husband and I were off for our planned trip to India. After 3 weeks traveling, we came home to find my mother with wounds as open as they were two weeks after my brother had passed.
During the past three weeks, we have been learning to not only how to find ways for my mother to heal, but learning how to live with each other. My mother is fiercely independent, although with age, unable to do many things she used to do in her younger years. She is a natural extrovert, while I am an introvert. Her need to communicate often is the opposite of my need for quiet solitude. Her food requirements include food filled with an abundance of sugar, salt and heavily processed. Our diet consists of fresh whole foods, drinking water mostly. We hardly ever have the television on (except hockey and football seasons) and when watching movies. My mother watches Fox News all day. We are liberal. She is conservative. The vast list of differences goes on and on.
When you live with someone new, you learn all of these differences quickly. We were fortunate to understand these differences in our lifestyles prior to living with one another. However, knowing and living it, are two vastly different things. That applies to both of us. When we find something we think she should donate to downsize, it is a memory to her. When I find a painting buried in her room with piles of weight on it, I remind her I had to save up for that painting. While I need my solitude from a busy day at work with interaction and communication with multiple people, she has been home all day alone with no one to talk with. She wants to grieve, to share stories, to bond.
We are creatures of habit and have different needs. It just so happens that our needs are currently at odds with one another. Time and patience will help us negotiate those needs. And on those days when I feel most frustrated, my husband reminds me about this new arrangement of ours.
"It's a blessing."
The benefit of having a parent live with you is having the opportunity to build a deeper relationship with them. Living with a grieving parent, despite its difficulty, can also open up the chance to know "where they are" mentally. Living 40 minutes away and getting cryptic, depressing text messages, would have led us to live in fear 24 hours a day, wondering what might happen to her. In the same household, we have the opportunity to attempt intervention. The suggestions for therapy or group meetings may not always be met with acceptance, but they are more easily heard in person.
"It's nice," says my mother about living with my husband and I.
She also feel that she's a burden to us and wishes I would agree to more crying sessions together about my brother. I don't find her answer frustrating, but refreshing. Honest communication is always the key to building and growing relationships.
Susan Kiskis is the publisher for Freedom Journal and author of memoir, Born Fire Dragon. Her second book, Let Me Carry You Home, is due out in 2017. She has a deeply seeded case of wanderlust.