Now my mother's gone, what do I do?

Is it time to go back to California?


Cary Tennis
November 26, 2007 4:43PM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

Back in April 2006, you responded to someone wondering where home was for him. It resonated with me. I found it when whimsically Googling the question "Where is my home?"

Eleven years ago -- make that 12 -- I came back to Boston because my mom had had a bout of pneumonia and a friend informed us she was in the hospital.

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I'd been living in California.

I feel that there is either some horrible self-saboteur inside me when it comes time to making critical life choices, or else that I have been somehow cursed by some other force.

Perhaps it has been "playing it safe" too much.

I looked out for my mom for more than 10 years while she slowly declined. I took her on trips and we battled our little battles -- but she was "home." I do not know whether it would be fair to blame her for my not having created a family of my own, but now that she is gone and I've creeped past 40, I feel adrift.

So many things happened -- so many poor choices -- that I do not know how to rebuild my life.

It's so critical to have support from loved ones. What do you do if you do not have a sense of that?

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I'm just scratching the surface here of course, but I wonder if even from this rough outline, you might have insight into how a woman alone at this stage can reconstruct a life worth living.

Rickety Foundation Seeks Reconstruction

Dear Rickety,

First, I must apologize, or at least acknowledge: By strange coincidence, this is the second letter I have answered, in only a matter of days, from someone who went to Boston from California because of a dying parent. I can only surmise that subterranean elements of the unconscious mind arranged such a coincidence for their own amusement. I usually watch out for such oddities more carefully, and nip them in the bud. The unconscious will have no amusement at my expense! Not if I can help it! But it seems this one got away from me. I must be thinking about parents.

Anyway, more to the point, in the column you mention, I talked about how we must choose the place that chooses us, how home is the place where we are needed, where we can be of service. In your case, you went to Boston to be of service to your mother. Boston became your home during that time.

Your period of service was long. You made sacrifices for your mother. You gave her a great gift. It took a long time to give her this gift. She may not always have been as gracious as one would like a mother to be. I'm sure you and she had your moments. But you gave her this gift. You completed your mission.

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While you were in Boston you did not have to question why you were there. You could always say, "I'm here taking care of my mother."

Now your mother is gone. It's as though Boston has informed you that your services are no longer required.

So basically you are at a turning point. You are like a soldier after the war, contemplating the return home. You've been away so long, you don't even know exactly what you'll find if you return home. Still, I would think, there is something about the land itself that calls to you. You don't know what you'll do when you get there, or even for sure that you'll go back. You don't know what to do.

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But it may not be time yet to return home to California. You don't say how long it's been since your mother passed, but if it's under a year, you may still be quite under the spell of her passing. It's hard to make great choices when you're grieving. Mostly you just grieve. The time for making choices will come.

Those of us who do service, we often wonder when we're done, What about me? When is it my turn? But it's like we're in the employ of something and we always get new assignments when it's time. If you haven't gotten your new assignment yet, don't worry. It probably hasn't come through yet. It will.

But how will you know it's your assignment, and will you like it or not like it, and what about this building of a family and all the other stuff, this emptiness, this loneliness?

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I don't know. All I know is: You must find support in the meantime. You must. You must find like-minded people. If you are grieving, grieve among the grieving. If you are lonely, be lonely among the lonely. Find support. Just get through this. Answers will come. Your new assignment will arrive. You can't force it. You just need to be there to receive it.

I know that's very mystical-sounding but you have to have something to say to your doubting mind. You used to be able to say, "I'm here in Boston taking care of my mother." Now your doubting mind will say, Why are you still in Boston? What are you doing here? You mother's dead now, go back to California! What are you doing?

You have to have something to say. Just say you are waiting for your assignment.

I was a very sensitive kid, and in junior high there was this tall, wiry, kinetic man named Mr. Fitzpatrick who would wander the halls in his severe wool suit stopping any child he found wandering around and shouting, "Where are you supposed to be?" It was quite a shock to me to have this question directed at me. I sometimes had no idea where I was supposed to be, as our class schedules were always changing, being experimented with, but even at that age I took it in rather the larger sense. Where was I supposed to be, really? I do not think I felt I was supposed to be there. But I just had to wait until, as it turned out, a bus brought me to California, where apparently I was supposed to be. Now I am here putting in my period of service, often wondering what the hell I'm doing.

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So my heart goes out to you -- for your sacrifice, for your patience, for your doubting mind, what you call your bad choices (I would love to know what they were!). I say this: Have compassion for yourself. Have patience.

"A lively understandable spirit Once entertained you. It will come again. Be still. Wait."


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