In the Autumn of Life

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:”

Ecclesiastes 3:1


Crowning Glory.

It has been awhile since I sat down and poured out my thoughts. Writers block confounded by the events of late dammed up any creative wisp of thought I had inside of me. But finally the river of words began to flow again. My focus –  the changing seasons and seasons of life. I turned to Ecclesiastes 3 for inspiration. You know the words if not the verses from the famous Byrd’s song, “Turn, Turn, Turn.” I did not realize at the time that my family would be entering into an autumn of life as we know it and that scripture from deeper into Solomon’s works in Ecclesiastes 11-12 would have more meaning to me than the words I initially sought.  His words written about youth, age, treasure, work, and life reflect the season of life my family is experiencing right now. Ancient words that remain timeless, relevant, and alive in my life today.

“Light is sweet, and it pleases the eyes to see the sun. However many years anyone may live, let them enjoy them all.”

Autumn has always been my favorite season, especially in the Flathead when it brings less congestion and colors that would delight even heaven’s photographer. However, initially I have a hard time letting go of the long sun-filled days of summer. My mountain climbing adventures are still beautiful but are constrained by the shortening days. I still have too many adventures on my summer bucket list for the season to end– adventures that may have to wait for next year.  Likewise, I am having a hard time accepting the changes my family faces as we enter a new season of life, a season coming much more rapidly than the gradual color festival and fall of leaves we are experiencing here  as autumn arrives in the Flathead. I am not ready for what is to come. I have too many things left unfinished. Unlike the adventures  left on this year’s summer bucket list, I fear I won’t have next year to accomplish them and my biggest to do remains undone filling me with deep regret, a feeling I fear will be with me the rest of my life.

“You who are young, be happy while you are young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth. Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see, but know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment.”

As a child, this golden time of year was a time of excitement and anticipation as I returned to the classroom with new school supplies and a new Peanuts lunch box, packed with a PB&J or turkey sandwich, Cheetos, grapes, and yes, a note from my Mom (at least for as long as she packed my lunch!) I always took my lunch, as hot-lunch was never hot enough for me. Besides, hot lunch meant waiting in line, which took precious time away from the playground and tetherball court. I loved getting notes from my Mom in my lunch box, especially when I was once again the new girl in town and bullies made sure I felt like the ugly duckling. Mom’s notes always chased those feelings away, at least for a little while.

Ah yes, the memories of childhood and grade school, a time in my life when things really did seem golden, for the most part. Certainly, there was childhood angst and family kerfuffles, especially when my Dad was gone on too many business trips for my Mom’s liking or we were moving once again.  We were your typical 1970’s -1980’s middle class family except that no matter where we lived, my parents had the distinction of being the oldest parents on the block, by 15 years at least.

“Remember your Creator  in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them”

Me, Mom and my brother Fred. Mother's Day 2013

Me, Mom and my brother Fred. Mother’s Day 2013

My mom was involved in much of my brother’s and my youth activities: Cub Scouts, Brownies, Confirmation, and she was the school volunteer extraordinaire. As the only Mom that didn’t work outside the home, she was also the neighborhood  mom for all the kids whose parents weren’t home, often having 8 kids crowded around the lunch table for snacks and supervision after sledding or playing war in the woods until parents came home from work. Our home was the neighborhood haven even into junior high when we were supposedly too cool to have parental supervision—everyone still happily congregated at our home within ear and eyeshot of my mother.

Those were the good days, days and the memories of which, I took for granted for far too long. Alas, life has a way of challenging us and my family was not immune to challenges, especially the kind that make emotions raw. For some, those challenges become too much.

As a little girl and into my teens, my Mom always had my back, but as I grew into adulthood, her desire to “have my back” went a little towards the extreme. As the years passed and my brother and I became adults, bitterness became the essence of my mother.  Unfortunate health problems plagued her in later years, issues she dealt with by drawing in and casting blame rather than working to resolve.

“before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars grow dark, and the clouds return after the rain; when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men stoop.”

As the years wore on our mother-daughter relationship began to fray and we became more and more opposed in our approaches to and outlook on life.


My family on my moving away day. 2013.

Indeed, ours is a difficult relationship, but then, the things that matter most in life are not always easy.
Nonetheless, I know she loved me as deep as any mother could love a feisty and stubborn daughter.  While I often wished we could have a relationship like those my friends shared with their Moms, one filled with lunches, laughter, and dreams for tomorrow I just could not let my walls of defense down and kept the depth of our relationship at a safe surface level.  Counselors told me I needed to set boundaries and as I matured, I was finally able to set them. Unfortunately, boundaries do not address the conflicts that created the need for them.  My move to Whitefish 2 years ago put a physical boundary of 400 + miles between my mother and I and seemed to mellow the dynamic between us but it only buffered the tension.

A trip home over Labor Day was already rife with emotion as I intended to scatter the ashes of my beloved Tucker (see my post from June).  As expected, my mother and I had heated words my second night home, which set the tone for the rest of the weekend.  Again, we are not perfect, but this time I felt even less so as I resorted to my usual modus operandi of graceless defense.

When I hugged them and waved goodbye that Monday morning, Mom was there to watch me drive away, something she does not usually do.  I felt my heart soften and an ache set in the back of my throat.  My Dad received my usual call home to let them know I had arrived back home in Whitefish safely. Shortly after my departure, my Mom took a fall in the bedroom and wrenched her back. She was resting and he would tell her I called.

I was out on my usual walk the following evening, thinking about my parents, the fight I had with my Mom, and wishing I had more grace and patience. My call home went unanswered. A call to my brother also went unanswered. A knot formed in my stomach. For some reason, I started thinking about my grandmother’s death when I was in second grade. My mom was about the same age as I am now when her mother died. Bleh… where did those thoughts come from?

Later that night I got the call from my Dad. Sounding very tired, he asked, “Was I at choir practice?” “No Dad, it’s almost 10pm.” “Your mother is in the hospital. We almost lost her last night.”

“But let them remember the days of darkness, for there will be many. Everything to come is meaningless.”

Dad sounded at a loss and exhausted. I was distressed. “Should I come home? Do you want me home?”  Apparently, her dementia and depression created a crisis in communication and made her combative towards my family and her medical team. For fear that I would just become the target of her ire, my presence was not desired. After all the years I wrapped myself in the drama of my family, suddenly I found myself on the outside looking in.

My September filled with golden days of bliss instantly became one tinged with regret. My Mom was hospitalized for the remainder of the month, suffering from a host of ailments: severe anemia, internal bleeding, a heart attack, a stomach infection…  Gradually she relented to care.  Test results were slow in coming and just created more questions. She received an abundance of prayers as did my family and we felt God intervene.

Phone calls to my Mom in the hospital filled me with heartache. She did not recall being in the hospital for more than the last day and had several different reasons for why she was there.  Yet, she could sure recall the romance she had with my father and her days teaching school before they were married 57 years ago.  She had many questions about the weather in Whitefish and the state of my heart…. because “all (she) wanted was for me to be happy.”  I would hang up and sob. Here we were having the conversations I had always wished for, and yet they are conversations I know she will not remember having.

“So then, banish anxiety from your heart and cast off the troubles of your body, for youth and vigor are meaningless.”

My Mom is home now, trying to go about life in limited fashion. My dad is selflessly devoted to her care, worthy of my Mom’s romantic memories of the “man she would one day marry.” We are trying to iron out plans for visiting nurses to come in but are grappling with worries about costs, insurance coverage, and scheduling. Their once valued independence of living in their own home with the joys of yard work and visiting wildlife is now a burden, a memory that belongs to another season of life. In the not so distant future, the relics of our family life will be boxed up or sold along with the house and a new season of life will begin for them in a new place more conducive to the winter ahead.

I have learned much about what is important in life in these few but wretched weeks and the lesson has been painful. The conflicts inside of me have raked my heart. The fact that my mother and I could not realize a reconciliation of any meaningful depth fills me with deep regret. Why had I not pursued this with my Mom sooner? I am not sure she could comprehend the feelings I want to express, yet part of me feels at peace in the simple sweet conversations that we do share.  Perhaps that is God’s grace reigning over my ineptitude. I have learned that life is finite. Its seasons far too short for anger, guilt, pride, and selfishness to linger in our relationships. Storms will come and we do not know when or how they will end.

As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.”

Solomon was wise.  Life is meaningless if we do not tend to what truly matters. All the fun, work, accolades, and treasures of life we collect along the way are meaningless. What matters are the relationships we have; that our hearts are right with God; that we resolve conflicts with those we love; that they know they matter to us; and how very much we do indeed love them.

Reconciliation with my mother now may be a selfish goal of mine. Perhaps it is best and all I can hope for that my Mom and I pursue the springtime memories of our life as we walk through her winter together.