By: Shannon Ralph
Life is messy. It is never quite what you expect it to be. That is not to say that life is bad. Life is simply chaotic. Unexpected. You chart your course and then you might as well throw your map out the window. Nothing happens as planned.
I grew up in the picture-perfect family. My mom and dad were high school sweethearts. They married and had four kids. Then, at the young age of 33, my dad died of cancer. My mom was torn apart and left to raise three kids on her own. She was strong. Resilient. Fearless. She was irrepressible. A force to be reckoned with. She worked full-time and went to college full-time —all while raising four young kids. Four kids who grew to be moderately successful adults. None of us has ever been on drugs. None of us has ever been arrested. We are all married —at least to the extent the law will allow. We all are contributing members of society. And pretty damn funny people, to boot. My mother is solely responsible for that. All of our successes in life can be traced back to our mother. She is the reason we managed to survive the loss of our dad.
In the last week, I have spent hours with my mother talking her down from a ledge. Telling her everything is going to be okay. Trying desperately to find that fearless woman I knew from my youth. My mother left her husband last week. He is not a pleasant man. He is not a kind or generous man. He is an unhappy man. And he brought her down. He made her old before her time. He stressed her out and brought her nothing but grief. She finally had enough and ended it last week.
I am thrilled for my mother. She is going to be infinitely healthier and happier. Eventually. Right now, she is terrified. My mother is disabled and cannot work. She is living on an extremely fixed income. She has medical expenses that seem overwhelming to her. As a matter of fact, everything seems overwhelming to her right now.
Last week, I went with my mother to the Ramsey County benefits office to apply for assistance. She was embarrassed. She was mortified. This woman who raised four children on her own with no help from the government was now asking for hand-outs. At least that is how she saw it. I saw it differently. In my mind, my mother earned those benefits. Life has thrown her many curve balls. She was supposed to spend her golden years with her high school sweetheart. She was supposed to watch him turn gray and feeble as they spoiled their grandchildren. They were supposed to putter around the house on Holly Avenue where they raised their children. Together. Until their dying days. Only his dying day came sooner than it should have. Sooner than was fair. Her map was ripped to shreds.
This weekend, my mother is moving in with me. It’s time for my brother, my sisters, and me to take care of her for a while. Ruanita and I have a nice four-bedroom house. We have a spare bedroom upstairs that is used for nothing. A storage room. It will now be my mom’s bedroom. At least temporarily. Until she can get back on her feet. Until she can find that resilient woman who once had the power to move mountains.
It will be an adjustment. It was not expected. It was not part of my map. It was a detour I did not see coming. My mother is moving in this weekend and I start a new job on Monday. My babies started kindergarten this year. Ruanita is on “sabbatical” from employment and is home with the kids. Everything is changing. Change is good, right? So they say. Change equals growth. Change is an opportunity to write a new map. Chart a new course. We’ll see where our map takes us. There will be bumps in the road, I am sure. But we’ll manage.