Holding on, letting go

by mymothersbrain

My legs and lungs are on fire. The studio ride to which I subject myself several times a week has me sweating and puffing. Strangely, it has also caused a lump in my throat, one that feels suspiciously like backed-up tears. The physical duress I understand. But this other thing, well, that’s new. And weird. Often now, in the middle of the ride, I want to stop the pedals on the cycle, collapse on the floor and just wail. It seems these days my most vulnerable times are during exercise. Putting my body through hard work seems to open a door to my mind. My heart. They become fragile, tender. They demand the attention I’ve been unable to give them.

For the past four years John and I have been booked solid with mother care. In 2005, when the disease took his grandmother, his mother was still driving, cooking, shopping, etc., but we had already seen the signs. We rushed to move her in with us, then to assisted living, then to a secure unit in the same residence, then to another residence. In the meantime, my mother’s decline was beginning. I traveled frequently to El Paso to make doctor’s appointments, attorney appointments, to simply visit her and see for myself what was going on. For years now, our “time off” has consisted of three-day weekends, or job-related conferences, or visits to family. There has been no time to grieve what’s happened to our mothers. Or to us. There has been just enough time to move from one crisis to another.

But in the past few months, I’ve definitely felt the need to breathe.

To think.

To feel.

When one of my aunts died a few years back, I rode a hospital elevator with her daughter in silence; neither one of us spoke or wept. In fact, my cousin said just one word to me that whole day: Hola. At first I thought she was angry at me. But I recognized the stiffness of her spine. We are much alike: same age, eldest daughters, first generation college graduates. Obligation and duty weigh heavy on our shoulders. Later, she said to one of us that in the time between her mom’s death and the funeral, all she could think of was holding on; she feared that if she let go, succumbed to her grief, she’d be unable to pick herself up. And she had so much to do before she could let go. That’s how I feel, as if I’ve been so busy handling things that I’ve had little time to let go and simply be sad, grieve the loss of my mother’s mind.

So, I’ve come to a point in my life where time, this elusive thing that I struggle to rope into manageable units in order to complete the tasks life requires, is increasingly precious. It’s not to be squandered. It’s not to be taken for granted. It is actually something to be prized, and as such, I need to be selfish and guard it jealously.

But even more important: I need to listen for those rhythms of my heart, the ones that tell me when to hold on, and when to let go.