Being a professional means different things to different people.
It might mean seriously considering, without ridicule, the opinions of a co-worker or boss; maintaining a lifeless empirical decorum when your work is criticized by your manager; or speaking in only positive terms about the leadership structure of your company despite the internal fomenting of bad organizational tidies. Notwithstanding these differences, there is one universal element of being a professional that seems to be consistent: Being a professional means keeping one’s personal life away from work. Perhaps I’m not a professional because I’ve always failed at doing this.
My 83 year old, pain-in-the-arse-but-I-still-love-her-dearly Mom is starting radiation treatment for a form of cancer of her uterine lining. This on top of DVT, CPOD, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s (one good thing about Alzheimer’s is that we think she forgot about the recent death of her brother, God rest Marty’s soul). Yet she hasn’t lost her great sense of humor.
When we learned about the cancer, the initial course of action was to schedule a hysterectomy. With my Mom, you never know what kind of reaction you’ll get from any news – good or bad. In this instance, Mom grew a little pensive then turned to Dad and asked, “Charlie, we’re not planning on having any more children, are we?” It was a brief second or two – and an utter look of horror on the face of my 87 year old Dad – before Mom just broke out into a hearty Mom-laugh. Yes, she zapped us.
Several weeks ago, we went to the Bar Mitzvah of my second cousin in Morristown, NJ. It’s easier for Mom to get around in a wheelchair (forgot to mention that she also had one of her hips replaced about 8 months ago) so Mom was sitting in the back of the synagogue during the ceremony. When my cousin’s entrance into Jewish manhood was complete and it was time to head over to the reception, the entire family stopped to welcome Mom (my Mom and Dad are the matriarch and patriarch of clan Levy). One of my relatives grabbed Mom’s hand and spoke in a relatively loud but slow voice, “ANITA – WE’RE – SO – HAPPY – TO – SEE – YOU – AND – GLAD – YOU – COULD – MAKE – IT” to which my Mom replied, “I don’t remember who you are but I’m not deaf.”
My sister and I simply shook our heads and chuckled.
I joke with Mom that because of the radiation treatment she’ll have to go to “The House of the Recruiting Inferno” for a new hairstyle; she smiles and says that I have a beautiful head. When she sees me, she smiles and gushes, “It’s my Stevie.” Her response is the same for my sister and brother. I know who’s comforting whom.
There are relatively few moments when I’m not thinking of Mom; but where I used to see her smiling face, I now see fear. Parents aren’t supposed to show fear; they’re rocks…invincible…they laugh at danger.
But now the roles are reversed and it’s sobering to be the parent of a parent. There are many books about being a great parent but very little about being the parent of a parent. My Mom wrote notes to me as I was growing up; the one I remember the most was when she told me how proud she was to have me as a son because somehow I was “smart” enough to set the dinner table when I was around 3 years old. She sure had low expectations of “smart”!
Keeping a safe distance from my family pains isn’t easy for me anymore. I think it’s important for others to know that I’m feeling angst over my Mom’s declining health not because it affects my work but because it affects me. It’s not about sympathy but reality; it’s not about work performance but about what drives me. We talk about human resources but too often neglect to take into account the whole person.
If only my Mom knew how proud I am of her for all she has given me. Sure I’ve told her but I’m just not sure if she remembers…
Having been a parent to a parent during a period of long illness, may i be so bold as to suggest that your write your mom a letter that she can read when it’s dark and late and the fear comes back in waves. I think it might mean a lot to her to have something to hold in her hand when you are not around.
It’s always difficult to contemplate losing someone who has always been there all of our lives. I love your mom’s sense of humor. The time i spent with my mother during her illness are some of the best memories i have other than the fact that she always burned the spinach balls on Christmas Eve. Always. It was a family tradition that my mother would jump up in the middle of the Christmas festivities and scream, “oh shit, i burned the spinach balls.” My mother never said an ugly word in her life except on Christmas Eve.
This is honestly a very special time for both of you to support each other and as you have described, a time to get a super kick out the sense of humor that sometimes pops out during times of stress and illness.
My mom, being on pain killers for a long period of time had periods of not being sure if things were real or not. I came in one day to check on her. She informed me that there was a strange looking little man sitting on her dresser with shiney things on his face and she was hearing bells. I suggested to her that probably the strange looking little man was just the last guy i dated. She laughed and said, “most probably, but what about the bells. In an attempt to reality base her because the whole family was going nuts about mom hearing bells, i suggested that the bells were caused by the medication so not to worry about them. Then i heard the bells, they were the carillion of the church across the park. So i fessed up that there really were bells and where they were coming from. She gave me an evil look and said, “Sandy, i told you years ago that if you lie to your mother you will always get caught.”
We laughed…a lot.
One of our last conversations she said, “I wonder what dying will be like?”
I responded, “How would i know, that’s one of the few things, i’ve never done.”
My dear mother gave me a sideways look, a little grin and said, “I’m surprised, i thought you had done everything at least once.”
We laughed…a lot.
This may sound a bit strange Steve but enjoy this period of time with your mother. Being a parent to a parent is truly a very special time. She may not remember pieces of it from day to day but you will.
I am sitting on a series of blog posts I hope to do in another month or so about my father, his illness, the care bills, etc. I have some things to show people about what happens when preparations are not made for “the later years”.
I hesitate because the way they read now is that I am blowing off steam but I need to take a cue from you and say how it is. How we have felt. And what we would do different.
For your sweet Mom and those caring for her… nothing but Best Wishes sent to you.
Beautiful blog post, Steve. It is virtually impossible to separate the personal from the professional when obviously it is such a part of who you are. One key attribute to being successful in a business that touches others lives on a daily basis requires a high degree of compassion. Thanks for sharing a hidden piece of you, but I think we all knew it was there all along.
Mom/family comes first, it’s just that simple! This reminds me of a job I had another lifetime ago. The CEO’s philosophy was God first, family second, and job third. It stuck with me. We lost my two of my Mom’s brothers the past 4 weeks to Alzheimer’s Disease – it was hard to visit my uncles who entertained me as a kid and told me how beautiful I was when I was at every family reunion, and then suddenly they didn’t know me.
Hang in there, spend ALL the time you can with her and constantly remind her how much you love her. As Sandra suggested, write her notes like the kind she wrote you.
Tell her I said “hello!” (I know, I know what you are thinking – don’t say it.)
I feel your pain – send a link to your blog. As painful as it is, at this stage of our lives, we are all going to experience “being a parent to a parent.” Maybe we should start a support group? Seriously.
Steve, your mother sounds great.
This is a beautiful tribute to your mom and you are an inspiration to those of us who know you. Thanks for reminding us all of how we cannot take the human factor out of business.
My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.
This is a very moving post. I’ve lost both my parents. I took my Father & Mother into our home when he was dying. My Mother had alzheimer’s and had to be in a skilled nursing facility. There’s nothing harder, or more rewarding than being there for our aging, ill parent when they need us. When I look back on my life, I’m not going to be glad I spent a few more hours at the office, but I will be glad I took time off work to spend a few more precious hours with my parents.
I treasure those moments. Not a day goes by when I don’t think about them. You are a great man. You are wise, and smart. I’m glad you set the table. Bless your Mom’s heart.
Professionals take care of everyone and everything, whether professional or personal, because to lay down and stop just isn’t in character. Professionals have character even when they feel they have nothing else left. I was sitting by my mom’s side even as hospice nurse was there also, but at the same time was negotiating offers over the phone in whispers. I missed a dear aunt’s funeral due to a previously planned business trip which could not be cancelled. I found a way later to pay my respects. I only hope that my sons display the same character that runs throughout your post when my time comes.
Thanks for your comments. What’s nice about this group is that we also talk on the phone (Tom and DJ, expect calls) and can go far deeper than what we write.
Deb is correct – a professional takes care of everything (or at least tries to). We also know when to reach out for ourselves while maintaining that tough exterior – right?
Mom’s doing as well as can be expected; her 84th birthday is Sunday, the day after the world is going to end (I can hear her saying, “Well if the world is going to end on Saturday why the hell aren’t we celebrating my birthday on Friday?”).
You also should try Sandra’s Spinach Balls.
hugs and kisses…
This is such a beautiful post Steve — thank you for sharing. You call me any time you need a virtual hug or an ear. I can assure you she and your family will be in my prayers.