“People think you look stronger than you actually are.”
The words, uttered by my father in a forcefully patient voice, were directed to my mother as she dug a hand into her hip and glared at the suitcases in front of her. This was last night, as they made some final preparations for a missions trip. In addition to their own suitcases, many people in the group would also be taking a second suitcase full of Deb’s belongings, as she will be moving to this mission field within the next year.
Deb had returned the small suitcase Mom had given her to fill and sent back a larger, heavier suitcase for Mom to lug across several terminals. Mom and one other person are travelling ahead of the rest of the group due to a mix-up with tickets, and they are the only two who have to recheck their baggage halfway through the trip. There won’t be any strong young men to whom they can hand off their extra suitcases.
I backed away slowly, not eager for Mom to start venting to me. Things have already been rather tense this week as she, Dad, and Eli have been preparing to travel and Gram has worked herself into multiple nervous fits over the notion. At the same time as I prepared to make my retreat, I was also fighting back a bit of indignation; Deb and the rest shouldn’t just assume it’s ok to make my mom deal with this. Surely it isn’t necessary. There must be some other way to work this out so Mom doesn’t have another thing to deal with.
Most people don’t realize my mother has rheumatoid arthritis. She doesn’t make a big deal out of it. Mom has always been strong, capable, and confident, and people have learned to take her reliability for granted. What they don’t see are the days when she drags herself through the door and scowls at our steep stairs while her camera bags weigh down her arms; what they don’t see are the moments she grunts in frustration and hands over to one of us a jar or other item that needs opening because her hands are too weak to handle it; what they don’t see are the constant aches in her neck, back and hips, or her swollen ankles and wrists.
Mom does everything she can to not let her RA hold her back, but she understands her limits. Dragging two suitcases across an airport terminal, both of which are pushing the weight limit, while she races to switch flights is getting to be something which exceeds her limit.
But she’ll do it, because she’s Meg Morryce.
Mom and Dad passed on this legacy of competence to their children, which makes it all the more difficult for us to accept that there are things our parents cannot do. All through our childhood, whenever we faced difficulties, people would scoff or wave a hand and say, “Oh, you’re a Morryce, you can handle it.” And because they told us we were strong enough – because our parents taught us not to back down every time the going got tough – we listened and muscled through. We’ve always learned to find a way.
The downside to this is that we all have a hard time asking for help, because we want to manage on our own.
Mom’s phone chimed as a text came through. “Forget it,” she muttered, tossing her phone onto the bed. “I’ll be the adult in the situation. I’ll figure it out.”
Listen to Superman (It’s Not Easy) by Five for Fighting, the inspiration for this post’s title.