Perhaps unsurprisingly, I’ve been thinking about my mom a lot lately, with the impending celebration of Mother’s Day and my upcoming surgery.
Since she died 5 years ago, any time big personal changes loomed on the horizon I have felt that familiar swell of emotion that seems to be located somewhere between my stomach and my lungs, overwhelming me physically and mentally. This sensation can last for mere minutes or even long hours.
As I would imagine is normal, I imagine how she would react to these changes and achievements. Sometimes it’s easy to imagine her reactions.
When I defended my dissertation, she would have been proud and so pleased to see the culmination of years and years of work at last at its joyful end.
She’d have celebrated as I taught my first (and probably only) study abroad course (something I always wanted to do!) in Italy in May 2019.
She’d have hurrah’ed when I landed my first post-PhD job (with benefits!) at the Institute.
She would have been proud, excited, and disappointed when I got a job at Vanderbilt and moved to Nashville. Disappointed, because I wasn’t moving back to Virginia, choosing my Nashville family “over her” (that’s how she’d see it), but still she’d have been proud and excited for my accomplishments. She loved me.
But…as my surgery date approaches, I am having a hard time picturing how she’d react to this choice and new frontier.
Mom could—at times—let her own emotional hang-ups color her response to things going on in my and my siblings’ lives. Would her own struggles with her weight have influenced her reaction to my weight-loss goals? Would she have been less supportive than she’d have liked, whether intentionally or not? Would she, as she was sometimes wont to do with others who had gone through similar procedures, make snide comments about my potential to fail or relapse? Would her encouragement be a little too cloying, her smile a little too bright, suggesting that she didn’t actually believe what she was saying? Or worse, and definitely possible, would she barely attempt to contain her unique blend of judgment and jealousy?
On the other hand, she may have reacted excitedly, full of support and pride. She did often tell me to try to lose weight before I got too old, because the older you get the harder it is and the more physically painful it is to try to take it off. My mother lived with daily pain in her joints and back, moving, sitting, and existing was a struggle. I know that this physical pain manifested itself emotionally too. I know she’d want me to avoid that. So perhaps knowing that I will avoid some of that pain in my life would make her happy for me.
But at the same time…would she have even realized that her reality was the very future I am trying to avoid? Even worse, would the idea that I was trying to avoid becoming like her— to not share this daily pain and struggle—give her (more) emotional pain?
In some ways, her death has made this easier. The risk of not taking steps is clear. I need to go on this journey for my own mental and physical well-being. Because I will never know how she would actually react, I can choose to imagine her response as loving and supportive as I would like it to be at any given moment.
However, this too is a hard emotional line to walk, because in reacting this way, her death becomes akin to a gift. One that has allowed me both the freedom to act without causing her hurt and provided me the motivation to change….
How could her death ever be a gift?
Right now, I like to think that my choice to pursue a WLS and strive for a healthy life honors both her life and her death. My mother wasn’t perfect. (I mean, whose mother is?) In many ways, I am on this obesity-related journey because she was. Since, in the long run, my mother would want the best for me, I’d like to think that she’s pleased by my choice to move forward with a gastric bypass, hopeful that it will work, but fearful that it will not.
But I’ll never know.