Who Did You Like Better Than Yourself?

Opening the front door of my parents’ home was a walk into my soul.

Look at that pesky glint in her eye. This is Dorothy at 68 years.

“Hello darling!”  Mom’s greeting was instant.  She would be sitting on the couch at her control center with a warm smile and a gleam in her eye.  The center consisted of a table that was a perfect height for reading, writing or paying bills.  The corded, salmon-colored rotary phone sat on a corner of the table, one of her links to the outside world.  The television’s remote control was another vital opening to life.

Books, pens, crossword puzzle magazines, an address book, a lamp clamped onto the table, dishes and a coffee mug cluttered the table and the available space on the couch.

Above all other portals, however, the person who walked in the front door represented the most refreshing taste of freedom for my mother.  Visitors brought a fresh world to explore.

In spite of cataracts and prescription eye-wear, Mom captured more detail in one swift scan than a spy doing special surveillance with sophisticated technology. Whether 68 or 85, Mother enjoyed having a good look at new fashion trends, but mostly because she wanted to learn about the person wearing them.

“Oh, don’t those earrings look good with that shade of blue!  You’ve kept your good posture.  How are you today?”

She couldn’t remember where she put her coffee cup, but she remembered details about people she had never met.  “How did Leslie do on her exam last week?”  Weeks before, I had casually mentioned this employee who was studying for her CGA designation.

“I’m great, Mom.  Leslie thinks she aced the exam.  I just came through the Saturday Market.  Tourists galore.  There’s hardly room for anyone to move.  It would be impossible to safely take a senior into that chaos – even in a wheelchair.”

“Did you see anyone you liked better than yourself?” she said, eyes smiling impishly.

My Mom & Dad at 85 and 87 respectively. Mom’s twinkle still a trademark.

There it was again.  When she first began nailing me with that question, I came up with lame, fumbling, non-dynamite responses.  As a diversion, I’d tell her about the weird people I’d encountered.  Or, about the different outfits people wore.   Often, I’d relate a fascinating conversation I’d had with someone.

On the drive home, I’d try to figure out what answer she wanted.

Was I supposed to love myself above all others?  Did ‘loving my neighbour as myself’ mean I had to first love me?  What’s the difference between liking and loving myself?  Did I really like myself?  Was that arrogance?  Or, acceptance?

Years later, with some seasoning under my belt, I may have gained some insight.

With my parents both gone, I cannot confirm the answer, but I’m certain the question wasn’t about me – or any of the people she asked.  It was about energy and will.

Back in the pre-Internet days, Mom’s hips were unreliable so leaving the house took energy she could seldom spare.  Though she read an average of one book a day, she missed her favourite pastime – meeting strangers and getting to know them.  She needed to find a way to bring them to her.

I’ll explain.

A fellow recently said in jest, “Where there’s a way, there’s a will”.  When bodies fail, folks turn to will.  Most seniors have a litany of physical failures so their wills strengthen.  Mom was no exception.  She used hers to design the perfect question:  “Did you see anyone you liked better than yourself?”   It was deep enough that most of us avoided it.  When she threw it out, I’d think, ‘I don’t know what she’s up to, but I’m not going to play into her hand.’

I’d ignore it by talking about fascinating, brilliant, ridiculous, ordinary and unique people in my life.  I handed them all to her.  My well delivered defiance unknowingly played perfectly into her will determined hand.

The question worked.  An endless stream of strangers passed through her home.  She would forget to ask to have her pain medication picked up, but she’d remember what a crumpled professor said to me over a cracked bowl at the market.


51 thoughts on “Who Did You Like Better Than Yourself?

  1. I would have loved to have had a cup a tea with her! What a wonderful woman. Maybe someday I can meet her daughter who seems to be a lot like her.

    This morning while I was walking the dogs I was thinking of my own mother. She is 91 and is, perhaps, the most grateful person I’ve ever me. The thought came to me that if everyone had just a quarter of her gratitude the world would be a so much better place. When I called her later and told her, she was so happy. (The good part of moderatly-progressing dementia, I can tell her tomorrow again and she’ll be thrilled all over again, as though for the first time.

    • Mom would have loved meeting you, Victoria! The women at the church used to love going to Mom’s to serve Home Communion. They told me they loved the challenge of trying to minister to her. Each time, they said, they left knowing they’d just been ministered to. I laugh as I write this…that was Mom!

      It’s so true, if we’d all just live with gratitude – to whatever degree. About dementia, isn’t that true! Except I observed, too often, the repetition of sad news to seniors with the dreaded disease. That was very hard.

      I hope we have that opportunity one day, Victoria. Imagine…!

    • She felt like an island at times. She used to say that she wasn’t sure where she was supposed to fit in. We’d laugh like conspirators when I’d say, “Who says you have to?!” I think most old souls feel that way!

  2. When my Grandmother became to frail to look after herself and had to go into residential care i would go and see here as many Saturdays has i could. She would never remember my name but would always point at me and say ‘You’re Malcolm’s daughter’ Malcolm being my Dad and her son. I was the only one she remembered.

    • When I managed a senior’s residence, I observed the looks of turmoil on the faces of those experiencing various forms of dementia. It saddened me to realize they knew something wasn’t working and they soooo wanted to communicate. Thank God for touch and for granddaughters who take the time to be with their loved ones.

  3. A wonderful story, Amy, I can just picture your Mom, bright as a button, waiting for you to call and entertain her with tales of the people you’d met, so that she would know about them too. It is an unusual question – I shall ponder that – but it seems to have elicited the desired response. That is so much more dynamic than the litany of aches and pains and woes that so many older people focus on – it’s the way I hope to be! 🙂

    • Me, too, Jacqueline! I have to be careful…I’m so used to being full of good health that when I’m told I have some “condition”, I don’t know how to “do” having a condition. I’m learning the best way is to deal with it and get on with life! 😀

    • You know, Joss, I thought of that as I wrote this piece – I’m still sharing interesting people! But there is always something not-to-be-missed about people. Mom usually discovered that in each person! I suspect she made something up when she never had the chance to meet them!

    • Just as the internet was coming into our homes, I tried to get mom interested in my laptop so she could play solitaire (another of her time-passers) without having to shuffle the deck. She declined. Shuffling exercised her hands. She had an angle for everything! 😀

  4. This is a really good post. I’m 57 years old and I’m still learning things from my mom.

    As little boys grow up and turn into men they shy away from physical contact that is overly emotional or that stands out. Those little boys become rough, tough gangly manly men. Bullets bounce of them.

    About 4 years ago my mother’s health began deteriorating. She lived with my sister in New York far from me but had recently moved back to my state. The first day that we were trying to get settled an occurrence came in which I had to grab her hand and help her along. As we walked along an epiphanous thought hit me and I told my Mom “I’m 53 years old and since the age of 9 I’ve been waiting 44 years to hold your hand again just like when I was a little boy. It feels god doesn’t it!” She looked at me, laughed and said, “It sure does. You can hold my hand whenever you want.” Wherever we go now I’m holding her hand…..or maybe she’s holding mine. Thanks. You write wonderful blogs and I always enjoy reading them.

    • Oh boy, IF, you just put a whole bouquet of sunshine into my day! And as I blinked back some tears, I looked at my clock. It was 11:11 – a significantly spiritual alarm for me.

      Hold on to that beloved hand with all of you! Thank you!

    • If that is my physical legacy, I accept, Jamie! I was looking through family photos to find one of Mom and Dad to post. Then I looked at photos I took of my oldest sister last April. I see mother in her her features now. It’s funny…she looks a lot like Mom, but has the disposition of Dad. Maybe as a mother, you know all about that sort of phenomenon.

  5. A fascinating question, indeed. I’m glad to discover that it initially perplexed you, because when I saw it in the title of your blog, it perplexed me too! I shall be ruminating on that for a while. Cool lady, your mom. I find that interesting parents spawn interesting kids. 😉

    • Hey Linda…it still perplexes me! If you figure out a good response, share it! I used to enjoy the variety of responses from my friends when she laid the question on them. Inevitably, the conversation would include some sort of interesting character.

    • Oddly enough, Raven, Mom used to tell my friends that I raised myself. She was nearly 40 when I was born – the fifth one with lost babies in between. My older siblings thought I was spoiled (I had a say in decisions about my curfews, etc.), but I suspect Mom was worn out! I ended up being too responsible, actually. Dad was away weeks and months at a time so she raised us while teaching in country schools. We lived in locations where mod cons meant toilet paper in the outhouse! All of us had to pitch in and be responsible. Imagine her adopting that lifestyle after being raised “upper middle class” in the city. She had to learn how to be a country “school marm” – then fell in love with Dad so became a country wife/mother. It’s no wonder people became one of her main sources of stimulation.

    • I can remember the siblings coming up some “clever” responses – then dashing off somewhere. But she knew who all our close friends were and what we’d been up to. What would you have said?

    • SuZen, I’m replying again because I cannot leave a message on your site. The reCaptcha words do not appear and I tried the verbal part many times. The message is always that there is no match. Yours is not the only blog with which the reCaptcha will not work…none have worked for me. I have written this to reCaptcha – just today. If it’s me, perhaps they’ll explain the problem.

      Here’s my comment for your blog: “SuZen, Belated birthday wishes and many thanks for the great information about ORAC and anti-aging foods. Like you, they are foods I already eat so it’s such good news. I’ll be buying prunes today. 🙂

      I wrote a comment earlier, but I think I left without publishing because I exited comments to go to your subscribe button. The feedburner notice I received said the blog’s name is “Erasing the Bored”. Is that a hidden name or is there some error? I didn’t accept, but will if you confirm that’s you.”

  6. Oh gosh…….see–this is exactly what I was cheated out of, growing up motherless. All these awesome joys that come from the apple tree that the apple doesn’t fall far from.
    What a wonderful woman to have in your life.
    What awesome photos–and what gifts she bestowed.

    I adore the question.
    I might have to steal it to ask of young women I’m privileged to work with–I’m almost certain your mother would approve. 😉

  7. Nice story. I am reminded of my own mother who always was there for me with great advice. One of the things she said was; “If you don’t have a horse, don’t let that stop you. Ride a cow”.

  8. Hi Amy .. what a great thoughtful read – and your Mama looks just wonderful, as too does that photo of your parents together .. interesting aspect – I wonder if that’s what’s missing with my mother … the challenge is none of us have children and I don’t do an awful lot that she could relate to now – friends overseas, cousins et al out of the county, and visits to Cornwall she doesn’t want to know about because of their context and I won’t hurt her … we keep ‘entertained’ .. and thankfully get letters or cards in … to letters out I generate .. but I love the way she found to connect with you all and your friends ..

    My mother does love hearing about things – but not too much and not very often now – balancing the information .. the overload hits very quickly … I keep things she might enjoy … and she does enjoy the tennis, and odd things that are interesting on the tv .. requires no chat, and the volume is down – as she doesn’t need to hear … but her brain is still working and at least she can see somethings – particularly in this glorious British year we’re having ..

    Loved reading this – thanks for sharing your story with us .. cheers Hilary

    • Yes, it’s quite a task finding the balance of “being there” and “giving space”. Visiting my mother in hospital – post-stroke – meant a ferry and car trip that took an entire day. The window of time for a visit was slim. Sometimes I’d arrive and she’d be asleep…I couldn’t arouse her. So I’d sit and just be with her. I’d think, “Well, I guess today’s visit is for me.”

      One trip I took a friend, Karen. We arrived around 1:00 pm and, again, Mom was sleeping. I tried to wake her so she could study a new face which she always loved. No way. She was not going to be awakened. Karen sat in the visitor’s chair as I puttered about and went to the bathroom. Karen told me that each time I left the bed, Mother would pop one eye open – then shut it immediately when I began to turn around.

      Who would have believed this post-stroke woman, paralyzed on the right side, unable to speak, unable to move herself, still had the chutzpah to find ways to maintain a modicum of control? I suspect that’s also why she refused to learn how to use a fork or spoon with her left hand. She happily used her fingers to feed herself. As messy as it was, the staff championed her determination. Me,too.

      I, too, had to curtail my chatter. Mom had adopted an appreciation for a “Sesame Street style” of communication. Joyful, colorful and SHORT! Otherwise, attention exited. 😀

  9. That indeed is one lovely post, Amy. What a question indeed! ” Do I see anyone I like better than myself? Do I? I guess an answer either way would reveal the two selfish aspects of my core. If the answer is “YES”, it may be construed as low self esteem and an intrinsic need for me to ape the other person’s behaviour. If the answer is ” NO”, my ego and self centricity shows up.

    As I think of your mother’s question, I wonder if it was a way to ” put one across you” inspite of her physical infirmity.



    • You arrived at the very dichotomy that caused me to chat about the people I met that day! Her intelligence was fine tuned, Shakti – she may have had a great giggle over the various reactions to the question. She used it on many of us! 😀

  10. Your mother sounds like a wonderful, thoughtful, and engaging woman. I love how your brought strangers and stories into her life. The opening line of this post is one that deeply resonated with me.

    • Yes, Mom was a gold medalist in the Mental Olympics. As she aged, her biggest hurdle was a dip in memory agility, but her brain never stopped. I grinned as I read your post about what to take on a car trip. My Dad would have added to your list, “Earplugs”. 😀

  11. It almost doesn’t matter what your mother had in mind when she posited this question. It is so thought provoking, like a piece of art open to interpretation. It causes you to think about so many things, people, character, why you like someone at all, why you do or don’t like yourself. And a smorgasbord of other possibilities. A wonderful story.

    • What a compliment you have paid my Mom, Stephanie. While Mom and Dad were still alive – and in their house – I used to invite various people to come to their place for Friday’s Happy Hour. You would have been one of the invitees for sure!

    • Hey, my friend, hope all is going well with you. I’m going to start calling you “Collector Chick” if you keep buying up Totsy’s paintings. I love the blue one you bought from her. What a world we’ve created in the blogosphere! My mother would have been in her glory.

    • Whenever I tried to describe how she was a neat human being, she’d shake her head and say something mundane like , “I’m afraid I just don’t see it. If it’s true that our good thoughts are received by souls who’ve passed, I’m delighted that Mom will be “feeling” your comment, Leslie.

    • Nadira, I have no doubt my mother and you would shared a great deal. If you two had visited, we would have had to serve you dinner between exchanges, between words, between breaths. Otherwise, feeding the body would have interrupted your souls. 🙂

  12. What an absolutely brilliant question Amy…the stories about your Mum are always delightful…this one is in another league altogether with this question, because it has so many levels and aspects to it…the answers to it are the learning curve she wanted to take you and herself on….sheer brilliance!
    What a great lady she was…I would love to use this question too if I may…

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