Jean took my hand in hers and said, “I’m so cold”. Her hand was icy cold, then I saw she was shivering.
It was Friday night Bingo at The Mansion Assisted Care Facility,and I was sitting next to Jean, helping her mark the numbers on her Bingo Card. The evening sun was streaming through the windows, to me the room felt warm. I was surprised I didn’t notice her shaking and I asked her if she had been cold for long. “I’ve been cold for years”, she told me.
While one of the aides got Jean a sweater from her room, I put my arms around her trying to keep her warm. We sat that way for longer than I would normally have felt comfortable holding someone I barely knew. But she was cold and I could help keep her warm. By the time the aide came with a sweater Jean had stopped shivering.
Growing up, I often heard my mother say it seemed to her that the people who were always doing good for others were the same people who weren’t there for their own families.
I took this idea of “Charity begins at home” to heart. So much that I didn’t feel comfortable helping people outside my own family. I remember wanting to donate blood at a blood drive in High School, but was afraid that it was somehow wrong. Giving blood didn’t fit into the family script. It wasn’t something we did.
The idea of being there for family stuck with me. And later in life, when I physically and emotionally moved away from my family, it haunted me.
I don’t see most of my family. I don’t spend holidays or special occasions with them, except for occasionally having breakfast with my mother or sister.
Being around my family brings me back to the fearful and voiceless person I used to be. I slip silently into my old role. I lose my self-confidence and my self-respect. I become defensive and guilt-ridden. I lose my true self.
I broke the rules when I left my family behind, I changed the script and was finally free to be myself.
But for a long time, because I was no longer there for my family, I felt like a bad person. And doing for others only made me feel worse.
But I don’t believe that anymore.
I think there’s some truth in what my mother said, it’s true about me anyway.
I’m one of those people who isn’t there for my family, for my mother, but I can easily go to the Mansion and enjoy a conversation with Madeline, or teach a drawing class, or become friends with Connie, or hold Jean to keep her warm until someone brings her a sweater.
It’s sad and I feel sorry that I can’t do the same for my own mother, but I no longer believe that it makes me a bad person.
What I can’t do for my own mother, I can do for someone else’s mother. Or for someone who doesn’t have any children or family or friends. And maybe this is how it works. I want to help, I want to do good, but not at the expense of my self.
So I do what good I can, with the people I can do it with. And, when the times comes, I hope someone out there is doing the same for my family.