All Hail: A breath of mortality

The mother of a friend of mine died in November. We have been friends since sixth grade, and her mother used to sometimes drive me home from school. The grief for my friend was tremendous, but it wasn’t until I went home for the holidays that I realized something profound had happened to me. I had become aware of my own parents’ mortality.

On the ski slopes, my dad used to stay uphill of me, his pole at the ready, shielding me from the out-of-control and dangerous skiers who might come careening down on me at any moment. But while I was home this Christmas I found myself consciously uphill of him, glancing back for oncoming dangers and cringing whenever he took a tumble. My 20-year-old bones are still supple, despite a dearth of milk and an excess of diet soda in my life. For the first time I realize that one terrible hit from an errant snowboarder and my father could be crippled or worse. It scares me so much I can barely breathe.

Likewise, my mother was recovering from a planned surgery over break, and I found myself fussing over her, and admonishing her for straining herself or moving around too much. I found myself genuinely worried that something might go wrong, and she might lose the amazing health that has always made her my invincible, bullet-proof, illness-proof, car-crash-proof, always-going-to-be-there Mom.

I found myself fussing more and more. I went in for more hugs and felt uneasy about returning to Boston and leaving them at home to fend for themselves. Never mind that they’ve been fending for themselves for far longer than I have. I just feel helpless, knowing they’ll be living in this cruel, terrifying, unpredictable world. Meanwhile I’ll be 5,000 miles away where I won’t see them for months, and won’t even hear from them but once a week or so.

As these thoughts swam through my mind this holiday season, it dawned on me rather suddenly that the helpless love and worry I’m feeling is the way my parents must feel whenever they fuss about my windshield as I’m pulling out of the driveway or get angry when I don’t call. They’re worried that something might happen to me. That somewhere between seeking my dreams and conquering the world, something might go wrong and they won’t be by my side to scoop me up, kiss it and make it better. And suddenly that’s not a “parent thing” to me anymore. It’s a family thing.

Of course here I am back in Boston, and I have every wish to keep seeing the world and doing fabulous and even dangerous things. And they will worry, and I will be sorry to worry them, but that’s what children do. We worry our parents. And somewhere along the line, we start to worry about them in return.

Nothing has actually changed. My father, though 60, is actually still in better shape and a better skier than me. He can take a fall and come up laughing, just as he always has. My parents are still healthy, active people, but just writing that makes me cringe because I know statements like that can change in an instant.

There’s nothing constructive I can really do with this worry. I have fortunes to seek in places far from home, and my parents can’t very well follow me in my would-be globetrotting, although I’m sure they’d love to. The only thing I can do is cherish them a little more, and have a little more empathy when their worry seems disproportionate to the situation. They worry because they are wiser than me, and they figured out a long time ago that the world is random and sometimes cruel, and loving someone hard enough doesn’t protect them from it. I wish it could; then my parents would never die. As it is, all I can do is beg them to be careful, and promise in return to do the same.

– Hailey Heinz is a junior journalism major and a member of The News Staff.

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