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Riding the role-reversal roller coaster

May 11, 2009 - Betsy Bethel
My mom sounded cheery on the phone this morning, despite being in traction and awaiting hip replacement surgery this afternoon.

She tripped in her flip flops and fell at home on Saturday night. She must have fallen hard because she broke off the top of her femur, the ball that sits in the hip socket.

"It's going to be OK," she assured me from 600 miles away, at a hospital in rural North Georgia, an hour from her home.

"I know it will," I told her, reflecting the optimism she nurtured in me long ago.

We talked about the anesthesia — she is choosing general over an epidural to avoid the infamous "epidural headache"; her estimated recovery time; her choice between home health and a nursing home (rehabilitation center); when I will be able to make it down.

Her upbeat attitude then soured a bit as she announced: "I hope I don't miss 'Dancing With the Stars tonight!" I laughed incredulously. She continued, defensive: "They're down to the last three! Oooohhh," she said with a bit of a pout, "I'll probably be too groggy!"

Although I felt her reality show addiction to be on the silly side, I tried to find a solution. The surgery is at 4:30 and is supposed to last an hour.

"You still might get to see it," I said reassuringly.

It's strange, this role-reversal phenomenon. Mom has been in excellent health her entire life. I'm not exaggerating when I say, at 66, she's in better shape than I am.

So, it was a shock when my stepdad, Jim, called me at 8:45 a.m. on Mother's Day to tell me about Mom's hip. I remained calm on the phone because he was not taking it very well and was trying to drive. I tried to shore him up. After I hung up, I cried a little, out of empathy for Mom's pain and frustration that I couldn't be there with her.

Upon reflection today, I think learning to deal with our parents' health problems helps blaze the trail for dealing with all that our children will face in life. I can't be there for Mom right now (although I'm planning to take Emma and stay with Mom for at least a week to help out).

And there will be plenty of times when I can't always be present with my daughter in times of trouble. Or when my presence accomplishes little.

I ache for my mother as I write this. I wish I could switch places with her. I wish I could take away the pain and the hassle. I wish I could absolve her of any guilt or shame she feels. (She always swore she'd never wear flip flops because they're dangerous. She bought this pair a week ago!).

But before despair sets in, I am reminded to have hope. Mrs. Positive takes charge. It's going to be OK. Things happen for a reason. This will make her stronger. Her new hip will be, well, like new. And maybe, just maybe, God will use this unfortunate accident to spur Mom and Jim to seriously consider moving closer to family.

I first read the Serenity Prayer when I was tall enough to notice the small wooden plaque that rested on a stand on my grandmother's kitchen counter. There is nothing that helps me keep things in perspective better than these few words, credited to Reinhold Niebuhr in 1926, and I pray it now:

"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; The courage to change the things I can; And the wisdom to know the difference."


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