I suppose it would be best to start here and explain that I was not ready. I suppose no one is ready for something like this. No one is ready for life to take place. No one is ready for the role reversal. No one is ready for their parents to grow older or be the one who needs care.
Parents are the introduction to the world. They are the teachers of the so-called right and wrong. This is where our lessons come from. This is where my lunch came from when I was a kid. This is who dressed me or took me to a store called Stride-Rite for a pair of sneakers called Zips.
This is who I ran to and this is who took care of me when I was young or sick. Moms and Dads are the entryway to the world and regardless of the way they held their stations or the relationships, there is a natural order here that has been ingrained and trained in our society.
I called my father, Pop. And Mom, well . . .
Mom is the word but yet, there is so much to this word.
Protector is something that comes to mind. Misunderstood is another word that comes to mind. Trained is a word too, which is beyond the direction of blame or fault because, after all, we only know what we are taught. See, when we are kids, we don’t see our parents as people. We see them as separate entities in this world. Parents are almost not allowed to be human. They’re not supposed to have faults or make mistakes or let us down. But they do. We all do.
No one is ever prepared for life’s terms like childhood or parenthood, womanhood or manhood or otherwise. No one is trained to deal with the trials that we go through. No one is ready for the bad news. We just go through this as best as we can and either we sink or we swim but either way, rest assured, life is going to happen. Like it or not. Life is life and no one gets out alive so . . . the best thing we can do is make this a trip worth taking.
Life is unique. We all go through this in our own way, but hopefully, if we’re lucky, we have support and we have guidance. If we are lucky, we have the benefit of a parent’s love. If we’re lucky, there is no pain here. There’s no problem. If we’re lucky, there’s no resentment or breakdown in the relationship or years of no talking because of an argument. If we’re lucky, life does not interfere too much that we can’t enjoy this love that we are supposed to have for each other. But not everyone is so lucky. Not everything goes over well and neither life nor the hands of time will regard the way we think or feel.
And age . . .
What the hell?
I suppose the toughest part of the role reversal is the reversal itself. I suppose it’s hard for the mind to process the switch and suddenly, the parent is like the child and the child becomes the parent. I’d have to say that this was toughest for me.
I remember there was a time when there were calls to my home.
“Is this Alice Kimmel?”
“Is Ben Kimmel your son?”
In all fairness, none of these calls were good calls. At least, not in my case. None of these calls were to explain that I won an award or that I was about to be cast on a new television series.
Oh, I was an actor alright. I was an actor amongst many things. I played the roles of my youth that brought me to tough places. I was in need of help. I was on my way to perfect the different stages of insanity, which in fairness, this was all part of something much bigger. I had different disorders that went unaddressed. I could read. I could hardly get through school. I had this thing called learning disabilities, which I thought was a life sentence.
I remember the calls that came home. Sure I do.
I suppose there was a pit in the stomach when the phone rang, especially when I was out or on the run. I suppose no parent wants a phone call like this. “Are you the parent of Ben Kimmel?”
No parent wants to see their child on a gurney in the hospital after a motorcycle accident. And yes, this was me. This was me in more ways than one. Safe to say that I was a handful. Safe to say that I was a walking heart attack for those who loved me. Safe to say that I was lost. I was hurting. I was wild and on fire and for sure, I would have been extinguished in the worst of ways. Here’s the thing; I actually thought that I knew what I was doing.
I can’t believe what I put people through. And then age set in. I grew, which was a tough thing to do. I had to grow up and be responsible. I said things I wish I could take back. I admit it.
Get off my back!
I know what I’m doing.
I don’t have time to talk right now.
I’ll call you later.
The thing is time moves fast. Age pulls a trick and the next thing we know, we are not young anymore. Our parents are not so young either. I suppose the frustration comes in when the changes come to the stations of our life. For example, to Mom, their child is always their child but to the child, they’re not a kid anymore. I suppose the problem with being a kid is kids think they know it all; then again, the problem with adults is adults think they know it all too; when in fact, we don’t know half as much as we think.
I suppose it is best to start here and explain that I did not know what I was doing. I did not know how to handle the changes in the roles. I was grown. I was an adult, and perhaps in name only, but still; I was this thing they called the healthcare proxy. It was me that had to field the phone calls. I had a new role but deep down, I was still a kid that needed his Mom.
“Are you Ben Kimmel?”
“Is Alice Kimmel your Mother?”
These phone calls came often and again, none of them were good news. None of them were to tell me that you won an award. None of them were to tell me that you were being honored on television or anything like that. And yes, there was a pit in my stomach each time the phone rang. I’d wonder, “Is this it?”
Perhaps I built a tolerance to these calls. I began to expect them. I’d roll my eyes and wonder, “What is it this time?”
And I admit it. I was mad. I was angry about the role reversal because in truth and in fairness, no matter how old I grow, lo and behold; I will always be Mrs. Kimmel’s baby boy. I will always be a son. I will always be the one in need. I will always want Mom’s cooking and her chicken cutlets, mashed potatoes with her gravy. I will always want to go home and sit at the dinner table to be served by Mom. But sadly, the table is gone and so are you Mom.
Intellectually, I knew this was coming. Intellectually, I knew how to deal with the responsibilities of my role as the healthcare proxy. I understood why I had to sign the page to honor your living will and let you go. I understand that life works the way it does. We are born. We live, we grow and we age and if we are lucky, we can dodge some of the landmines that come our way.
I have kept a series of journals and letters that I’ve sent out into the universe. It’s been years now. I suppose now is the time to collect them and compile them together. These are my notes from the road. These are my unsent letters that I wrote with hopes to restore my heart and maintain a better level of sanity.
I wasn’t ready, Mom. Then again, no one ever is. All the preparation and all the intellectual understanding never prepares that heart for what takes place. So I am leaving these here. I am leaving my notes to you, my Mom, and the notes to Pop. The Old Man, and to my daughters, my children, my life and my best level of understanding. I am leaving this with you; all of my notes of endearment here. I want to give this to you to take them from me, to have and to keep. This is important to me because although to someone else, these might just be letters; to me, these letters are some of the most valuable things I own. So, take them please. They’re yours. Just be gentle because remember, Mom and the Old Man aren’t around anymore.
I understand that I’m growing older and a time will come when it’s me with a cane, whitehaired and in an old folks home or someplace in need of assisted care. Maybe. Who knows? All I know is no one is ever prepared for this. (I’m not.) I know that I still have some time left. I have some time before I lose myself. Maybe that’s what this is – these letters. Know what I mean? Maybe this is why I’m sending my notes to you now because tomorrow is not guaranteed. So, let me start here. Let me be sure to get this out because I don’t want to leave anything unsaid.
Never again. Life is too short.
I’ve got to go now, Mom.
The sun is up.
I’m off to work.