Mom just won't give it a rest.
"I don't," my 85-year-old widowed mother tells me every day since she broke her wrist, "want to be a burden."
Her fear of being a burden is how we got to this point. I drove to the Constable family farm in rural Indiana on the Saturday morning before Easter to pick up Mom and bring her to the suburbs for the weekend. Not wanting to burden me with the task of toting her things all the way out to the car, Mom carried her small travel case, suit bag and her seldom-used cane outside so she'd be ready to go when I pulled into the lane.
I sensed something was amiss when Mom hid her left arm under a dish towel full of ice.
"I tripped over the cane and sprained my wrist," Mom explained, grasping the irony of the cane causing her fall, but not the seriousness of the black-and-blue, swollen wrist with the giant lump and the odd twist.
"Oh, Burt, I don't want to be a burden," she said, before agreeing to swing by a hospital emergency room since it's on our way anyhow. The week that follows involves casts, powerful pain medications, a surgery to put a metal plate in her arm and some trips between my house and Indiana.
Mom knows burdens. She was the main caretaker for my dad, who died in 2003 at age 87 in the same room of our farmhouse where he was born. Mom was the main caretaker for my brother, Bill, who died of bile duct cancer in 2010. As I drive Mom to the farm and back during her wrist ordeal, we stop at an Italian restaurant halfway between her house and my house to eat an emotional dinner on what would have been Bill's 50th birthday. It gives us a chance to talk about burdens.
We talk about how I remember Mom taking care of her mother, who insisted she didn't want to be a burden even as she spent every night and weekends at our house because she was scared to be alone after her husband died. We talk about how my sisters and I remember Mom and Dad taking care of our relatives, doing nice things for all the old ladies from church and giving rides and performing good deeds for lots of other people who needed help.
Monday, as our youngest son turns 13 and my wife and I marvel that we are the parents of three teenage boys, I have a greater appreciation for the burdens my mom and dad handled for my siblings and me.
I don't remember ever apologizing for being a burden all those times when my parents dropped what they were doing to pick me up after basketball practice, prepare a meal especially for me at 5 p.m. and not only get me to my game at 6:30, but drive a half-hour to the game, stay for the whole thing and then drive into town on the way home to pick up my grandma, whom they had dropped off at another old lady's house sometime earlier.
I could wait hand-and-foot on my Mom until she's 100 and still not have balanced the scales of burden, or even have time to recount all the burdens I've put on her shoulders during my five decades. Even acknowledging those burdens sounds silly.
"Hey, I don't want to be a burden, but you know how you bathed me and fed me and put me in that adorable little outfit to show me off at Easter dinner? Well, I threw up on my outfit and the back of that new dress you were wearing and now need a second bath," the baby me never said. "And when you do change me into a new wardrobe, I don't want to be a burden, but I can just tell this diaper isn't going to come close to containing what I have in store for you just about the time you finally sit down to eat."
We recount all the times Mom got me ginger ale and a cool washcloth for my head. I explain to her that I might never have gone to college if she hadn't taken on much of the burden of getting me through high school and making me think of the future. We talk about how the adult me can still be a burden at times to my wife, our kids and even her. We laugh about that time a pipe burst in our house just as my wife and I were leaving to catch a vacation flight, and Mom and Dad drove up to handle the mess and have things fixed up by the time we got home. Burdens? Mom has taken on far more burdens than she's caused. She's handled the burdens of countless others and been an example of how to handle those burdens.
Still, Mom insists on talking about how her wrist makes her a burden. That burden forces my wife to reschedule music lessons, me to miss one of our son's soccer game, turns our living room into a temporary hospital room, messes with work schedules for my wife and me and creates havoc in our boys' comings and goings, Mom says, shaking her head apologetically.
"I can't believe one person can have such an impact on the lives of so many other people," Mom says.
I'm not sure she understands just how true that is.