I spend a lot of time with my mom these days. She’s old, in her nineties, and growing fragile in body and mind. Caring for her is many things: tender, sad, joyful, frustrating, humorous. This last year, I’ve also experienced plenty of worry. Not that worrying has proved useful. But helpful or not, it’s absorbed a lot of my energy.

In October, Paul and I visited friends in France. We had Reiki treatments every day for six days, and I was away from my care-giving responsibilities long enough that the worry vanished. What a shock and what a relief. The trip was a gift, giving me a chance to feel myself without so many layers of stress. It’s also pushed me to look more closely at my own worry.

At the core of these troublesome feelings, I’m finding a habitual attachment to things being a certain way—the way I want them to be. I worry when situations aren’t working out the way I planned and when I feel I have no control. In my relationship with my mom, it’s been so hard not to anticipate the worst, to fear for her safety when she fires the people I hire to help her. I feel so little control when we agree to something and suddenly, unbeknownst to me, she decides something new, like flying to Arizona alone after we agree she won’t travel by herself. I worry about what our futures hold as she loses more capacity. While I know the initial emotions are normal, ruminating and anxiety make them overwhelming.

Watching my worrying mind as I give myself Reiki, the feelings buried beneath the anxiety sometimes rise to the surface. I have the chance to be with my raw fear and grief, loss and anger. It’s a relief to take this in and to notice how my thinking causes me to suffer more. And, I know it’s also hurting the very person I want to help, inhibiting my capacity to connect and love her.

Now when I visit my mom, I try to remind myself that being with her, caring for her, is not about me getting what I want. I’m watching for my assumptions and doing my best to be present with what is, whatever that may be. I’m here because I love her. I want to be present, to listen, and to respond with an open heart.

Even though my mom is frail and sometimes puzzled by the world around her, still she continues to guide me, giving me a precious gift—prodding and poking me to understand how I fuel my own worry and to get better at letting it go.

She is a most perfect teacher.

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