Growing Up Growing Old

Issue No. 3: Words from the Wise
Words & Photography - Leah Hart

Mother with a baby on her lap sitting in front houseplants. They are both laughing and looking at the camera.

Growing up, I saw the adults around me as ageless. Milestones came and went, but I never noticed the passing of time in them. Getting older is something that is honored in my family. I grew up knowing my mom’s age as well as I know my own. She never hid it from me, but she never seemed to age with each year that passed, never grew old. I thought I was the only one aging, until I realized that I wasn’t.

July of 2017, my mother had a hysterectomy. It wasn’t the surgery that made me realize the passing of time for my mother; it was the recovery. The recovery was really difficult for my mom. I don’t recall my mom even having a cold when I was growing up, so it was hard for me as well. My mother’s incision was cut vertically to match and repair the c-section scar from delivering my sister, and then me. That vertical cut not only removed my first home, it removed a uterus that had grown cancerous and could’ve slowly killed her. She wanted to leave as soon as the surgery was over, but couldn’t because of the severity of the procedure. After almost a week, she was free to go home and get better, away from constant interruptions. My mom, a very independent person, was released to the care of her daughters. All we had was a prescription for Oxy, each other, and the internet. We were completely hopeless.

That vertical cut made it difficult for my mom to get out of bed unassisted for three weeks. Getting comfortable was impossible. She couldn’t lay in her bed because it was too soft. The couch wouldn’t do either. Running out of options, my sister and I put a comforter on the floor and hoped it would be comfortable enough. We didn’t think about how she would get down on to the floor. And once down there, how would she get up? My mom, a trained dancer knows her body, she knows fall and recover. She got on the floor, nestled into her sleeping bag, and quickly realized it was too hard. My sister and I helped her up and brought her back to the couch. The couch would have to do.

The medication given to dull the pain made her sick. She refused to take it, finding pain more inviting than puking. For six weeks, I came face to face with the reality that my mom had aged. It happened right under my nose, and it wasn’t going to stop. I wasn’t prepared for this fact; I’m still working to come to terms with it. I am terrible at taking care of myself. How am I supposed to take care of my mom, who deserves to be taken care of in the best way because she did it for me? I know it wasn’t easy raising a black girl in Brooklyn in the 90’s, in a world that actively ignores and overlooks and harms us. And yet here I am.

I struggled to understand when my mom grew old. Had she grown old? She’s 67 now, and I guess what young and old mean depends on who you’re talking about. The messed up part about getting old, even thinking about it, is the next phase. Thinking about getting old automatically brings you to think about death. It’s the natural order of things; you’re born, you get old, you die. But living isn’t preparing to die. Living is about loving; loving the world that surrounds you and the people you’re with. Living isn’t about time passing, it’s about seizing every moment no matter your age, body, or mind. Living isn’t about growing old, it’s about growing up. You never stop growing up.

My mom’s recovery taught me that a hysterectomy is no joke, but also how important it can be. I learned that I can take care of another person. I learned that nothing can stop my mom, not even a vertical cut on her belly. After her 6-week recovery she went right back to her old life, to a party with her friends. During those 6 weeks, in those moments of doubt and fear, I thought she grew old. It really was just both of us growing up.