In her early 80s, it became evident that my widowed mother could no longer live alone in her country home. After exploring all possibilities, the family decided that she would move in with me. The first six months were very challenging. It seemed that no matter how hard I tried, nothing pleased her and neither of us were happy. She was demanding, contrary, stubborn, and just plain hard to live with! I really tried to please her though.
For several days she had been looking at grocery ads and would always say “That cantaloupe sure looks good!” I finally got the message: she wanted cantaloupe! That very day I went to the store and brought home a perfect melon. The next morning I got up early and cut it up in nice bite sized pieces just the way she liked it. When she came in for breakfast I said, “Mom, I got you some cantaloupe and it is all cut up and ready for you to eat.” She said, “Oh! I can’t eat cantaloupe. It upsets my stomach!” I wanted to kill her! But I held my tongue — for a few minutes. Then I noticed that one more time she had left her dirty butter knife on the bread board and I lost it!
“Mom, would it be too much for you to just put your dirty knife in the sink?” I asked.
She broke down and started to cry, saying “Can’t I do anything to please you?” It suddenly hit me that she was feeling exactly the same thing I was feeling. “Can’t I do anything to please her?”
I thought about this for several days, and I finally realized that if we were to live together, something had to change. I knew I could not change her, so it had to be me. I thought about what it must be like for her to have given up her independence, her home and a lot of her things. Her children had made decisions for her and knowing she had no real choice she agreed, but she obviously was not happy about it.
About that time I ran across this story about a young woman in China wanted to get rid of her mother-in-law. It made quite an impression on me.
I decided to make it my mission to really try to please Mom — not just go through the motions. I started asking her what she wanted from the store and took her with me when I could. I hunted for activities and events that she could enjoy. I started looking at having her with me as a gift instead of a duty and behaved accordingly. Before long she became an absolute joy to live with — and she ate lots of cantaloupe with no tummy aches.
We had over 12 wonderful years together. We went through some challenging times and some serious health scares, but we always had each other. When she died at almost 95, I was able to let her go knowing that what we had was very special. We might not have had it without that cantaloupe.
I am now living with my daughter and trying hard to remember the lessons that melon taught me.