In her memoir, Disaster Preparedness, mbird fave Heather Havrilesky tells winning story after winning story of her childhood, adolescence and adulthood with the same humor and insight (and a healthy dose of cynicism) that we’ve admired in her articles (for example, this and this, and also this). Disaster Preparedness is a terrific and engaging read, with just the right touch of wit and self-awareness. In the chapter called “Faculty Wives,” Havrilesky explores the complex character of her fiercely independent mother. In the passage below, Havrilesky talks about her mother aging, the challenges (mostly to one’s pride) that come with the increasing reliance on the help of others, and, ultimately, how much we need each other. Turns out the drama of (in)dependence plays out in old age, with plenty of kicking and screaming on the side:

For the past month, whenever I hear my mom talk about [her friend] Joan’s latest struggles with her health, I think: I’m more like Joan. Sure, I’m reasonably responsible. I like to have a plan. But I still cling to some romantic notion of being taken care of. I still imagine that I won’t be alone in the end, however unrealistic that might be. Where my mom pictured herself alone, having to fend for herself, even back when she was married—with a philandering husband, she probably felt that she was on her own most of the time—I always pictured myself enlisting someone to go along for the ride with me, no matter what my circumstances might be.

bingoIf I get sick or lose my mind, I’ll ask my husband or my kids or my  friends to rise to the occasion and come to my aid. And they’d better come through for me, [darn] it! I refuse to be the one driving myself down to the pharmacy for my lethal dose of something or other, then swallowing it alone in my bedroom. Instead, I’ll be the pest on the phone to my daughters, begging them to fly into town, squandering my money on plane tickets, or planting myself on the couch in the den, much to some son-in-law’s chagrin. I’ll bring my dog with me, too, and it’ll sleep on the couch with me and beg at the dinner table and everyone will roll their eyes at how weird and gross Grandma is.

…At some point before I’m too old, I’ll sit my daughters and my husband and my closest friends down, and I’ll warn them: I’m not growing old alone, [people]. Prepare yourselves now to see my nasty old face in your house for years to come.

Because I did my part. I dried your tears and paid too much for replicas of lost teddy bears on eBay. I took care of cats and plants and talked you through home purchases and career dilemmas and bad breakups and co-wrote scathing letters to exes that were never sent, but which served as an important catharsis to a breaking heart. I was there for you. And I’ll continue to be there, as long as I can be.

pete's mom

But someday, you might have to come to my rescue. Brace yourselves, because it won’t be pretty. Isn’t that what love and friendship are really about? You reap the benefits first—the long talks over strong coffee or strong beer—then you pay on the back end, when everyone is falling to pieces.

But we weren’t meant to suffer alone! We weren’t meant to pay strangers to take care of us, then meet our friends or family for an hour-long lunch. We weren’t meant to overdose in our bedrooms, just to escape the indignity and frustration of asking for help, for needing help, from someone who might not always enjoy giving it, someone who gets on our nerves, who has never made much sense to us, someone whom we break down and bicker with occasionally. We were meant to lean on each other, as messy and imperfect as that can be, to be capable when we can, and to allow the world to take care of us when we can’t.

It won’t be all bad. Or it will be. But at least we’ll have each other.