From Chicken Soup for the Soul in Menopause

Living with a Woman Possessed

Sometimes the heart sees what is invisible to the eye.

H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

My mother was always a sane, rational person who was able to control herself in any situation. All of that was altered during “the change,” as menopause was called in earlier days. During that time, my dear, sweet, dependable mother was possessed by some evil force that invaded not only her body, but her mind and soul as well.

Mother suffered through the anguish brought on by a menstrual cycle. Without knowing exactly the cause, we three boys (my older brother and my twin and I) knew to keep low profiles about the same time each month. During those few days, this woman, who was our strength after our dad died in 1965, seemed a bit more fatigued. She often came home from a day of teaching sixth grade and dropped her tired body onto the couch.

“I need just ten minutes of rest before I start supper.” And with that, Mother fell asleep for at most half an hour. Then she was up and about her regular duties.

We also knew that she sometimes had stomach cramps, and at times they completely doubled her over. She always told us boys not to worry, and she toughed her way through those gut-wrenching episodes. I never saw her swallow an aspirin or a Midol to help ease the pain of her period. She was from that generation that didn’t believe in taking medicine to alleviate what were small hurts. Neither did she use PMS as an excuse for letting herself fly out of control.

All of that strong side took a hiatus for her time of menopause. During those years, life was especially touchy around our house. My mother was a warm-natured woman to begin with, so the hot flashes that she endured must have made her feel that she was living in the fiery pit of hell. We had no air conditioning in the house, so her only relief was a window fan. Many nights Mother walked the floor in fits of insomnia that were often brought on by those surging temperatures in her body.

A later condition at least partially attributable to menopause was the increasing fragility of her bones. A woman who had spent her life enjoying manual labor in the yard and at jobs before she became a teacher broke both of her wrists within a few years.

The most frightening aspect of Mother’s journey through menopause concerned her mood swings. She’d always been a stern, no-nonsense kind of parent. Simply put, rules were established, and she expected us boys to abide by them. As she experienced the forces of a hateful invader that comes with age, she often acted as one who had fallen under evil influences. One particular episode remained with us over the years.

On Saturday mornings, we three boys were to clean the house. That meant vacuuming and dusting every room, as well as cleaning sinks, toilets, and closets. Mother fixed pancakes or waffles on those weekend mornings, and we watched cartoon shows and American Bandstand before beginning our work. One Saturday morning, Mother decided that we needed to begin cleaning early. She called to us to begin; in fact, she called twice. After we failed to respond, she squalled like an angry wildcat, “You boys get busy right NOW!” We recognized the change in her voice, but again tempting fate, we returned to the programs on the television.

A few minutes later, I rose and walked into the hall to assemble the vacuum. At that very moment, a jar whizzed by my head and shattered on the door leading to the basement. As I tried to stop my heart from racing and regain my composure, Mother appeared at the other end of the hall. Although she was only five feet, two inches tall, she appeared at that moment to be gigantic. Her eyes shot fire, and my brothers and I knew that she was in the grips of “the change” and that our only way of escaping more ire was to complete our work quickly and quietly.

In later years we boys laughed about the incident., However, Mother always countered, “I never did any such thing.” We had grown into men who had married, and by then, we’d become authorities on the terrible things through which women go. Mother had truly been possessed by the brutal forces of menopause; however, on the other side of the change, we found the same wonderful woman who had always loved us and had given so much of herself to our well-being. Receiving all that love made those difficult times seem rather insignificant.

Joe Rector

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