I had a few minutes alone with my mother at her rehab facility. It’s a nursing home, really…but ardly the sad, urine stenched homes for the elderly they used to be. While it still doesn’t scream hope, it doesn’t scream hopelessness either.
But the reality is, my mother is 87 which means everything else about her is 87. Muscles, eyes, lungs, toenails….everything. I used to be bothered when she’d complain of being tired for what seemed like no apparent reason. But that was just her age and my denial.
She’s not sure why she’s at this place. She had a fall but has tried to explain eight different times with eight different explanations how she landed on the floor, but it wasn’t a fall, she insists. It was, says every test and professional who has evaluated her.
We showered her with flowers, cards and balloons on Mother’sDay. Half of her grandchildren were there; that delighted her. The rest who live farther away will come later.
As her family, we did as we were told–we bought familiar things from her home, which only confusesd her more. Photos, her favorite pillows, her books. She has scoffed at this, telling us we’re wasting our time since she’s moving back home “tomorrow”. Everyday, she plans to leave “tomorrow”.”. She claims for the past serveral days, someone in scrubs or a white coat has told her she’s going home “tomorrow”. So, everything we bring, she immediately packs in preparation for going home tomorrow, a day that will most likely never come.
I watched her today and, listened to her speak and could barely control the rage and anger I felt at dementia. It is like ALS in its insidiousness. My mother is trapped in a body that moves, controlled by a mind that is fragmented. Her brain has shrunk, as have the cranial veins that controls blood flow. The myelin which encases the brain is thinning. Her tests all prove what her confusion suggests.
She has moments, sometimes hours of keen memory that can go back decades. She can be remarkably precise. Then in a flash, she has no idea who she’s talking to, or where she is. Her mood is stable one minute, depressed and angry the next.
I’ve had a contentious relationship with my mother all my life. The stork, we agreed had the wrong address with me, baby number three. I’m the youngest of three daughters. I moved to this burgeoning Texas Hill Country city five years ago when my middle sister who was here, moved to South Texas to start a new life.. I came here to seek redemption with my mother before one of us died, In some ways, we came close to achieving it, in other ways, we came nowhere near it But we managed to maintain a relationship that worked in its own unique, if not conflicted way.
We’ve had massive fights ending in being incommunicado for years. Prior to her recent fall and this oddly seemingly overnight increase in dementia. I’ve had little patience with her and when she acted like a child, I treated her like a child, When she yelled at me, I yelled back. I’d try to help her in and out of cars only to get screamed at, hands slapped, the whole nine yards, but if I didn’t offer help, I was accused of agism. There was no winning. There was never any winning.
My Mother can still be be vicious and cruel. Her friends and associates, many cousins and our contemporaries don’t believe me or my sisters when we’ve said she could be be mean; they say she’s the sweetest thing and such a little doll. Well, as it happens she can be a very cruel,little doll at 87…..just as as she was at 79…60…50 and earlier. She has her psychological and emotional demons that she both fought and invited in.
But in the grand scheme of things, none of that matters. It takes everything you possess not to allow a sad, tragic past dictate an old, feeble woman’s present. I can’t speak for my sisters.; they both have their own stories, but while I have a hundred reasons to do as so many adult children have……dump their parents at these facilities and never see them again. They write a check each month, just enough to keep them fed and clothed and medicated and that’s the extent of their relationship.
I used to think the people who did this were such selfish, uncaring assholes. I’ve since learned that very often neglectful younger parents end up as neglected senior citizens. After their horrible childhoods, writing a check is the most affection their children can muster, but I….we….can’t do that to our mother. The words, “I love you” don’t come easy for any of us, but we honor her by making her comfortable and try to allay her fears and confusion. That’s all our weaponry since “I love you” is hard to say, it was never said growing up. But she’ll get angry at us as she realizes her new normal is as abnormal as hell. All we can do out best as a family is to try our best to make her last years on this earth seem reasonable to a woman who loses logic daily.
In addition to dementia, she has advanced kidney disease. Other organs will soon follow them down the failure trail. I know my days with her are numbered and my days of having coherent conversations will end even sooner. So, I say all I can….all I’m capable off. I’ll try to say more in the time I’ve got left. Regrets after death can bea killer.
I feel extraordinary guilt for losing my patience with her. Time after time….for the fights, for not properly deflecting the animus flung my way that often comes with her bags, disposition and disease. I feel bad for constantly rolling my eyes and all the sighs I exhale due to her slowness, I’m sorry for feeling so angry at her refusal for whatever reason she chooses note to wear the hearing aid she so desperstely needs. I get angry at her obstansance; at our parent/child role reversal. I Remember getting angry at what were lies ten years ago and even angrier that they’re now delusions.
And then Imget angry at myself for being the single most heartless bitch for feeling this way. But in some ways I must ask, did she give me an emotional option?
I need to fix things….like a hole in the roof before it rains.
I have several things to say to my mother in the next few days…important things that she’ll either understand or not, but these are things important for me to say out loud. Things I need to say and hear myself saying them more than she needs to hear them….at this stage anyway.
I must apologize to her and forgive myself.