I try to answer every question like it is the first time she is asking it. My mother takes my answers, interprets them into her own renditions, and sets off on a path of thought that at times are completely different from what’s really going on.
I am beginning to release the idea that it matters whether she understands the situation in its entirety, because really, it doesn’t.
She also alters memories that the two of us shared, and swaps me out with Emerson. I was defensive at first…but now I figure she needs those altered renditions more than I need her to remember them accurately. I’m a phone call away and E. is not.
The biggest alteration I recently dealt with is Mom interpreted that E. moved to Milwaukee instead of California. She kept calling to ask me when he was coming to visit her and why he won’t answer his phone. The cycle of this reoccuring conversation had me repeating the answers:
No mom, he’s in California.
I don’t know when he’s coming back.
His cats are here. He’ll probably come back for his cats.
…until I lost it. The pain in the center of my throat from the questions rose up and out of me and I yelled as loud as I could over the phone the answers for what felt like the billionth time. I added that I was tired of accounting for the missing dick-heads, and that I didn’t want to talk about them anymore, and if she had something else she wanted to talk about or ask me, then fine, but in the meantime, I’m done answering questions and comisserating about the missing dick-heads in our lives!
She hasn’t called back.
I loaded up my truck with clutter this past weekend. It felt great. I pretended I was moving to Hawaii to live with Thomas Magnum, P.I. He will protect me and we will spend the days drinking beer and swimming in the tidal pool.
The clutter is all going to Good Will this afternoon. I also went through a box of letters. Most were from my parents, encouraging me to stay strong and hopeful. I threw them away.
It occurred to me, I might have what it takes to make my mom better, or I very well might not. Making mom better requires me to relocate back home and get mom to take the medications, exercise and socialize. I would take charge of cleaning and fixing up her house, maybe get a job at CVS, give up what I have here and try to be content with there. If that’s not the formula for full-force resentment, I don’t know what is.
I keep thinking about an episode of The Office. In it, Holly has a conversation with her parents over the phone and realizes within the conversation that they’re senile and she has to move back home to help them. She asks Michael to marry her, and off they go to take care of the folks.
The State of Illinois and the doctors have given up on my mom. She is stubborn and has no clue the seriousness of her condition. She refuses any change we try to implement. It’s my turn to either step in with a vengeance, or look the other way and ride the days until something comes up that will force the changes to occur.
I’ve decided I deserve to be happy just as much as the next person does. I’m tired, and I don’t have what it takes to hope for the best outcome anymore.
I’m placing all bets on me, and putting all others out of my line of sight. If it doesn’t work, I’ll only have myself to blame.
I’m not wandering down there with tonics and pills to try to make her better. I’m not stressing to her the importance of her medications, with the hope that it will be the time it finally gets through to her, going over them with her again, explaining what each of them are for. I’m letting go.
Something doesn’t sit right with not being proactive in the care of an elderly parent, but it sits better than the alternative. Maybe Holly in The Office is just a very kind and gentle soul who has a great relationship with her folks and so there was no question as to her role with her aging parents, but tell me, what would you do, or what have you done in this situation? When nothing you attempt to do seems to be working, when do you decide it’s time to finally let go? Are you a sacrificial lamb, or do you do what’s right for you? I’ll leave you with a story I stumbled on by accident when I was looking up information on the story by Shel Silverstein called The Giving Tree:
A mother bird and her three fledglings came to the bank of a river, too wide for the young ones to cross on their own. Taking the first fledgling onto her wing, the mother bird began to carry him across, and while over the middle of the river she asked him the following question: “My dear son, when I am old and too feeble to fly far, will you carry me across?” Promptly and respectfully, her son replied, “Of course, mama,” whereupon the mother bird dropped him into the water below to drown. Repeating the test on her next fledging, she elicited the same response, and so dropped him, too, into the waters below. Gathering up her last fledgling, the mother bird administered her test one last time: “My dear son, when I am old and too feeble to fly far, will you carry me across?” Unlike his brothers, the last fledgling slowly but thoughtfully replied, “No mother, I will not do it for you, but I will do it for my own children.” The mother bird, now happily assured of her future, flew her son across the river and lovingly deposited him on its distant shore.
My therapist gave me permission to let my mom go (for somewhat similar reason yet different situation). If you lose yourself, you do this world no good.
I have 2 friends right now that are looking for hospice care for their moms. I have another friend who is doing it all herself and is just short of needing meds or going mad herself.
I think you read my story, but if you didn’t here it is:
This is a very heavy coat to wear.
Yes, I did read your story and I really feel for you. You are such a strong woman Heather. Life can be so sad.
The best advice I ever got from my brother, who also lives in California was “Don’t give up your life for hers” when referring to our aging, senile mother. Frankly, I was surprised at how maternal I felt toward her but I knew better than to have her move in with us. I arranged the best housing for her (and the government funding to pay for it), 20 minutes from our house, made the doctor appointments and attended with her, and spent every Monday with her for the last 6 years of her life. I vowed that “Mother Mondays” would be fun and filled with joy and laughter since I never knew which one would be the last. I answered her questions repeatedly and discovered that if I wrote things down she could read and re-read them until they sometimes sunk in.
You don’t have to give up your life, Anna but you do need to take charge of your mother’s life and make the decisions that need to be made. Ignoring is neither a viable nor humane option. Move her to Milwaukee immediately. She will eventually forget the move. There are assisted living facilities that can monitor her food and meds intake and provide a safe, comfortable living environment including exercise classes. And there’s government funding to pay for it. It’s called Family Care. Check with the WI Department on Aging. Hurry before our dear Governor cuts the funding!
Thank you for this great advice, from you and your brother. I never wrote you back when you emailed this to me before. I am choked on the fact that I will not be granted power of attorney until something happens to prove that my mother is a risk to herself or others. Since nothing like this has happened, she is still in charge of her decisions. She is waiting for the market to get better before she sells the home. I asked her doctor, “So, we just have to wait for the house to burn down or her hip to break before we can take the next steps?” He walked out on me when I asked that question and the nurse told me she was sorry. I should be thankful that it hasn’t come to that, but now, I’m supposed to just wait? Her neighbors have been looking out for her and buying her groceries, mowing the lawn, fixing house repairs. I don’t know how long their kindness will last, but they warned that it’s not going to be too long until she’s going to need more assistance than they can offer and suggested that I take her around to see different places to live. So, that’s what I’ve been trying to do, but she threatens to call her lawyer and acuses me of trying to take her money whenever I do. I’ll look into Family Care and ask some questions. Thanks again.
Anna, get a different doctor for your mother. It’s not that hard to have her declared unable to make appropriate decisions for herself. One of the early signs of dementia is unrealistic suspicion of others. See a doctor who specializes in geriatrics. Department on Aging has resources.
I write letters back and forth to the mother I gave up. She is aging but not aged or senile, nor very far away but still, her mental state is such that my therapist, my husband, and often myself think it is better than I don’t see her. For my daughter’s sake, I put my own life first and leave her to her own devices. I think often about who will take care of her when she is old and I don’t have a good answer yet. I hope there is someone, I’m not sure I will be capable. I suppose I’m a bit like the third bird in your story.
I’m glad you have the support and people who love and care about you. It must be hard, especially during this time of coming into the role as a new mother yourself. I’m sorry Amber. From what I can see, you are doing a wonderful job of mothering, despite your circumstances, and I can’t wait to see that baby of yours. Don’t get mad at me if I squeeze her, I won’t squeeze that hard I promise.