RSS Feed
Sep 24

A caregiver’s confessions

Posted on Thursday, September 24, 2009 in Me, Mom

I didn’t want to visit my mother yesterday. I was glad that her doctor had gotten ill and her appointment had to be rescheduled. I wouldn’t have to see her. I’d had a week of vacation and then saw my mother just two days prior and took her for an echocardiogram. Wasn’t that enough? But I didn’t feel like any of that was an excuse. Mom is still quite delightful most of the time, so that wasn’t an excuse either. I just didn’t want to see her again this week. Of course, I made the 45-minute drive out there anyway. And stayed for only 15 minutes more than it took me to get there.

Mom has always been very independent. She turned down several marriage proposals and never even said yes to my father whom she married at age 32. She married because she wanted children. I came along when she was 40. She was never my friend; always my mother. And she insisted that I, too, be independent. Vulnerability has replaced the countenance of strength I grew used to. So it feels wrong to have her dependent on me and for me to be taking care of her.

She handled all the finances in our home and for our church. Now I’ve tried to make sure that all her bills come straight to my home. Otherwise they will be lost. I received a new check card for her in the mail today and can’t decide if I’m going to allow her to have it or not. Allow her to have it. Allow her. But she’s given her number out to scam artists before and I don’t know if she will again. Am I protecting her or restricting her by keeping the card?

To add to my confession, I must say that I applied for a full-time job this week. This feels like a betrayal of my commitment to her care. I’m lucky that I can survive without working, but I need the order and stimulation and human contact work provides. Mom might be healthy enough now that she won’t need more than a couple of doctor visits a month now. She’s walking more and seems to be breathing with more ease. So I’m hopeful.

But there always a but, a however, an on-the-other-hand. She seems to be coming out of her delirium, but that doesn’t mean that the dementia is any better. She’s lost her keys twice this week, is convinced that another woman is wearing her clothes, doesn’t recognize some of her own clothing, and is absolutely unable to determine if it’s night or day. She’s also convinced that her stomach was operated on recently. Does any of this mean that she needs me? It certainly means that I feel a need to be with her for as long as she’s able to recognize and welcome me.

Last week I resolved to not contradict Mom unless it was medically necessary. I would allow her her own reality, even if it didn’t correspond with mine or make sense to me. Then yesterday I tried to convince her that a sweater was hers by showing all the hairs on it that matched her own. And, in jest, I accused her of being anorexic because of her obsession with the size of the belly on her tiny little 87 pound frame. I think I hurt her; I know if confused her. I’m not sure that I erased all that by kissing her on the nose. But I might have. I think I still have that much power.

The power to make Mom laugh or feel love is one that I enthusiastically embrace. It makes up for the boredom of sitting with her as she looks through her purse or wonders again about where the cars go that drive by. She was always unconditional in her love for me and for my sister and I think I can reflect that back. It’s the power over her finances, her health care, her access to the world outside her assisted living home that makes me uncomfortable and uncertain.

It used to be, only a year or so ago, that if I called my mother twice during a week, she would express dismay at the frequency. She’s ask me if something was wrong. For most of my adult life she lived hundreds of miles away and we found that a monthly letter and quarterly phone call was just about the right amount of contact. We each had our own lives and these lives intersected only in our hearts and during the one- or twice-a-year visits.

So my twice-weekly visits feel like an interruption in my life. I chose not to have children and I chose a spouse with whom I can enjoy parallel play. I see my closest friends only occasionally. Perhaps I haven’t grown up enough to learn how to be generous with my time and attention for extended periods. Or maybe I’m not so selfish and am really lucky that I still experience love and affection from my mother. At some point the dementia might take that away. I could be trying to distance myself from that day by distancing myself from Mom now. I guess I’ll leave the judgment up to you readers and any psychologists in the audience.

Jul 9

Now I’m the mama

Posted on Thursday, July 9, 2009 in Mom

Mom has always introduced me to her friends as her baby. Now intros are “This is my baby. But now I’m the baby and she’s the mama.” I’m not sure how to be mama. I’ve never been a mother before.

During my father’s aging, illness, and dying he required me only as daughter. I could comfort, bathe, and listen to him as a daughter. He didn’t need a mother. But Mom does. I don’t know if it’s because she lost her mother in her teens or her spouse isn’t living or if it’s because of her dementia. No matter the reason, this new role makes me a little uncomfortable.

Notes on a daughter becoming her mother’s mom

– New mothers usually know when they assume this role. There’s a pregnancy, birth, adoption, marriage, or other specific event. I don’t know when I took on the role.

– New mothers have events to look forward to and enjoy: first step, music recital, graduation, etc. I look forward to a first fall, loss of vocabulary, a funeral. Mothers get to watch their children learn, develop, and form attachments. I get to watch my mother forget and shrink and lose her appetites.

– Being a daughter attaches you to your mother in wondrous ways. So does becoming the mother to one’s mother.

– Daughters experience guilt. Mothers experience guilt. My mother seldom made me feel guilty as a child. But now I ask myself if I’m doing everything she expects of me or everything I should be doing for her. Am I messing her up somehow? Is this a daughter’s guilt or a mother’s?

– Literature and drama portray daughters in terms of obeying their fathers and fighting with their mothers. Or, less often, fighting the father and obeying the mother. Either way it’s about adolescence. The experience of the 40 to 80 year-old daughter is usually ignored.

– Filling the role of a daughter as an adult requires a shift in one’s self perceptions as to what it means to be an adult.

– Becoming your mother’s mother requires and even greater shift.

– Mothers of children easily form communities with other mothers. They run into each other everywhere. Daughters-turned-mothers are also everywhere but unseen. We merely nod to each other when passing in apartment, nursing home, or hospital corridors.

– For me, motherhood won’t last more than a few years. It’s not a lifetime thing. For others this daughter-as-mother role can last as long as childhood.

– Sometimes you return to being a daughter in order to be a better mother. This syntax is just as cumbersome and awkward in real life as it is in a sentence.

– This is the only form of motherhood I’ll ever know.

May 7

Mom’s mail

Posted on Thursday, May 7, 2009 in Mom

I’m going to try to write myself through some anger and frustration with my mother. I know everyone gets upset with their mother at times, but I’m not terribly familiar with it. My mother has to be the easiest person on earth to get along with. She takes nothing personally and never really learned how to do the guilt thing. She controlled my behavior by praising me whenever I was a good Do-Bee. She’s a little gem.

I recall the time she read my diary when I was in second grade and she asked what I meant about my friends and I having talked dirty at recess. I just looked at her in alarm. She simply instructed me on how to close my diary after making an entry and suggested placing it somewhere other than the top of my dresser. When my high school friend told her we had been smoking cigarettes Mom just looked at me and told me that she was surprised I’d make such a stupid decision. When I came out to her in my 20s she cried her eyes out and then told me she loved me. There’s really been very little for us to argue about.

So I’m a little ashamed to be so angry at her for simply not throwing away her mail. Yesterday I was at her apartment and there was opened and unopened mail on her kitchen counter, dining table, coffee table and ironing board. There were even stacks in the TV cabinet, her closet and her underwear drawer. Every time I visit her, I steal some of her stash. She gets solicitations from cancer and Alzheimer’s groups, from Indian schools, from various support the troops and injured veterans groups, multiple support the disadvantaged organizations, and from every social security lobbying or scam group in the United States.

She sometimes sends these groups money. It’s very important to her that she can make charitable contributions and they are never over seven dollars and fifty cents. I know this because I’m on her bank account. I don’t want to take away from her that opportunity to feel like she’s helping others. She’s 88 and that’s about all she has to offer now. She’s in subsidized housing herself and I’m proud of her for still giving money to others.

But it drives me insane. Absolutely batty. My mother used to be very neat and tidy. The volumes of mail cause her a lot of distress. But she won’t let me discard a single envelope. She has to shred anything with her name on it and she’s afraid I’ll throw away something that identifies her. I offer to take items home to shred them for her. No deal. She trusts me to pay all her bills, but not to shred a letter from her congressman.

This drives me crazy. So crazy that I yelled at her for hoarding her mail. Keep in mind that I’m yelling at a woman who owns hearing aids but never puts them in. So I don’t even know if she knew I was yelling at her.

I’m sure it’s not the mail I’m upset about. It’s the watching my former bookkeeper mother lose skills and memory. I hate it. It was easier to watch my father lose all his muscles. I expected that to happen. I didn’t expect to see my mother in such a state that she can’t remember having made coffee an hour prior or forgetting to put the water in the coffeemaker. Mom always took care of me. Now she follows me around like a trusting toddler. I fear having to put her in an assisted living facility far from her friends. And I fear becoming an orphan.