This was a difficult post to write and to share, yet as ashamed as I am at its content, I need to confess – apparently in a long and disjointed fashion.
I could write books on why I’m not a good person. Let’s just start with one chapter for now, though, shall we?
Let me tell you why I am the world’s worst daughter.
On April 16th of this year, my mother’s car was struck by another car in a low-speed accident. Her airbags deployed, and she sustained a severe concussion, which resulted in traumatic brain injury. In a nutshell, my mother now has dementia induced by physical trauma and cannot remember anything short-term, cannot speak well and cannot read.
Needless to say, she needs a lot of assistance. She cannot drive safely, she cannot work. She hasn’t seen any money from her lost income, and she is at risk of losing her house. She has already lost her job as a psychologist. She is awash in debt and drowning.
Here’s the punch line, though, why I am just an awful excuse for a person: I resent every single second I have to spend helping my mother.
I’m frequently utterly unable to contain my impatience with her. She senses this, and we talk about it sometimes. I apologize for being impatient or for snapping, for for a facial expression I know she interprets, correctly, as frustrated or angry.
A dozen times per day, she offers to pay me “for everything I am doing” for her, and then in the next breath insinuates I am not working hard enough to get the money she needs. Each time, I refuse payment. I tell her I will not be taking money from her now, or ever, regardless of the outcome, regardless of any settlement.
I do not want the strings that come attached to the money.
I am driving her car, because we are both afraid she’ll forget not to drive and try to take herself someplace, become lost or hurt or hurt someone else. It’s a nice car, but not one I would choose myself. She will insist that I drive it as a reward for helping her, and then imply I am putting her out somehow by driving it. I try to give it back, she refuses. I relent.
In truth, I’m really not doing much, certainly not enough. As I tell her I’m not taking any money, that no she should not give me her car to keep, that I just want her to get better, what I don’t add, at least not aloud, is that I want her to get better so she can get back out of my life.
Without Mom’s insistent, intrusive presence in my days, I was so much happier. The drama level went down radically. I felt more peaceful. The nearly two years we went barely speaking to each other were, in truth, fantastic.
We talk about this, too.
She told me she had expected, had wanted, a girlie-girl and she didn’t know what to do with “someone like me,” who was a tomboy, who was adventurous and who wanted nothing whatsoever to do with the little pink frilly shirts, with the sweater vests that had ducks on them, and who instead wanted to play with Tonka trucks and climb trees and go on Adventures.
She said, “I’m sorry it took me so long to accept you for who you are, instead of who I wanted you to be.”
I apologized too, and acknowledged that she is far better at accepting me for who I am now than I am at accepting her for who she is. She is far less harshly judgmental of me than I am of her.
“It’s okay,” she said; “I understand because I’m your mother, and mothers love their children unconditionally. Nothing will ever change that.”
In that moment, briefly, we communicated. She was clear and found the words she needed. She held a train of thought, showed no sign of dementia. We spoke honestly, without reservation, and it was … nice.
My mother is not a bad person. I don’t like her, but I understand her. We have our issues, but it seems all mothers and daughters do. I wish I could be a better daughter for her, but it exceeds my capacities for the time being. I’m doing the best I can, and it frustrates both of us that I’m not doing a better job.
I wish I could be better for her, be the sort of daughter who can come gladly and willingly to help her, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because I want to help her, because I love her, because it’s important, because she needs me, because I know in my heart she would do everything in her power to help me if the situation were reversed.
And yet, I seethe internally. I am so angry at this unscheduled intrusion into my life – the life that’s newly unfolding with Mike.
I loathe her manipulations, her button-pushing, her insistence that she is fully independent – provided she can pay someone to do all of her work for her. When the going gets tough, my mother hires someone. Strength of character is not one of her strong points.
Even though I am not doing a vast amount of work for her, everything feels like extreme effort. It’s difficult to take her to shopping at Meijer’s, a local superstore chain, and watch her doddle and fret about the store. She is only 61, yet she moves and acts as if she were eighty. This isn’t new. My mother is a fretful, anxious woman – I come by it honestly – and it drives me absolutely bonkers.
As she limps down the aisles, she complains about the pain in her foot, yet refuses to get into one of the motorized carts. “No, I need to walk, ouch, it’s good for me.” No, no it isn’t.
My mother’s thought processes have long flied in the face of logic. All she knows, all she can focus on (especially now) is whatever has fixed her OCD attention for the moment. Everything else pales by comparison. Everything else can be rationalized away to fit into This Moment’s Obsession. It is… infuriating.
Last week, she told me her dog’s nails needed to be cut. A few moments later, I knelt by Kavi to do just that, and she said, “no no no, don’t do that! I just cut them two days ago! You’re only supposed to do it once a week.” So I stopped.
Ten minutes later, she asked me if I was going to cut his nails.
“No, you said you just did it two days ago.”
“I don’t remember saying that, I don’t think I did!”
I told her I would cut them next time, because I had reached my limit – how much of my mother I could take in one day. I had to escape, to get away.
It had only been three hours.
I had to go, I needed to storm out. But before I stormed out, I realized I needed to leave with some measure of grace, some kindness and compassion, because even though I do not like my mother, I do feel deep compassion for her. I don’t want her to know how infuriated I am at this entire situation.
No one, of course, chooses to have her parents become elderly and infirm and demented. I thought I would have another fifteen years before I was confronted with becoming a primary caretaker for one of my parents. I’m not ready for this, not in the slightest. I suppose no one ever really is ready for those awful things life throws at us sometimes.
My friend Travis recently lost his father very unexpectedly, very young. One moment, his dad was here and present and loving him and an important part of Travis’ life, and the next, he was in a hospital with a very poor outlook. A few days later… he was gone.
Travis is handling this tragedy remarkably well, or so it seems from my perspective. It’s difficult to know what lurks in his dark hours, what haunts him, what regrets he might have if he does have them, but it’s so clear he and his dad loved each other very much and that Travis misses him.
It forces me to wonder how I would feel if Mom had been killed or if she died even now. Would I have regrets? Very likely. But I know there would also be relief.
There are many people who are so much better than I am, who willingly and gladly step up to help the old and the infirm and the demented – while I make blog posts about how angry I am at my poor mother.
I’m a bad daughter.
But it’s all I can do right now. I only have as much patience as I have, even though I work at it (every day, every minute I am with her.) I resent this happening just as I was starting to get some energy back, starting to have my mental and physical well-being reassert themselves, starting to feel like myself again.
Then this happened and she landed back in my life with a resounding impact.
And I hate it.
Here is a glimpse of the scope of my selfishness and general, overall badness, as if the previous text hasn’t been damning enough.
Sometimes, I envision what it might be like if she couldn’t speak at all – if the accident had left her utterly incapable of forming words. And then I am overcome by a wave of horror that I would even, for a fleeting moment, think of something like that. I ponder to what depths of selfishness I can possibly sink to even partially wish for that in a moment of weakness.
I am appalled at myself. I picture my mom, suffering, and unable to tell us where it hurts, or why she’s confused, or how much she loves her dog, or what she wants to do in her garden, and it brings me to tears – not just the image of her suffering in enforced silence, but that I would be so unkind. And in that moment, I realize more compassion for her than before – but it is still not enough.
Because she begins to speak and I want her to stop talking.
Putting myself in her place, of course she has to talk about it. She is so frustrated, confused and helpless. She is miserable and depressed. In an instant, the carelessness of one individual ruined her life. Tonight, she sent me this, after I emailed an apology for leaving on a bad note earlier. It probably took her 20 minutes to type.
“I’m sorry too. It’s so hard to lose my life. I loved my job and I lost it so fast. I hate being in the house and not being able to do anything. I know you’re doing alot for me, but you don’t keep me in what’s going on. I can’t just act dumb – but I love you and appriate you alot.
Mom has a PhD – she doesn’t make spelling errors, and yet you see them there. She often has to ask me how to spell her last name as she signs documents. Her brain is unraveling.
My mother was a reader of Olympic proportion. She was always reading several books at once, and it was her primary passion in life, second only, perhaps, to gardening.
She can’t read at all now – looking at words on a page nauseates her. She cannot follow a plot, even, so audio books are not an option. One of the things she loves most in life has been ripped away from her in a time when she desperately needs a way to pass the hours.
She’s going crazy, trapped in her house with the tiny yard, with nothing to do but worry and look at bills piling up.
I wish I had infinite gentleness and patience for her, because she needs it and I cannot access it, no matter how hard I might try.
Even though she is infuriating, and confounding, and frustrating, and manipulative, and obsessive, and histrionic… she is still a human being, a person deserving of compassion and kindness in her time of suffering.
My mom wanted a baby because she was lonely. Because she wanted the unconditional love a child brings. Sometimes, I think that was not sufficient reason to have dragged me, kicking and screaming, into this world. But for years, I gave her that unconditional love.
And then… I ran out. I ran out of love for my mother. I have none left, or at least none that I can feel currently.
For those two years we were not on speaking terms, she would still end her emails or voice mails with “I love you.” I never did. I couldn’t bring myself to say it, to lie, even though I know she desperately wanted to hear it. I suppose, perhaps, it was a form of punishment I was inflicting upon her for decades of her various punishments upon me.
After the accident, I began saying it back, began hugging her when I left. It was still a lie, but I thought it might help her. A few days ago, as I was leaving her house:
Mom: “Drive carefully, love you.”
Me: “Love you, too.”
Mom: “Do you really?”
My heart sank. Why did she have to ask, to nail me down on this?
Me: “Well, sometimes.”
She laughed, with surprising genuineness. “But not today, huh?”
Me: “No, today wasn’t too bad really. We did ok today, right?”
I do wonder what it’s like to know your child doesn’t love you.
While I don’t hate her, I do not love her, I do not even like her. We’ve acknowledged on several occasions how we do not get along, we are Very Different Sorts of People who would not choose each other’s company, we damage and twist each other.
Sadly, we are stuck with each other. I am an only child, she has no romantic partner. Her only good friend is dying of stage four breast cancer. Her business partner will do what he has to do as he watches their practice crumble around him. A few other casual friends don’t come by often. She has alienated her neighbors and estranged her sisters.
Tonight after work, I stopped by to drop off the tiny amount of money I got for selling some of her hardcover books and to look at some hornets’ nests she was worried about. I’d hoped it would be a mercifully brief visit.
As I was getting ready to leave, she fixated on some paperwork she wanted to give me, and set about searching high and low for it. Slowly. After ten minutes or so, I made my first attempt at departure, saying the dogs needed to go out – which they absolutely did.
“You never spend any time with me! You’re always in such a rush to leave!”
This, she remembers.
“Mom, I’m sorry I don’t have all the time in the world for you.”
“I don’t even know what’s going on or when I’ll get any money or how I’m going to live or even feed my dog!”
“I promise, I’m not going to let you starve.”
“But you have to keep me informed, you have to tell me what’s going on!”
I have, at many turns, kept her informed. This, she forgets.
“Mom, you’re forgetting things and that’s ok, but you just have to trust me that I’m doing whatever I can to get the money coming in, I promise.”
This is Truth. I talk to doctors, lawyers, accountants and insurance companies on her behalf almost every day.
All she knows, though, is that she is miserable and broke and alone and has no brain left. And that her daughter wants nothing to do with her.
I cannot bring myself to fake enthusiasm. I cannot even summon up simple grace and gentleness.
What the hell is wrong with me?
Surely there will be some karmic comeuppance for this.
And I will deserve every little bit of it.
There is so much more I want to get out, to confess, but I would imagine no one has read down this far and I’m out of the ability to express anything meaningful.