Wednesday, March 11, 2009


"... we had always had a complicated relationship. We loved each other deeply, but like I was not easy. I'll just say it as it was, she was not an easy person to be around, and out of frustration, and sometimes anger, I didn't always do all I could to make it any easier..." These words from my friend, Pat's blog, jumped out at me today. They captured exactly how I have been feeling.
This morning was a tough one. As I was fixing my mom's breakfast I thought, "This is why God gave me only one child. He knew I would be parenting my mom for all these years." And today, I felt much too old and too tired for a giant toddler. That is why my friend's words spoke so loudly to me.
Growing up, my mom was probably the perfect mom. She was a scout leader, artistic, creative, committed to her children's pursuits. I remember that near our birthdays, she would ask what kind of cake we wanted. It didn't matter what we came up with, she would find a way to make it. Probably the most difficult was the year my brother asked for an aircraft carrier cake. And at his birthday party, there was a replica of the aircraft carrier my dad served on in the U.S. Navy, complete with airplanes made out of lifesavers and sticks of gum, lined up on the deck!
When I was 11, my parents had a meeting to tell us that they were divorcing. I had to move into the master bedroom for awhile when my dad took up residence in my room. I don't remember much about sharing that room with my mom, except I used to like looking through her jewelry box and this gave me plenty of opportunity. My parents went on to divorce and my dad eventually exchanged our family for a new one. We became step-children. I know everyone tried very hard to co-mingle the two families...but as Pat said..."It's complicated!"
My mom became a working mom. Something that was very uncommon back when I was a kid. Divorce was still a word that was whispered in polite company. I remember putting on birthday parties for her and inviting all her friends from work. But somewhere along the way we lost each other. She abdicated her role as parent, probably because she was exhausted from work, and I pretty much became my own boss.
Over the years, as I graduated from high school and college, married, set up my own household, and became a successful business woman, that small fissure that had begun in our relationship, widened. While I loved my mom, she was not the person I turned to with my joys and fears. She was involved in my life, of course, but things were just different.
While my journey as her emotional caretaker had begun soon after her divorce, my journey as physical caretaker started when I was pregnant. I began doing my mom's laundry since she was now in a wheelchair. That is how everyone was first alerted that I had gone into labor. I didn't pick up her laundry that morning and no one could reach me all day.
As the years wore on, her physical needs became greater and greater. Her world shrank and she didn't seem to mind at all. She was happy. We (my brothers and I) made modifications to her home so she could maintain the most mobility and independence. But somehow, she didn't see things that way. She does not like change. And there had to be changes. She resented us for those changes, not seeing the sacrifices that our families made to allow her to stay in her own home. Ah, it got complicated!
Now, my mom is just a shadow of her old self really. The other day I got her dressed and then forgot to tell her to sit down in her wheelchair. I took her soiled laundry downstairs to the washer and heard yelling. I ran up the stairs and there was my mom, gripping onto her walker, not knowing what to do next because I had neglected to remind her to sit down in her wheelchair. Or, the day last week my daughter called me in tears asking if I could come home. My mom had left the water running in the sink and flooded the bathroom, enough so that water dripped into the basement below. Sometimes she remembers how to use the telephone, and other times she can't figure it out. Every day is different. Some are fine and fairly easy. Some are not so easy. Like life, I guess.
Sometimes we see glimpses of my "old" mom...the way she used to be. She lights up whenever any of my brothers come over. Sometimes, her voice sounds exactly like it used to...strong and confident. She loves the caregiver that comes twice a week to help out...they laugh and joke and my mom is soooo happy when she is there.
I have helped a number of my friends place their parents in senior care. Why do I keep trying to take care of my mom at home? It's complicated. Part of the reason is...she wants to be at home. I will never forget the way she cried when I told her she was coming home during her last nursing home rehab. Part of the reason dad never took good care of my mom. She deserved better than he was able to give her and I guess I am trying to make up for that. And part of the reason is...I am afraid my mom, the essence of who she is, will disappear completely soon. And I want to do everything to prolong that inevitability. And part of the reason is....God created me to be a nurturer. So many times, I have felt God speaking to my heart, letting me know that I am fulfilling a part of His purpose, by caring for my mom. And part of the reason is....I want to teach my daughter that family sticks together, even when the road gets very, very hard. And part of the reason is...she is my mom and I am her daughter. It's just complicated.
Pat, I have told you many times that you have been a blessing and have helped me cope with caring for my mom, in your own experiences with your mom. Thank you for doing that yet again. There is a freedom and strength that comes from letting go and saying "it is hard and difficult...complicated really". And from being understood.
Image taken from here.


Crown of Beauty said...

After reading your post, I also went to read the post you referred to from Pat's blog. Both of your posts made me teary eyed while reading them. It IS complicated, and there are no easy answers. Just want you to share with you what God spoke to me about 18 months ago as I was about to move to Thailand. He said, "I will even out the score in the end." If life has not been fair, and people who should have cared did not do their part... wounding and sending false identity messages ... and somehow it seems that there are some wounds that remain fresh and bleeding underneath the surface... keep holding on and never let go. God will even out the score in the end. Thanks for sharing your heart.

Pat said...

You have me crying. I've often thought of how much you deal with. I had to quit work to care for my mother, I just didn't have the strength to do both. You are an incredible woman and a wonderful daughter.
In my moments of feeling my lowest, I always knew I couldn't stop being the are the same.
One of my greatest gifts came from Sara when she told me..."by my faithfulness, Our broken relationship will be healed in heaven and I will have the mother I always longed for". That makes every tear worthwhile.
I think of you so often and when I do I pray for you..hugs.

Margie said...

What a great post. I sat at my desk and held back the tears.

what a great daughter you are.

Trish said...

This brought back so many see My husband and I cared for his parents as they grew older. His Mom had Alzheimers and after awhile we had no choice but to put her in a Nursing home. It was complicated...sobbing uncontrollably as we left her there the first night. Feeling such guilt! But she remembered us to the end. And of her 5 sons and daughters-in-law we were the ones she still recognized. To see her face light up and hear her say My Son, my son when he entered her room made everything worthwhile.
You are a a nurturer and that is your gifting from are remarkable and this touched me deeply!
You will surely be in my prayers.