Yesterday something got me thinking about my mother and her last years. So much there to ask forgiveness for. I was thinking about how hard it was for me to touch her. Even when she begged for it, begged for a hug, said, ‘all I want is a hug.’ Oh, I’d give her a hug, but it would be quick and I would withdraw from it after never fully engaging in it. I know that sounds horrible. I feel horrible thinking about it.
What I remember is I was reluctant to touch her early on during the period when she was being diagnosed with dementia. Reluctant because if I got physically close to her, she became like a little girl, clinging to me. It felt like she was going to try to crawl into my lap. I couldn’t…I couldn’t hold my mother in my lap and I was terrified she would ask that of me. So I kept her at arm’s length.
During that same time, she became unable to be alone in her apartment in the retirement community. I hired an agency to provide companions, some of whom were dreadful. One took my mother out and had her buy her a pizza. That’s another brick in the shame wall, that I put my mother in the care of strangers who were not good people, who took advantage of her. One talked so angrily about her behavior that I let her go. And for nearly two weeks, I spent every night there at her apartment.
That was the last fall my son Patrick was alive. He was 19. I was driving him to work at two jobs, to outpatient drug abuse treatment, to AA meetings.I was exhausted after nearly a year of that. Fear and worry percolated through me constantly. So, I’d be picking up Patrick at the mall at 9:30 pm, sometimes going to get fast food with him, dropping him off at his home, then driving back to Westminster to knock at mom’s door by 10, trying to get there before the companion left. I remember one night how she greeted me at the door, so happy to see me, as though we were having a girls’ night, a slumber party. I don’t remember what I said, but I remember how I felt. I felt snarly and angry that I had to be there. That I’d be spending another night away from my home, my husband, that I’d be waking up in the morning to start the whole routine again.
She didn’t like me to have the tv on those nights. No matter how low I had the volume, she heard it from the next room and it frightened her. She would hear it as people murmuring threatening things. But I needed the tv, the rhythm of the voices, to fall asleep. One night she spent two hours, until well after midnight, with her apartment door open, sitting in the doorway trying to sort her laundry to leave it for pick-up.. Another night, I sat helplessly while she obsessed over her keys. She was trying to identify them, making incomprehensible marks on a piece of paper. Nothing distracted her from this task. I had a knitting project with me and I remember working on it those nights, I have a lot of knitting projects that carry the memory and energies of traumatic events. That one was a kind of fine, fuzzy pale green yarn - I think it was an alpaca lace shawl. I never finished it, it was such a painful reminder of those nights. I bound it off, unfinished. It’s a big swatch, a gauge sample of despair.
I feel badly about how ungracious I was those nights. The only question now is: can I forgive myself? Can I forgive that exhausted woman, nourished only by cookies, fast food and Lean Cuisine frozen entrees, grabbed and microwaved in the scarce minutes she got to spend at home? I was alone on a front line of the suffering of two people I loved dearly, watching both my son and mother falling, unable to save them, but trying so hard, standing there calling and calling and calling to them, throwing useless ropes, searching for help for them…finding none, wearing myself out.
Can I forgive that woman I was? The woman who was to lose that son at the next spring equinox? Who faced that grief while losing her mother slowly and painfully over the next two years?
Have I suffered enough? Can I feel worthy of a happy life now?
Today is the 4th anniversary of my mother’s death. Valentine’s Day. Love, love, love. She would want me to forgive myself. I believe with all my heart that she has forgiven me. It’s me that needs to forgive me.
In the last 6 weeks of her life, I was able to touch my mother. When I saw the woman from Eldercare kneel in front of her and lovingly take her hands and touch her with great kindness, deepest compassion, I saw how it comforted my mother, how it became a great tenderness in the room and I began to do the same. At that point, I wouldn’t have cared if Mama climbed into my lap. I would have rocked her and rocked her.
Leaves, 2008, knitted in my mother's room in the last days of her life
Pins, 2008, made for the wonderful caregivers my mother had in the last days of her life
(Afterthoughts. Seems odd to call this a valentine.I struggled with posting this at all. I finally decided this is very much about love. )