Life has a way of making you feel small and helpless even when you are big and strong.
When I was a little girl I was a soft hearted soul, or, in the words of my older brother, a cry baby.
My dad used to enjoy reducing me to tears by reminding me that he and my mom would both die someday. If I didn’t get upset enough by his teasing, he would ratchet it up a notch by taunting me saying
“You don’t love me as much as you love mommy – you won’t cry when I die – only when mommy dies.”
By this point 8 year old me would be on the floor by my mom’s knees crying “I don’t want you to die!”
My dad clearly had issues, and his taunting no doubt contributed to my life long fear of abandonment. A fear that increased that November day in 1968 when his heart gave out while I was sitting in Geometry class daydreaming about asking Gary Bodnar to the Christmas Formal.
If my father’s death defined my adolescence, love her or hate her, as I did in equal measure, my mother’s life defined my adulthood. Through rebellion, anger, make ups, marriages, divorces, and children she and I have done an elaborate dance of co-dependence over the past four decades.
She has saved my life and treated me badly. I have cared for her through serious illness with compassion only to turn around years later to reject her and, in anger and hurt, say the most unspeakable things.
I have waited for her to love me unconditionally, just as she waited for that same unconditional love from her mother.
My mother, I have been told, by my brother’s widow, to whom my mother signed over all her decision making powers just after my brother’s death, has vascular dementia. That she deigned to speak with me at all to relay this information, is nothing short of a miracle. When I objected to my mother’s decision to sign everything over to her, without consultation with the family, I became persona non grata to all of them.
My brother’s widow, rich, cold and formidable, made sure of this. My mother was complicit in the shunning, choosing holidays with the widow and her expensive dog, rather than with the black sheep daughter and her children.
That episode led to my anger and many unkind words.
Now our dance is coming to an end. In lucid moments, my mother tells me she regrets her decision. She tells me over and over again she is sorry. I tell her over and over again, I am sorry. I tell her I wish I had the financial resources to take care of her. I tell her I am grateful that the widow can take care of all the things that need taking care of now.
My mom tells me she feels safest when I am there. She tells me that the day we have just spent together has been the best she has had in months. I sit at her feet and cry a little and then remind her that her memory is shot so how can I be sure she is telling me the truth. We laugh a little sad laugh together.
My mom hears the widow’s truck in the driveway and her smile fades. She gets up quickly because she does not want the widow to see the little bag of paper towels and toilet paper she has packed up to give her unemployed daughter.
My heart falls; my stomach churns. The widow breezes in but does not stay. There is more to the beeze than meets the eye. In an offhand comment she conveys a fact that I should have known – my mother had overdosed on Aricept a day earlier. She was surprised (?) my mother (who lest you forget has dementia) forgot to tell me about the one sentence note that she put in my mom’s little purse. The note that said – C. took 2 1/2 aricept. You see I needed to know this because I was the one taking my mom to the doctor, to an appointment that was made the day before because she had become so weak.
No one thought to actually pick up the phone and communicate this fact – that my mom had taken 2 times the medication she should have.
The widow is packing away groceries, efficient and precise while I stand there feeling superfluous. My mom looks guilty; she seems to get more confused. The widow slices an orange and puts some grapes in front of my mom. My mom sits like a docile child while the widow dispenses her evening meds and tells her to eat a grape so the pills go down easy.
My head is spinning. Spinning that I did not know about the overdose – spinning at the thought that there is even more I do not know.
My mother asks the widow to stay and eat with us. The widow is too busy she says – she laughs a bit too loud and says “everyone needs me.” Then the widow goes across the hall to my mother’s neighbor, who is the widow’s mole, where she stays another 30 minutes while my mother frets about why the widow will not share a meal with us.
I put my mom at ease and try to break the tension with a little joke.
Once my mom sees that the widow has left the building she relaxes a bit. We sit and laugh and visit. Everything bad is forgotten. For the two of us now all that exists is this moment. My mommy, tiny, barely 100 pounds, sitting in her faded green chair with me at her feet. My head on her knee, her hand on my head. The unconditional love we have waited for is here, has always been here, will always be here.
That was yesterday; tonight I am at my home. My mom is with the widow. I wonder if she remembers that yesterday was her best day. I am afraid she will forget me. My heart hurts.
I want my mommy.