Don’t Let The Smiles Fool You
Tonight I returned my mom to her assisted living facility after being out of town with us the past week of Christmas. For the 3 hour drive down, she insisted that she needed to stop by her home. We are currently renovating it and there is nothing left that she would either want or need. But she continued to insist that she needed her gloves. That she wanted to eat another meal there. I had to fight her and not allow her to return to her home. To the house that once was hers and legally still is hers but that I had to take away from her. Do you know what that feels like? To be the mean one to your own parent, the one who used to be the mean one to you, making all the impossible rules you had to live by but which you spent every second of your teenaged being trying to undo and bypass? I’m so very tired of saying no, knowing that it’s the right thing to do and hating every single second of it…this isn’t what I imagined being a grown-up would be like.
My father flew way over the cuckoo’s nest over 11 years ago and I suppose I should have paid better attention throughout his mental and physical deterioration but I was parenting two kids in elementary and middle schools and really expected my mom to hold that part together. When she was incapable of doing so, I bumbled through with the stoicism of a Wall Street partner watching her empire implode. My dad went through the Alzheimers stages so fast that by the time I really processed what had happened, I had already laid flowers on his grave. Who would have thought God would decide that I needed a repeat performance with my mom.
I have railed against the very force that formed me in my mother’s womb. I have screamed, cried, pleaded and bargained. You see, it plain sucks to do this end of life crap on your own and it sucks even more to do it more than once. This end of life stuff can be brief or decades long. As the facility likes to remind us, we can hedge our bets that our loved one will get an additional 6 years once they are engaged in all of the beneficial assistive living activities. Is that supposed to be comforting? Because here’s the real deal, the nasty but not so pretty reality of this journey—sometimes you just want to be done. For it to be over. Because this person that now has become as much of a dependence on you as your own toddler once was, can and will drain your soul, your energy, your patience—your mental and emotional stability. This person, well into their 80s who supposedly lived their best life already, can and will drive you to thoughts of bridges to jump and Forrest Gump runs that don’t end except on days that you could actually welcome cardiac arrest.
It’s a lonely place to be. Everyone is sympathetic to the one who can’t remember past two seconds ago. But those of us who are left pulling out our hair, feeling guiltier than we ever did at 16, whose pockets are emptying faster than Niagara Falls just to keep the loved one secure in Bingo and Depends, have very little empathy or support. We are expected to take care of that loved one through the crap that no one else hears or sees. We are expected to parent this geriatric individual we still call “mom” even if in retrospect we feel that she really only half parented us at best.
So much baggage. So much crap no one wants to deal with, especially me. So much “I don’t want to do this.” But life doesn’t give a damned what you do or don’t want to do. It slaps you square in the face with what you need to do. And some of us choose to walk away. But some of us stay even when we clearly have the choice to run. Recently I have focused on what seems to be the message God must be sending to me—sometimes we are the son or in my case the daughter that my mother needed not the mother this daughter needed.
And every word I write drives me deeper into the abyss of what could have been but what actually is. This thing called dementia has a price and it’s high and it doesn’t just collect from the victim losing her mind—it collects heavily from those who are called to be caregivers.