I just returned from spending a week with my eighty-year-old mom. To say it was depressing is an understatement. Imagine a hermit crab washed up on the beach upside down, burnt to a crisp by the sun and crinkled into a nub, powerless to flip over, trapped in its shell. That’s how I felt after a week in her house.
The blinds were drawn in a gloomy nod to isolation. The thermostat was set to 85 degrees, about the same temperature as outside. To save on the a/c bills, she said. There was little food in her brand-new refrigerator and she was pencil-thin. Not hungry, she insisted as I pled with her to eat more.
She is still very independent, but her hearing, eyesight, and patience have deteriorated to a muddled mass of confusion. Plus, to complicate matters, she is firmly in denial. As far as she is concerned, she can drive, she can hear just fine with her hearing aids, (I get enough to understand! So what if I miss a few words? Huff, huff, mad face). If she cannot hear people on the phone, she simply hangs up on them. In the meantime, to communicate with her, I must yell my brains out. She seems to think this is normal, appropriate behavior.
I’ve been back in my snug little house a week now. I’m trying – really hard – to flip right-side-up and uncrinkle. But it’s amazing how this particular visit sliced through my best intentions like a Ginsu knife. I reverted to a selfish brat intent on proving my decisions were better than her decisions, nanny-nanny-boo-boo. And in most cases, they actually were, but my attitude was not exactly stellar.
Something about going home again.
I have been a victim of magical thinking where she is concerned. You know, the fairy dust-sprinkled thoughts that say: my mom will be healthy and cogent until age ninety or so, and then she will die peacefully in her sleep without the need for assisted living research, prolonged doctor consultations or second, third and fourth opinions. She will be able to handle her bills, the housework, her diet, the yard and assorted repair issues with finesse, maturity and wisdom.
In the face of her pressing health issues and loss of cognitive abilities, I am reeling with what-if’s and how-to’s. She is becoming the child and I’m being dragged kicking and screaming toward caregiver.
The fairy dust-sprinkle thoughts have now been replaced by heavy-boulder thoughts: I don’t have a mom anymore, she cannot even hear me! Do I really have to take care of her? I don’t even know how to begin to talk to her about serious life changes! She’ll cross her arms, plant her feet and refuse! Research living facilities? Take over her bills? Be on call 24/7? Maybe I’m over-reacting. That’s it, I’m imagining things. She’s okay. Really.
The stress I am carrying since I returned has erupted like Old Faithful all over my family, which, interestingly. has grown lately.
My twenty-five-year-old daughter has relocated to the area and has ‘come home again’ temporarily until she finds a job and a place to live. After visiting my mom, I am able to better see through her young eyes, and I’m betting she’s asking some of the same questions about me: When did she start yelling that way? Is she always like that? She doesn’t even act like my Mom anymore. Maybe I shouldn’t talk to her about serious life changes. Maybe I’m over-reacting. That’s it, I’m imagining things. She’s okay. Really.
I guess all daughters carry fairy-dust-sprinkled thoughts when it comes to their mothers. Although lovely indulgences, they are worthless during an actual altercation – I mean visit – with mom. My magical thought processes got a swift kick in the hiney, and I have some serious thinking to do. Grown-up discussions need to take place soon. I have to come to terms with the fact that I am, in theory, a grown-up.
Growing up brings with it an entirely new set of rules about going home again.
When I figure out what they are, I’ll let you know