I don’t remember ever actively thinking about what kind of old lady my mom would be. But I think I always liked the idea of a Maxine. A feisty old lady who finding herself free late in life – would be embracing it exploring it and reveling in that phase of life. And finally – enjoying being free to do what SHE wants to do.
When did my mom get old? Not old like she wears sensible shoes and tells stories about walking to school 5 miles in the snow. Not old like she says whatever she wants because she doesn’t care what anybody thinks anymore. Not red hat lady old.
Old like being irrationally afraid of being home alone. Old like being terrified when the phone service goes out for a little while and old like pushing the button she wears around her neck frequently and when the voice asks if she needs help saying “just testing”. And old like – she insists she needs to live with a man in the house just in case “something happens.”
And when did the guilt crowd in because I’m disappointed my mom is not growing old and feisty, but old and timid and fearful instead? Guilt because she lives with my brother because he’s a “man”, even though we did try having her live with me for a while. And guilt because I find it so difficult to talk to her because she is SO not herself anymore.
Disappointment. That’s not an emotion indicative of understanding, sympathy, or empathy. It suggests I care more about how it feels to me – than how it feels to her. The emotions are in layers. Feelings for my mom when I was a kid, a whole separate layer just for the teen years. A layer for my married with small children years and a layer for when Ma became kind of lost to us.
She knows who she is, who we are, she has those faculties about her. But this layer muffles the parts of her personality that made her – Ma. Nothing she loved in the past, oil painting, sewing, crafting of all kinds – interests her anymore. She busies herself with a few household tasks and taking naps.
This layer is stifling and suffocating and yet – at times - there are gauzy openings in it when the light shines through and Ma is there for a while, not quite so confused. Not quite so fearful. A little take-charge for a bit, and not so clingy and dependent.
But she doesn’t stay.
And it’s all so hard to watch. Harder to accept.