Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Where are you Ma?

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 old-lady-smoking-cigarexploring 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.

article-1077571-00FE208D00000578-47_468x286 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.


  1. My MIL lives with us, not my choice but it was going to happen regardless of how I felt, we were newly retired and she was slowly losing her memory, living alone in a huge house that was filthy.And here we are 7 years later, she does not have her personality anymore its still her but not really, right now she is in an angry phaze, she bad mouths everyone, myself included, sometimes I am in listening range as she tells my hubby this or that about me, all totally untrue ,hubby knows this as he is here all the time to see the goings on, its very very hard not to hate but to remember its the disease talking not her.
    Its like walking around with a stone in your heart all the time.

    3 other siblings have no idea what the total picture is, they know Mom is losing her memory, but living with her ((is)) the whole story teller.
    She will tell who ever is listening I can take care of myself alone,they do too much for me,she feels she can cope, but we all know about tose kettles left on that caught fire, the iron left on downstairs, the water left running,leaving for a walk in just a slip, all those house keys that are gone to key heaven, the list goes on and on.Could she do it alone? NO......
    It is hard to watch harder to accept.
    I take my hat off to any caregiver, its very hard to accept in many many ways.

  2. I can't bring myself to really express how much I sympathize with you because at the moment I'm half a world away from my grandparents who are quickly fading away from me and I don't dare think about it too much, but I do sympathize, deeply. There is nothing in the world that I fear more than slowly watching my mom's personality change as I have seen with her mother, and my dad's mother as well. I have come to see that it's the cycle of life. The world gets smaller, and life gets less complicated. It's hard to watch and understand from the outside, but both of my grandmother's are past the point of fear and uncertainty, and they have found a place of happiness in the simple moments that make up their daily lives. They don't do the things that I always thought defined them, and they don't talk to me like they used to, but as two women who bore burdens and lived lives beyond what I can imagine, they have both found a way to rest, and they are finally free of responsibilities. It's finally time to let someone take care of them, instead of them taking care of everyone else.

  3. My father, died from Alzheimer's six years ago on May 25. I can't begin to explain what Alzheimer's does to a person and their family. Anyone who has experienced it knows what I mean. My dad died long before his life ended. My mom did not handle it well. She became a victim, where everyone she met had to hear her story of living with a man who has Alzheimer's. I thought maybe after my dad passed on she would return to her former self...but that did not happen. She continued to be the victim. It is very distressing to see her personality change so drastically right in front of your eyes.

    She is now the lady, who drops a big zip lock bag of pills on my kitchen table when she visits me. It stays there until she leaves, always a reminder to everyone who enters my house that she is a very sick old lady. When did that happen? Why does she continue to let her medical conditions fully define her? The only answer I can come up with is...she gets sympathy from everyone she meets and that is very important to her. Why?..I am not quite sure. She never used to need the attention that kind of sympathy brings her.

    My mom has also learned that when she is sick or in the hospital her children pay more attention to her during those times. I used to be a teacher and it reminds me of the old adage...even bad attention is attention.

  4. Not an easy road to hoe! Both my parents and my husband's parents did not suffer from Alzheimer's or dementia but I worry that it will happen to me and my husband as we grow older. Not a pleasant thought.

  5. Diane - I wonder some days what I would do were I the caretaker and not my brother. I doubt I could do better. You've had a lot of care taking, especially in this last year. You must be very strong.

    Yes Robin Marie - it IS the cycle of life, they take care of us - we take care of them. I just wish my mom was happy but she's not. She said to me today - "People talk about these being the golden years. Well they sure aren't very golden!"

    thotlady - You've had so much to deal with, 1st one parent and then the next - being robbed of their identities in different ways. I knew a guy in a nursing home I worked at when I was 18. His name was Bruno. Bruno always had a smile on his face, he slept and he ate. If he just woke up he wanted to know when it was time to eat. When he was done eating - he wanted to know when it was time for a nap. It sounds strange but in his own little world he was happy. I would almost rather see that ...

    Bev - My mom hasn't been diagnosed with dementia or anything yet, but it is obvious which way she is headed. And I try not to think about it possibly happening to me one day. Just the idea is pretty terrifying.

  6. Be very good to yourself BetteJo, it is hard to watch them decline. My in-laws have gotten 'so old' just in the 10 years Ive known them, its so sad. All you can do is your best, and try to arrange things so you will have no regrets once she is gone...hope you get that and it doesnt sound too cold.

  7. Not cold, Lavender. Just realistic.

  8. oh this is so sad bettejo. i worry about becoming that old woman sometimes :(

  9. Mothers and daughters... the layers are endless. And often confusing. (hugs)

  10. I always thought I'd have time to get to know my Mum better with me as an adult but alas she passed away at just 52 - life is never what we really hoped it would be no matter what happens BetteJo...

  11. Yes it is hard to watch and in a way even harder to understand.

    I am having a hard time watching my Mum struggle with things and I guess you just have to accept them......