It used to be my mom and I used to joke every time we'd visit each other about how much of a baby we'd become when one of us had to return back home. We'd always jokingly say, "I'm a big girl," meaning we weren't going to boo hoo. But that was just a joke because we knew we were going to cry. Dropping my mom off at the airport or getting dropped off at the airport was ridiculous. Trying to stop the flood of tears was never going to happen. Those visits were such a strange emotional rollercoaster of real big highs followed by real deep lows.
Back home going to church with my mom and uncle had me having to fight sobs the entire time. Each visit home I'd look at how impossibly old they were becoming, and how much of this time of their lives I was missing. Strange. It's kind of like a reversal of the absentee parent. I was the absentee kid. They both seemed shorter, thinner. Their skin looked almost transparent. They weren't the well put together people they used to be. They seemed helpless, messy and old.
For a while, my uncle was still rather independent, but his driving scared the bejesus out of everybody. It got to the point where I forbid my mom from ever riding with him again. No one wanted him to drive, but then again no one really wanted him not to drive. That too was a strange mix of feelings. I mean obviously we didn't want him to drive because it wasn't safe for him or anyone else on the road (or sidewalk). But also telling him he was no longer allowed to drive meant a piece of his independence had vanished forever.
Growing old is hard on the one growing old and on those who love them. We see them fading from an independent person and transitioning into a person highly dependent on us. It hurts. It's sad for you, and for them, and for you as you imagine how it must feel for them. Thus I cried a lot in those days.
When my mom arrived last Christmas (2017), and I was instantly thrown in the pool of adult child caring for her parent, I didn't cry during that time. Actually I was angry a lot during that time. I didn't even realize I didn't cry until I looked over at her the other day and felt a softening within me. The familiar moist eye rims caught my attention, and at that moment I realized or rather I remembered how much I used to cry each visit home. Hmmm, now it's occurring to me that I don't think I ever really cried when she visited me. I guess my tears were tied to being back home. To those (my) memories. To those (my) friends. To those busy days that used to be when my step dad was alive, and I lived at home, and all the stuff we used to do.
This past September I officially ended my childhood phone number we had since I was 7 or 8 (somewhere around there when my mom married my step dad). In October, my mom set in motion the plan to sell my childhood home (we moved in right before my 5th birthday). Also in September, I filed a change of address for my mom and finally her mail is coming here.
I asked her yesterday if she missed home. She quickly said, Stop it. She said she has no friends here. Not like she used to have. All of her friendships here are new. All of them. There isn't that person she's known for 60 years, that neighbor across the street who lived there since we moved in (and who passed away two or three years ago), my uncle who lived around the block from the two family flat we lived in before we moved to the house she's now selling (who also passed away two Christmases ago now), the uppity ladies and men at the bridge club she loved to go to where she would also slip into the role of uppity snobby woman. Ugh. She liked playing that role amongst those folks, even around the church folks too. That was until she became the source of gossip among all when she started arriving everywhere with unkempt unwashed clothes, frizzy hair, loud makeup that was seriously inappropriate, moth eaten clothes, smelling of a strong mix of weed and perfume, over medicated, sleepy, sloppy, confused, dropping money from her purse every where she went, purse dragging on the ground, coats that didn't fit and were never quite right for the season, lonely and all alone.
Murmurs began when I would return home in those later years. I began to see the side eye looks some would give me when I visited my mom. Why doesn't her daughter do something was what I began hearing either said directly to me or indirectly. Truthfully I was never fully ready to accept that my mother was no longer capable of being fully independent. Kind of like taking the car away from my uncle. He and my mom were no longer the person they used to be. It was all done, period. And also truthfully I didn't know what to do or how to do whatever it was I was supposed to do. I just didn't know. I lived in one state and she lived in another. I made far less than she did, and I did not want to live back in my hometown in my childhood home.
Fast forward to the present day. I bravely had my mom call one of my cousins the weekend before last to let her know my mom now lived here with me. The last time that cousin and I spoke, she made it her duty to speak on behalf of the entire family of my mom's inability to live by herself. I was hot. She wanted my mom in a nursing home. If they're there in the same town, why don't they make it their duty to check on their aunt regularly, daily. I argued. They (she and her husband, and all of the other cousins who were in agreement) make so much more money than I do. Everyone knows that. She (my mom) took this cousin in giving her a place to live when she was a teenager. She (my mom) took care of a lot of my cousins when they were younger, but that reciprocity I guess my mom hoped for never came. There was and still remains one cousin who is more like a sister to me than a cousin. She always did help my mom and still helps her. As for the others, I was livid. I guess I expected those folks to help out more too. They would, after all, refer to her as their favorite aunt. But none of them helped. Just the one, and maybe one other on occasions.
I'm no longer angry. I have accepted it, my mom's new stage of being fully dependent and my cousins' lack of help. I do pay for my mom's caretaker out of pocket. I mentioned this before. And she does not qualify for any financial aid. She makes too much (which is far from true). Financially this is kicking both of our combined asses, but I am determined to make it work.
God Bless the caretaker, N, who has been with us now since late last winter/early spring. For the past few months she has allowed me to pay her late. She is struggling too, and I know it. This year has begun with less work on my temp work schedule so even that is precarious. But I will confess that oddly things keep working out. Money keeps popping up lately. Not enough to catch up to what I owe N, but maybe we will be moving forward this year staying in the green.
I look over at my mom these days, and I am so very happy she is here. I see the faraway looks in her eyes every now and then, and I suspect she is reflecting back on her memories of the life, friends and times she once knew. I can only imagine how it feels. My mom used to love to dress up, look pretty, and party. She liked pretty things around her too. Her home was surrounded by flowers early spring to late autumn. Christmas decorations went from the front yard through the house to the back yard. She wore long fur coats and long leather boots (sorry vegans and animal activists). She was a big flirt too. Even when she went for her early morning 5 AM walks with her neighbors, she put on her jewelry, makeup and matching workout clothes. Now my heart aches for her. Those memories must still be there. And I and N make sure she still looks cute.
I think about too the relief she must feel not being so very much alone. And I think about the sadness she must have felt at times when she realized how alone she was, how far away I was, how my cousins and relatives had their own lives in their own houses away from hers. I feel like too she must have recognized at some point that the only people willing to spend time with her were the people who sought to use her. They were far from the fancy people with whom she once hung out. They were unemployed and living like squatters in a home with boarded up windows, brown lawns, and furnished with what must have been street finds. They began to do laundry at her home since water was more than likely compromised at theirs and they probably simply didn’t have a washing machine or at least have one that worked. I think she knew what was going on, and some of that is what fed her need to be perpetually numb. When she tells me she feels more like herself these days, I think about how clear headed she has been allowed to be. She’s not over medicated or high. She’s sober, clear and present. She had to sink to some pretty ugly lows to have relationships back then. That’s kind of like those places some of us visited in our younger days that we're so very glad are behind us.
Over time, the hate I once felt has dissipated. It’s been replaced by compassion. I care again about the woman who lives with me. I care again about me. My mom often says she feels like herself again. I notice so do I.
I'm just writing to keep from losing it.