My mother is strong-willed and fiercely independent. In other words, she is stubborn and won’t do a damn thing people tell her to do.
Mom has faced many health challenges in the last 20 years: Ramsey Hunt syndrome paralyzed part of her face permanently, fibromyalgia and arthritis bring her pain nearly 24/7, and osteoporosis has weakened her bones so much that she has broken both hips and an ankle in the past five years. Yet through all of this, she has typically found some semblance of a bright side or tokens of happiness that keep her going. Don’t get me wrong, she complains plenty, but she tries to find other things to discuss–my son, our cats, the weather, who showed up in the obituaries, etc.
But things are starting to change. My siblings and I believe that the early stage of dementia has begun and although we’ve all been in some state of denial, we know that all of our lives will be affected. So many things need to happen for Mom’s safety and her state of mind, yet Mom is the one who still has the power to say “No, I won’t do it,” or “Yes, ok, let’s do this.” Can you guess which answer she’s chosen?
We had a mini health crisis at her home recently, resulting in the calling of an ambulance. They checked her out and although she *really* needed to go to the hospital, she refused to go. My son and I stayed at her house for a while afterwards. I cleaned up the house a bit, made her bed, made dinner, and just chatted. Like nothing had ever happened. Living in a state of denial is something that my family and I are really good at. I was raised in that state, escaped for a bit, but can easily move back into it. I want the bubble I live in to remain clear and comfy and undisturbed. I hate drama and messes and uncertainty. But when your mom isn’t feeling well and she won’t get help and she could die because of that lack of help? It keeps me in this permanent sense of uncertainty and fear and helplessness. And I fucking hate it.
About three years ago is when I officially became my mother’s parent. Apparently Mom had several mini strokes and ended up driving to my home in the middle of a snowstorm while wearing summer clothing. She thought she worked at a local convenience store and told me about the people she worked with and so on. It was scary and I didn’t do the right thing. I at least convinced her to stay at my home, but I never called an ambulance. The next morning when she was my mother again, she refused to go to the ER, but did ask me to lead her home. Now, you must realize that where I live is where my mother was born (literally) and grew up, and the house she lives in now she has lived in for 30 years. But her brain was still feeling fuzzy enough that she wasn’t sure she knew her way back home. And that’s when I knew things had permanently changed between us. I cried a lot during that time, mourning the loss of someone I could always rely on.
Mom will always be my mother. I am so grateful for the fact that I still have her (and my dad) in my life. I realize how fortunate I am. And my respect for Mom will never waver. I am, in fact, very much like her. I’ve tried to be independent, I’m stubborn, too, and I can swear as well as she can. (Mom is a former prison worker so she can curse a blue streak!) But so many of the little things I would ask her for, I need to do myself now. And if I can’t, I need to ask someone else. Like make raisin-filled gluten-free cookies. I still can’t do this, but need to figure out how. I can ask Mom, and she’ll help as much as she can, but typically the answer will be, “Let’s do that later.” This is Mom-speak for “I have to figure it out first, so you don’t realize I don’t know how to any longer.” I know she hides things from me because she doesn’t want me to know how weak or tired or sick she is. Not because I’ll worry (although I will), but because she’s afraid her independence will be taken from her. (Kind of like a kid hiding the broken vase under the couch so she can still go out Saturday night.) And I get it. I honestly do. I said as much to her, but also told her that I don’t want to find her dead in her home, when she could have been saved by getting help before things got too bad. She said she understands, but I think her fear of losing her independence is greater than her fear of death.
So now I call her nearly every day, check on her at home, take her to doctors’ appointments when needed and bug her about calling for her test results. My siblings do a lot of these things, too, but since I work less than 15 minutes away from Mom’s house, it’s often easier for me to do this stuff. But now that I’m about to go away for a week, I feel that bit of “parenting worry” I get when I leave my kid for any extended bit of time. Yet the worry I feel is not for him, but for my mom. I’ve even contacted my sibs to remind them I’m going away and to call Mom more and find out what her doctor said and maybe vacuum for her if you get the chance. (Thankfully they know what a control freak I am so they don’t seem offended.) I know I’m doing the exact thing with Mom as I do with my boy. I make sure they have what they need and “Are you sure?” and “Do you know how to do that?” But with Mom, it feels much more critical. Like if I screw up, she’ll die.
This is a responsibility I do not take lightly, but if I was completely honest, it’s also a responsibility I do not want to have. I don’t know what I’m doing and I’m trying to figure out what’s best, but I also feel stretched to the max. I have a hard time parenting an 8-year-old boy, so trying to parent a 68-year-old woman seems like an impossibility.