Picture this

As I enter the yard, the lawn has been mowed and there are trimmed bushes in front of the house. When I walk into the small, but clean and organized home, there is no trace of dirt on the carpet or dust on the television. The kitchen floor is swept and Mom is at the counter whipping up a batch of cookies. Mom is a tall woman (5’9″ish), thin yet strong. It’s possible the house smells like cigarette smoke, but it probably also smells like chocolate and sugar and a hint of dish soap.

Now fast forward four years.

I walk into the yard with the overgrown bushes and am greeted with a trash bag on the walkway that has been ripped open by animals. When I enter the house, I see a rug coated in dirt and grass, and Mom, now 20 pounds lighter with the look of a frail wounded bird, is sitting in her favorite chair because her body doesn’t allow her to do much more. The kitchen floor is also dirty, and when I open the trash can to throw something away, tiny flies dart out at me as I try to slam the lid back down while covering my face. I can only smell cigarette smoke. Nothing more. Until I go into the spare room where the cat’s litter box is stored. There is no more clean litter and the box is filled with urine and feces. The cat has done the best he could with what he had.

I don’t cry. Not yet.

I sweep the kitchen floor and vacuum the rug while Mom tries on the clothes I bought her for her birthday. I scoop the cat box as best as I can and try to leave the little guy with something until I can get back during my lunch break with fresh litter. I talk to Mom for another minute before I have to leave for work. It’s obvious she’s in pain today. The dark half-moon smudges under her eyes tell me she’s hurting. She doesn’t complain, just states that she hurts. I give her a hug and tell her I’ll call her in a bit before I come back over in the afternoon. I take the trash out on my way to my car, and I have to hold my breath as I open the large trash can. It not only stinks, but maggots drip from inside the cover onto the garage floor. I stuff the bag in and try not to retch.

As I drive the 15 minutes to work, I take several deep breaths. When I get to work, I ask my boss to smell me because I think I smell like smoke and/or cat pee. She tells me I do smell like smoke….and then I cry. This wasn’t a “silent, tears streaming down your face” kind of cry. This was a blubbering, snot-inducing sob, while trying to tell my boss why I was so upset. Mom was actually doing pretty well that day. Her memory was decent and although she was hurting, she could still get up and walk around with her walker.

But…she wasn’t my mom anymore. I’ve known this for several years, but the great leap in those two images, the stark difference in “before” and “after” finally became real to me.  I know she is no longer the baking, clean-freak I grew up with (and became!) but is now an old woman who can no longer care for her home like she used to.

I am the person responsible for cleaning it now.

And I hate it.

But I think she hates it, too.

She always thanks me profusely whenever I go over and for some reason, I always feel a little guilty when she thanks me like that. Admittedly, if my visit is before work, I’m running around her house, cleaning up, not sitting down and chatting much, because I need to get to work (and typically this is after taking my son to school and running around my *own* house getting supper in the crock pot and doing laundry and who knows what else). I’m sure Mom can feel my tension but also understands my “I need to get his done” attitude, because that’s how she always was while I was growing up. I do know Mom appreciates my help, but I also know she’d give anything if she could do it on her own again.

And so would I.

Does that make me selfish or a bad daughter? Probably. But I have to be honest, at least with myself. B_wears_her_heart_on_her_sleeve_by_fangedfemut I also know I need to come to terms with all the changes. Over the past week I have had multiple emotional outbursts, some with tears and others in anger. No one has been immune–my family, my co-workers, my friends. I’ve either yelled at or cried on nearly everyone.  Wearing my heart on my sleeve is an understatement this week. I have felt just so….exposed, with every emotion I have felt being raw, painful.

 

I’m aware that the stress I have felt isn’t just from Mom’s situation but also from other health-related concerns within my family. Yet I have no control over those problems. I can only hope and send good thoughts and say encouraging words, but there’s nothing else I can do. But with my mom? I may not have control over the deterioration of her mind and body, but I can do little things like vacuum or sweep or bring her good food, and I need to take some consolation from those few things I *can* do. I need to give myself a break and not get angry or frustrated when I walk into her home and it’s not like it was a few years ago. This isn’t her fault and I need to stop acting like it is.

I need to remember that Mom is still my mom and just try to forget all the rest.

Parenting Your Parent

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.