My Mother, My Daughter

That is what my Mother called me in front of everyone; care staff, new friends, old friends, Dr’s, sales associates in the stores, waiters in restaurants, and anyone else she ran across while with me. She, in her sarcastic way, thought it was amusing. I think she was trying to preserve some dignity and independence, something I strived to do for her. But my Mother also liked to cut me down, remnants from an old relationship I had worked through in 6 years of therapy. I was mostly offended. It was the role I had assumed without being asked if I could, had time, or wanted to do it. A role, for which I was not prepared, nor had ever expected.

While my Father was dying and my older brother as well, I went to TN every month to do what I could and give my brother in his deteriorating health, a break. My Father had a terminal blood disease, most likely caused by his exposure to radiation at Oak Ridge National Laboratory where he worked for 35 years after the War. Even at that, time, I was sure my Mother would rally as she always did and be fine!

She did not, she had a near emotional collapse, and I had to get my younger brothers to come and help me move her out of the large home they owned in the retirement community and move her into the apartment residences. That was two weeks before Christmas and my Father was in skilled care, not to leave at that point. He was so weak he couldn’t walk but I put him in a big wheelchair and rolled him down the sidewalk to their house as we packed it up. It was sad to see him, knowing that part of his life had ended, and the rest of his living body was soon to follow.

He and my older brother died in April of the following year. I kept going to TN to check on my Mother. She was having a very difficult time with her grief and it became apparent to me that she needed to be closer. My two younger brothers fought me on this saying all her friends were there and would take care of her. HELL!! They were almost as old as she was and she was OUR responsibility, not theirs!

She was a sad, lonely, depressed old woman. She and my Father had been married for 64 years. As independent as she taught me to be and she was, she was very dependent on my Father and loved him very much, as he did her. So, the loss of him for her was the loss of her grounding. It hurt my heart every time I had to leave her and come back to my home in VA. She needed family!

I honestly did not know how long she would live. She was 89 when I moved her to VA. She had an amazing ability to bounce back after an injury or illness and while still lonely, sad and depressed, gained a renewed energy knowing that I was close by and would spend time with her.

That time spent with her began as 1-2 times a week checking on her and weekends at my home in the country to seeing her on a daily basis as she became frailer. I so wanted her to make friends where she lived and do things on her own. Her dependency on me for most everything grew greater every day. She had no interest in making new friends. Her emotional dependence was at times crushing.

As the only daughter, despite our volatile relationship in years past, I could not bear to see her sad or lonely. We grew to find a comfortable relationship together. I had found my boundaries through therapy and was still able to love this woman who left me some gifts of the heart and life. She would often say to me “You take such good care of me.” As if it was a surprise to her. It would make me wonder if she remembered some of our worst times as Mother and Daughter. Maybe that is why she referred to me as “My Mother, My Daughter”. She was not a nurturing Mother. I’m not sure where I found my ability to nurture, because it did not come from her.

On her weekends here at my farm she would sit on my porch and read or mainly look at the view, the birds, and enjoy the peace and quiet. She was a woman who loved nature! She would sleep later in the mornings than me. I would go have my coffee. My time to sit and wake up, reflect. She would wake up and come down the hall with her cane with a big smile and singing a tune!

We went from her helping with meals to my doing all of it until we got to the day when she said to me, “I don’t think I can come stay out here anymore.” That was a sad day, she knew it and I was glad she did, still sad. I was able with a friend’s help to occasionally bring her out for an afternoon. She loved to watch the birds soar and have a glass of wine on the porch.

Being a caregiver for an elder parent is becoming their life manager in many ways. I had to assume health care decisions, do her laundry, make sure she was eating well, getting to know the other residents and finding some social enjoyment. I did often feel as if I was “raising” my Mother. All the while I wanted to preserve her dignity, independence and stories of her life. She fought me at times when we needed to go to a Dr. appointment or physical therapy. My role had become the “parent” (a term I don’t like to use because it did take both of us) in that I had to have the “talk” with her about the need for those things and often bribe her with a lunch out. I know she didn’t see much point in these things as she was so old.

When she first came here, she lived in a small, one-bedroom apartment where she could get some help if she needed it. Every move from since my Father became ill was a move to a smaller and smaller place. She would always say to me, “I’m ready to go, I wonder how long I will live?” As she became frailer, I moved her to full assisted living where she then began to more and more rely on her wheelchair. I couldn’t say anything about it. She would still rally, and her mind thought she could do more than her body could. That was really hard to have to tell her no.

I so wanted to preserve what independence she had left and give her the freedom of choice. However, she had in so many ways, given up. Life in an assisted living facility is not exciting. While the care was very good and all of the healthcare staff loved her and some became her friends, she was reliant upon me to get her outside on a nice day, take her out to lunch or bring in lunch.

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