GG, Grandma, Mom, has arrived. And she’s staying. For three months. At least that’s the plan. The seal on the proverbial can is broken.
Mom and I, like many mother-daughters, have a complex relationship. Mom loves my brothers, and while I know she loves me, it feels like we’ve never really connected. She likes my friends, in fact my friends all think she’s wonderful. But, she’s always had a love/not like, thing for me.
In my early 40’s, I did a lot of work around my relationship with my mom. At 61, I have come to a place of peace about Mom and me. At least most of the time.
Mom is 83 and has lived the last 21 years with my brother, his wife, and their three kids. Mom’s aging needs coupled with my brother’s aging family (the kids are adults now) meant Mom was in need of more care and attention than my brother, his wife and kids could give her. That is not a blame statement. It’s life. She was alone far too much now that everyone in that house was either at work or school. We, on the other hand, are retired. The obvious solution…Mom comes to live with us.
Mom is happiest when she is free to do whatever she wants to do, whether that is planting geraniums, hanging laundry outside to dry, or playing scrabble. She loves to hose things and is a master sweeper. She likes to be helpful, but on her terms. Mom does not like adhering to boundaries. Period. Had she been born later, Mom would have been considered a maverick, a cage rattler, and very innovative. She’d always wanted to be a Kindergarten teacher and frankly she’d have been fabulous.
The antithesis is that Mom cries a lot, seems to crave conflict, and sees the glass half empty. When conflict inevitably erupts into flared tempers and unkind words, mom smiles and becomes calm. At 83, those things remain the same. Here’s where my work with self-regulation fits in. The ‘Pause’ has been critical. Looking for and recognizing stressors is giving me a chance to break some of my deep rooted patterns. The goal is co-regulation. We are not there, yet. (To my faith-based friends, be assured that my ‘pause’ includes prayer.)
In the fall of 2017 my brother and I agreed that Mom could come and spend some time with my husband and me. We were (are) still renovating our house and we needed a bit of time to get the house ready for a long term guest so the plan was to bring Mom to our place at the end of March 2018. She would stay for at least 3 months. On March 31st we arrived at Mom’s place, helped her pack and on Sunday, April 1st we made the 4 hour journey to our place.
About 25 years ago, my family moved about 4 hours and a drive through the mountains away from my mom. Mom would visit when she could often driving here by herself. My kids LOVE their grandma. She taught them how to throw and catch a ball, how to tie their shoes, and pretty much potty trained my sons. She played games with them, and made them the ‘best sandwiches ever’. The relationship between my kids and my mom warms my heart. When we got to the part of the drive where you can see our city lights at the end of Kal Lake, mom informed us she’d never been here before. We were speechless. The can’s lid lifted. We got a glimpse of what was inside.
Our grandchildren were excited for GG to come and since her arrival they’ve visited and played UNO, trains, and worked on puzzles with GG and it’s only been a week. My heart grew as I listened to the sound of the piano while our Granddaughter and GG played a long and intricate rendition of Chopsticks. GG knows how to have fun with kids.
Yet, at the end of the day, when all my kids and g’kids had left, after watching TV with us until it was bedtime, Mom went downstairs, to her ‘suite’ and cried so loud I sent Jim down to investigate. This was not a little whimpering cry, this was loud sobbing, intermixed with words. Mom’s crying is nothing new, and if you’re wondering, I have for years (decades actually) queried depression and wondered if an anti-depressant might be helpful. I’ve taken mom to the doctor, but have had to fight my way into the treatment room. Long story short, mom insists she is not depressed, her despair is all because my dad left her. It’s been the same story for 50 years. As we peer deeper into the can, it’s getting darker. How do we shine some light into that part of my dear mom’s heart?
I knew when I invited Mom to stay with us, things wouldn’t be easy. My brothers, their wives, and Jim and I want the rest of Mom’s life to be worry-free or at least have less opportunity for worry. Mom’s memory is sketchy. More so than ever before. My brother warned me. Mom has trouble remembering where she lives, the names of her grandchildren, which is minimally troubling, but when she couldn’t remember where the stairs in our house were, after going up and down them a few times, we knew this was more than ‘memory’ loss. I’m not going to lie, there have been moments I’ve wanted to push down the lid of this darn can, reseal it, and send mom back to my brother. To mix metaphors; that ship has sailed.
Before you go all judgey on me, I did arrange a mental health intake appointment for mom last fall. When they called her, she told them she was fine and apparently that was that. Her ‘walk in’ doctor, ordered a battery of tests and to my knowledge everything came back normal. With mom here with us, we can more aggressively look for some medical answers. We hope.
This week our navigation into the world of Senior Care begins in earnest. I’ll be calling Interior Health and am hopeful we can set up a cognitive ability test that will give us a base line – albeit, a late baseline, so we can get a clearer idea of how mom really is. Just writing that shines some light into our can.
It’s unlikely that mom will go back to live with my brother and his family at the coast. Once we opened the can it became quite clear that moving back may not be an option. In more lucid moments mom gets that, but at other times she sobs because she doesn’t remember where she lives. That is distressing for all of us, but mostly for her.
“They” say that there are 3 stages in life. Apparently I’m in stage 3. I’m sure someone has already figured this out, but I’m convinced that there are more than 3 stages. What do we call the stage where you are losing the ability to consistently make your own decisions? That stage between lucidity and confusion?
We warn people saying, “Be careful. You may be ‘opening a can of worms”. I’m seeing that in our can it’s more than worms. It’s a new kind of life, a mix of: old and new; past and present; joy and sorrow. The balance is different almost hourly.
It’s not all dark, but it’s not all light. What I’m seeing as I peer into this can is more kaleidoscope than I’d imagined.
You know how worms are good for the soil? I wonder if by opening this can into mom’s life, we’re providing the air needed for the worms to do their good work…to enrich and nurture…to bring new growth for another stage of life. For better or worse, this lid is staying off.
Post Script: I was asked if my Mom knew I was writing about her and if I’d received her consent. The answer is yes. She read and approved this post. In her words, “Oh Carol, everybody who knows me knows I’m not fake. I have nothing to hide. Maybe they’ll learn from us.” There she is again, my Mom the teacher!
With hope that Better is Possible,