Although she is not officially dead, Alzheimer’s makes many days seem as though my Mum really is. Yesterday was one of those days. As a slow fog seeped to cover my heart, I was once again surprised to find myself in this place. Hadn’t I already come to peace with letting her be? Or am I just now coming to terms with having her, for all intensive purposes, gone? Or am I aching for a Mum I never really had in the first place? I thought I had. I even have a nice quote in mind that reflects age appropriate views of our parents. You know, the one that goes something like this…when we are young, they can do nothing wrong, when we are teenagers they can do nothing right and when we are old we wonder how they got to be so wise.
Maybe I am just projecting, even guessing, that most people would agree that basic parent-child adoration, most likely involves a held hands, wiping of a tears, kisses just because and whispers of “I love you” constantly filling your air. I know memories are a tricky business, but I am one of six, and although our reactions varied, we are all agreed that we have few. We learned early on that there was little use in becoming emotional with her. The end result would always be the same. Mum would immediately stiffen, like a board. You felt repelled.
She raised me, like all of us, in the only way she knew; a baltimore catechist nun turned nanny. Even though years of therapy made me understand, then grieve, that the “good enough” mother, was not my Mum, I didn’t realize how the power of putting feelings to a page, would bring all that sadness back. For the most part the longing is gone but the facts are still solid. If I shared this personal truth, I begin to wonder how people in the pews would hear it. One of my brothers actually wondered if she even liked children. We laughed. I mean we really all laughed loudly and hard. Who knows…if I had to guess, she probably didn’t. But what would the people in the pew hear?
My brother once told me my problem with Mum was that I was always trying to change her. I remember feeling indignant. What?! No, I wasn’t! I was just trying to make her see that I wanted her in my life. I wanted her grandchildren to have a relationship with her. I wasn’t trying to change her. I was just trying to make her see that I loved her and maybe, if she knew that, understood why it is I was always asking her to feel, I would feel that love back. It took me years to see that my brother was right.
But here’s the thing – I really want people to know in my struggle to understand how my mother loved me, she gave me the gift of learning to never view things from one angle. We want love to be solid and fixed, especially when we have no real understanding of it. As I learned to put my own pain aside, I got to see my mum as Margot, and Margot was a very strong woman. Maybe she didn’t know what to do with all these children. Maybe she didn’t even understand how we all got there, but she would never complain about herself and being a wife and mother was her job. She never asked for help. She rarely allowed herself for idle chit chat for there was work to be done and there was always the proper way to do it. She never dwelled on anything, she just moved on. Maybe the repelling of our emotions was just a wall to survive. Thats why I loved when my Mum had a drink or two growing up. I think we all did. She just relaxed and it seemed to help her breathe. She didn’t edit herself as much when she asked for “a feather” of a refill. Watching her blush and soften when my Dad was being flirty, was a treat. Once I caught her being silly with one of my kids – just being spontaneously silly, and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and so I immediately rushed into the scene to applaud , and I ruined it. The bubble had burst and she realized she broke her own code; We are ladies…1,2,3.
As I watched her this past visit, sitting in silence, she didn’t seem unhappy. She doesn’t seem to be afraid of the silence. Admittedly, I had expected to see that light I had experienced last time I visited. She seemed really happy that I was there. The chit chat was easy. Now the shift had occurred and I know there will be no going back.
In trying to write this piece I realized I had fallen back into pattern again. But I can forgive myself this time because I am just sorting it all out and doesn’t everyone have something to sort out with their folks? I want my relationship with my Mum to end on a happy note that I could share with everyone… “Why yes, she really was a good enough mother. We laughed often with secrets all our own. ” But writing these words feel hollow. Yes, there have been tender moments that will always treasured, and yes, they were just between the two of us. But here’s the thing I know now, that whenever this relationship does end, it will be on an honest and true note because Alzheimer’s allows her no longer responsible for me, and she can just be. Perhaps this is her biggest gift…to teach be to just be. In truth, there have been many gifts. Without a doubt she did the best she could given the foundation she was given and it taught stand on my own two feet. It allowed me to make sure my children knew they were seen and heard. It allowed me to accept the upside of her families unyielding ways -strong and stubborn – when I wanted to end it all. She taught me that love has many ways of being felt and heard. The tone of her voice when I call on Sundays. The following me around when I visit and not letting me do a single chore to help. The long since sent cards that I am know only able to look beyond the signature. Not calling because she was wanted me to live my life, with no interference from her. …just live my life. And I have, and I hope that is a gift I can pass on to my children.
So yes, my mum is now officially fading away with the help of Alzheimer’s. And yes, I will always want an emotional, recognizable, traditional kind of mother’s love that will always answer my call. And yes, she was not a Winicott definition of a good enough mother, but really is all ok. That she is 84 has given me time to understand this all and know that I am so very clear about her love me. This is what I want to give voice to. It was all just in her way. And I love her. My way.
100 day challenge….#13