Did you ever believe you were completely over a past hurt, only to have it slap you in the face again, out of the blue?
I thought I was truly over the hurt my mother could cause me. Throughout life, and then after her death, when I discovered how little she really cared about how she was leaving things when she died, she had the ability to really cut me with her words.
She was always extremely ignorant about all the things I had to do in order to keep her at home; from dealing with her bills, her house, her health, diet – everything. I could have taken the easy route when she told me she was afraid to live alone, and decided she needed to be in a nursing home. She was adamant that she could still be mostly independent, and that all she needed was to be in the apartment in our first floor. She felt safe with us nearby, so I readily agreed. I wanted her to be happy, and so we did this without a single hesitation.
It was hard; she had congestive heart failure, diabetes, and high blood pressure. She was in the beginning stages of macular degeneration. Mere months after moving into her apartment, she fell on the afternoon of Halloween and broke her hip. We spent the afternoon in the ER; I raced home at 5:30 to hand out candy with The Male Sibling Unit while my daughter took my grandson trick-or-treating, then went back to the ER to sit, until they finally admitted her. That Halloween was a horror in so many different ways; we made jokes about the cliché of her breaking a hip, but deep inside, I wondered if this signaled the beginning of some sort of end.
The end would not come for 5 more years, but those years were a blur; work, work, pay double bills; attempt to get her to go out and socialize and have a life beyond the walls of her apartment and her computer; try to keep her from eating food that could kill her; policing what others brought into the house for her because she could be so persuasive, telling unknowing friends and family members that I selfishly denied her and that she was “allowed” to have things like
An Arby’s Reuben
Whopper malt balls
You name it, she would wheedle it. I have never discovered who the male culprit was who brought her beer, which my daughter found hiding in her closet underneath a pile of clothes; I suspect it was my enabling, alcoholic, piece of shite father. She would only admit, sullenly, that “a friend” brought it to her. It was a constant battle; we could not keep The Male Sibling Unit’s Christmas or Easter candy in her apartment for her to gift him because she would unapologetically consume every bit of it, forcing me to spend more money on replacements at the last minute. I learned my lesson after the first couple of times and stopped letting her have any control over it.
Throughout those years, she would act like a child, demanding her own way, fighting against my efforts to see to it that she ate right; I would buy her sugar-free candy and remind her that she needed to eat only a few pieces a day. She would agree, then promptly binge it.
Do you know what happens when someone binges on two or three bags of sugar-free candy?
There is a shit storm. A literal shit storm. All over her bed, the floor, over to her commode we kept in her room so that accidents could be avoided. My daughter was her home health aide; she was paid, by the state, to care for her and was the only person my mother would agree to allow to care for her. On those mornings after a candy binge, my daughter’s lips would press into a thin, terse slash on her face and she would be short-tempered all day. Hell, I’d be a tsunami of black hate if I had to clean up pools of shit, too.
(As an aside: I will never do that to my family. If my bowels become that loose and my ambulation so poor that 4 feet is too far to travel before I create a mudslide, put my damned old, wrinkly ass in a nursing home, please. You have it in writing on the internet, and everyone knows that nothing ever truly goes away on the internet.)
I would look, constantly, for healthy, delicious alternatives, cook recipes, buy special foods she loved. None of this was cheap and her $57 a month in food stamps didn’t get us through 2 days, let alone a month. Diabetes assures that eating is not a cheap endeavor.
I navigated the strict parameters of her finances; in order to qualify for help in the home and other, assorted medical supplies, she was not permitted to keep savings or own anything considered income. Her house? Had to go. No one wanted to buy it, and so it went back to the bank. Her car? Had to go. If anyone can explain to me how a car is somehow considered “income”, I would be all ears. She basically needed to be destitute in order to qualify for home health care, oxygen, a commode, a wheelchair, walker, diapers, and cases of Ensure Glucerna. Don’t get me started on the bullshit hoops we must jump through in this dumpster fire of a healthcare system and the care of senior citizens because you just fucking know that I will find a way to blame Donald Trump even though he was not the President in 2007; because if he can go off like a demented, batshit, modern-day King George every hour on Twitter then he deserves everything he gets. She didn’t want to be in a nursing home; this was the price.
Some might ask, “Why not let her do as she wished? She was a grown woman.” Well, she may have been, but I was ever-conscious of her decline, both physically and mentally. When you become caretaker of your parent, it is a fucked-up, ass-backwards relationship in which you become the parent and the parent becomes the child. The petulant, stubborn, sometimes bratty child. She insisted she would behave; she wanted to. I would be transported back to the day we found her in her house, slowly turning blue, groaning and clammy and cold, and how it took the ambulance ages (2 minutes) to get there.
How I arrived behind the ambulance at the ER and made my way back to the room she was in, only to find her vascular surgeon, who was on call, slamming his fist into her chest, shouting, “Come ON, dammit!” while a cardiologist and nurses hooked her up to machines. I must have made a noise, because a nurse looked up and rushed out to walk me back to my husband in the waiting room.
How she lay, intubated, for a week in the ICU before she was stable enough to have a pacemaker implanted. She spent another week there, recovering from her ordeal.
I, on the other hand, didn’t have the privilege of recovering. What was seen could never be unseen, and for almost six years, I doggedly tried to keep that scenario from happening again.
Until it did, that day in September 2012, when I took one look at her face and her condition and knew, in my gut, that this was it. Oh, I denied it all weekend, but that knowledge in my gut was a hard, cold stone; I knew that as bad as the first time had been and how hard I tried to hold her life together while attempting to also live mine, this time was It.
It took a long time to forgive myself; I felt that I had failed her somehow. All of that sacrifice, all that hard work; it had all been for nothing. I couldn’t save her.
Learning to forgive myself and to let myself off the hook was a battle I almost lost. It has taken 4 years to get to this point of grace.
Tonight, I was looking for a couple of my old, porcelain dolls because I want to reinvent them into ghoulish, Annabelle-esque pieces of art. In a storage bin, where I was looking for a shoe that had come off one of the dolls, I found a stationary tablet.
In it was a letter my mother had been writing to a man she met online; she was notorious for her online romances and this guy had been in “our” lives for years. That he was my age was weird as shit; he lived in Scotland and came to visit once, right after she broke her hip. He apparently had never had a girlfriend and had anger issues; one of her friends related these things to me and said that he had lived with his mother until her death and that my mother represented a relationship similar to that, albeit all romantical and shit.
Creepy as fuck, huh? A true Eeeewwww factor. But, the heart wants what it wants and they seemed to make each other happy. She was happy.
Except when she wasn’t, and was telling him and anyone else who might listen that I controlled her life and that she would be much happier on her own. Reminding her that she had made the choice to move in with us and that her total of about $400 a month in Social Security and food stamps didn’t go very far with utilities, groceries, and various other expenses? It wasn’t worth the black scowl she would shoot at me before she turned her face toward her computer screen and was once again lost in the world of Yahoo Messenger. We bought most of her groceries, paid for her TV, internet, and even added a line on our cell phone plan for her. All she needed to do was profess a desire for something and I would do whatever it took to make it happen. Spend $100 on gifts for her Scottish boyfriend and then mail them to Edinburgh? No problemo.
So, in this tablet, I found the letter to her man, and, as usual, it contained criticisms of me and her musing that she could just “take her house back” and he could just “move here” and they could live together. This was about a year before she died. Now, her house was gone, and not “gettable” and living “on her own” was impossible without the loss of all the services that helped sustain her life. $400 a month wasn’t going to keep her afloat; let’s not even get into the near-impossibility of this man being able to get a visa to live in romantic harmony with a woman old enough to be his mother.
My head knows all of this.
Tell that to my heart; the muscle that contracted painfully when I saw her beloved handwriting tearing me to pieces in that efficient way she had. I read the handwriting I’ve known since birth and adored, because it was hers; it was so neat, graceful, and lovely. It was crafted by her hand, which was utterly soft and delicately feminine; the hand I held to my face after she forced me, by her own resistance to put her wishes in writing (oh, the irony), to decide to let her die. The hand I bathed with my tears that seemed to be wrung out from my heart. I felt drenched in guilt for telling them to turn off the machines. My skin fairly reeked of that sour cowardice; my clothes were dipped in its stench. Everything I had done all those years had come down to this final evening, in a hospital 100 miles away from home; away from her two cats, whose hearts were broken when she did not come home; and a Scottish boyfriend, who faded away after about two months of communication following her death. I wonder if he replaced her eventually; I wonder if his damaged heart is still broken.
In her own hand, she denigrated me again, from the grave. That the handwriting deteriorated as I read the page was telling; toward the end, her eyesight was really faltering.I doubt she even realized that her beautiful handwriting was but chicken scratch toward the bottom of the page.
I should be able to take this with a grain of salt, because I know she was not well, and she did admit that she had been extremely critical of me in the months before her death.
I should be able to get over this. And I know that l will. But right now? It hurts. I don’t want to hurt right now, when I’m crawling out of the chasm that Depression throws me into. In my head, it’s just words on a piece of paper, phantom scrawls of a narcissistic woman not in her right mind at the end of her life. It cannot physically harm me, and that tablet can be thrown away, or burned, and forgotten.
Tell that to this daughter’s heart, though.