We used to argue over who was going to take care of our Mother in old age. I would tell Miriam up front, it ain’t fucking going to be me. If you know me or my family in my real life, maybe this won’t be a surprise to you, or maybe it will. At times I was the only one who would say it out loud, and this blog, being my own personal space since 2004, is a place where I’m going to say it again. My mother helped a lot of people in her lifetime. She has also caused a cloud of constant chaos and drama in mine. So much so that when I feel people with her type of frenzied energy in my personal space that I do not hesitate in turning on my heel and walking in the other direction. Or being rude, even. That’s quite a reaction in a southern woman raised to “bless people’s hearts” and drink tea in the shade of my own creation. So, anyway, the past month I’ve been poking myself in all the most hurtful places. Looking and touching my sister’s art, finding her iPod full of her music, her art supplies, her journals, where she wrote her dreams.
I’ve been raging against her, Miriam, for being gone while I have to field phone calls from nurses who want to “send me information on advance directives” for my mother. This should be Miriam’s job and I should be woefully helping HER as little as humanly possible. Because I am the youngest. The weakest. The most spoiled.
I’ve already spoken to my mother about death. She says she is ready for the afterlife, and not at all afraid. I wrote down the lyrics of the southern church hymns she sings. She sings them nearly all the time now, under her breath, when she forgets where we’re going in the car or what we’re doing next, or why. When I see her tapping her knee I know she is singing to herself. Comforting herself in a way she never comforted me.
But then, she asks me if she can have $70 bottles of fish oil and I think, she is not ready. She is not ready for death. Because she thinks these fish oil pills advertised on tv will somehow reverse the tape and she won’t be 76, with a failing memory and a host of health problems, nearing the end of her life. She tells me, “I wish I had more time.” “I wish I could bungee jump, like you.” She looks at me and says “I think you have more freedom than I had.” Then she says she wishes she never returned home from Austria last time she visited.
She never did have a filter. Or the sense to know what is appropriate talk.
And probably why I don’t have a filter, either. Or give a shit about appropriate talk.
I’ve spent the past 10 years as a mother looking at myself, looking inside, choosing to walk a different parental path than she took. Not hitting. Not abusing. Not neglecting. I may not be the best mother on the block, but I love my children and they know it. I tell them I’m not perfect. That I’m sorry. I let them see me cry. My hurt. I discuss with Maya important life lessons and how my one and only goal is to teach her how to make good decisions. Because when she’s old enough for college she’s going to be on her own and I won’t be there and she needs to know how to survive. And daily I try to help Dmitri make decisions and god knows, I have lots of empirical evidence that that has worked. That what I’m doing is “right.” I have two beautiful children whose beating hearts every day beat “this is right, you did right, we are family.” My heart beats in the same rhythm.
I spent my youth saying “this isn’t right.” I would try to tell people the bad things that went on in our house. And people would just pretend I hadn’t spoken. That those terrible words describing terrible events hadn’t been spoken. A heavy, dead silence of denial. Even Miriam. And she knew I was fucking right because she experienced it herself. People would come up to me at church and tell me how “lucky I was to have parents like mine.” Which, truly, was a mindfuck because what was going on in our house was not luck.
I sat weekly in therapy for a year after my separation and before my divorce was final. At first I was really truly angry at the mere idea that I would have to forgive my mother. But eventually that anger mellowed, just enough for some empathy to sneak in. As a single mother I can see her fear and all her hurts and anger when she was alone, caring for me and my dad was in the hospital, ill. I can look objectively of how we probably didn’t have normal attachment because I was born so early and whisked away to live out my early days in whatever incubator existed at the time. I did wonder though, why my sister and brother who didn’t experience a premature birth had the same lack of attachment with our mother. My therapist and I wrote down once the events surrounding my birth and early childhood and I could see for the first time all the drama and chaos swirling around us and our family, and that mom was likely very depressed. But also. The only time in approximately 520 hours that I saw my therapist with visible anger on her face is when I repeated something awful my mom would say to me throughout my life. Something really cruel and hateful and how she would repeat it with glee and supreme self satisfaction.
Somewhere in there, somewhere inside me is forgiveness. For a while after I forgave my mother it meant that she was showing me more empathy too. She apologized once. For some of the harm she did. I cried. Profusely. I hugged Maya and told her what my mother apologized for and some of the things she did in order to owe me that apology, and I told Maya that if she hurt someone it is never too late to apologize. It really is never too late.
The first few months after I started visiting my mother cross country, things were okay. But recently she’s lapsed into her old chaos soft shoe routine and that’s when it got sticky for me. Dirty. Painful. A reminder of how I was the only one saying “this is not right.” A reminder of the promise I made to myself that I wouldn’t help someone who had been so cruel, to me and others. A reminder of how my therapist told me that most children of parents like mine don’t help them in old age. They leave them to flounder.
So I rage on at my sister, and look at her art with angry, sad eyes, that I have to do this awful thing on my own. That I give up my time and money and my heart and to fly to see our mother, and be away from my kids and I feel like she cares more about a $70 bottle of fish oil pills than me. And cares more about causing drama and chaos than me.
And I look inside, for all the ways I’m like her. I kill the buddha. I hold my ego in my mind’s eye and forgive the parts that are hard to look at. Hateful. Angry. Mean. Cruel. Cold. Chaotic. Other worldly energy driven. And then I try to determine how can this be good. How can it be positive. How can it be alright. Maybe it isn’t really. Maybe as my brother in law said to me that one time, it will never be okay.
Maybe I don’t have to go see her and help her and write her checks and take her to lunches that she never bothered to take me to. To listen to her sing her hymns and hear her talk about how “maybe” her behavior shortened my father’s life. How maybe, she was too hard on him and just never gave him enough time.
And I think about my kids and how I never give them enough time. And that I don’t know how to give them more time. Except sometimes I say “I’m sorry I don’t give you more time, when you’re a kid you need more time to do things. I’ll work on it.” But I’m still shitty at it. I know the thing that deep down makes me me is the same thing that makes her her. I can’t tell you what the difference is between us. I can’t see the difference. I don’t know that difference. I don’t know how to be different.
Today I booked my flight to take her to her next doctor’s appointment after a full month of not wanting to do it. Since she asked me for the $70 pills. Since she bragged to someone just how much “she loves it when I wait on her.” And it would come to me that I’ve been “waiting on her” since I was at least four.
At first, after this summer, when I would accidentally remind her that she had forgotten something she would taunt me over and over with how she was going to go drive her car around the neighborhood. Until I took her keys away. I’m not even sure she remembers how to drive a car.
I cried and touched Miriam’s things today because the reality is, I don’t want to fucking fly back to Norfolk again to help someone I’ve felt never loved me. Miriam should be here to do this thing, for me, for us, for our mother. But she isn’t here. And my mom needs help. And I’m going to be the one to do it. Even when it hurts. Maybe I can be different from her but also the same. In a way our children are our Advance Directive. Maybe I can help other people like she has her whole life, but also help my own family. Then I could be her and be me together, and heal us both.