I had often heard there would be a time in my life when I'd find it necessary to become a parent to my mother or dad. I now fully understand that statement. I have become my mother's mother, and even though I don't feel ready for that responsibility, the time is here.
Mom has lived alone since losing Dad over 30 years ago. After he passed, she seemed to do fairly well. My sisters, brother, and I thought she had begun to adjust to the loss. She began working outside her home and we felt she had started to move on with her life. We were very proud of her for taking the initiative and doing what was necessary to help provide for my brother and sister who were still in school and living with her. Mom hadn't been in the workforce for over 20 years because she had been home with the four of us, so that was a big adjustment for her. But after Dad passed, she needed income and did what was necessary.
As adults with children of our own, we always made sure Mom was never alone on holidays or her birthday, which is Christmas Day. In many cases, we did so at the expense of the family traditions we'd hoped to start for our own children. But we did what we thought was best at the time. We knew Mom felt a great sense of loss during the holidays and we tried to bring some happiness into her life, if only for a short time.
As the years passed we made efforts to provide happy occasions for our mother. We surprised her with oddly-timed celebrations and it wasn't unusual for us to hold a summer birthday party for Mom, even though her birthday is December 25th. We provided special gatherings and parties with extended family members and friends, some of whom traveled quite a distance to honor her on those special days. The four of us sometimes arranged to surprise her by singing in her church as we used to do when we were kids. For her 75th birthday, we whisked her away to a rustic log cabin for an Old Fashioned Country Christmas that took months to plan, but nothing ever made her happy for very long. Nothing we do or say is ever "enough".
I've learned that being happy is a choice and each of us is responsible for her own happiness, but that concept is completely lost on my mother. She simply doesn't know how to be happy. She has mourned for our dad all these years, then in 2001, we lost my brother, so Mom had even more reason to remain unhappy. She seemed to want her family around her, but when we were there with her, she fretted and complained about the one who wasn't present instead of enjoying those who were there. She seems unable to live in the moment and truly enjoy time with her family.
A few years ago we received the news that Mom was suffering from dementia and that answered many questions. She can remember things from the past, and she regularly revisits many of the negative things we kids did when we were young. She loves to remind us of our less-than-stellar actions from 40 years ago, but can't remember when she last went to the doctor, talked with a friend, or took her medicine. She can no longer balance her checkbook, use a calculator, or even solve simple math problems. She continues to sew a little, but often forgets how to thread her sewing machine or wind a bobbin. She can't remember how to work the VCR or CD player. Her ability to understand basic instructions and explanations is all but gone.
I'm sure she feels frustrated and impatient. She also has a profound hearing loss, for which she refuses to get help. I suppose all of those things cause her to be snippy and demanding at times. It doesn't make any of us happy either. In fact, there are some family members who now avoid her. She has thwarted all of our attempts to guide her into choosing an assisted living community and refuses to even consider it, so we decided to simply help her stay in her home and be independent for as long as possible.
I struggle with guilt feelings from time to time because I find it difficult to be around my mother. These days, she's not very pleasant to be with and she can no longer carry on a simple conversation. There are times I even feel some resentment about needing to "mother" her. I do make time to be with her and I do "mother" her when I'm there because I think it's the right thing to do. But after even a brief visit, I can't wait to be back in my own home - hence the guilt. I've read that depression and negativity can accompany dementia. Being aware of those things helps me to cope with my mother's words and actions. I know that none of this is her fault.
I recently visited with Mom for two days and a night, but came home frustrated and emotionally tired. While I was there, she complained about everything in her life and seemed resentful when I tried to help her see things in a more positive light. I realize Mom's dementia is progressing and I fear she has Alzheimer's. Her doctors have told my sisters and me they can't give an exact diagnosis. We know it wouldn't make a difference anyway. The symptoms will remain and we know they will only get worse as times passes. I don't believe that my mother is deliberately trying to be difficult. I'm sure she's very frustrated by her limitations, but she wants my sisters and me to be able to fix her life and we can't. If we could fix anybody's lives, we'd start with our own.
Since I can't fix things for my mother, I'll just try to be the daughter she needs me to be. I'll try to make her life easier and show love, compassion, and patience when I'm with her. Thank goodness, I can count on my family members and close friends to understand when I need to vent about things that make me feel frustrated and helpless. What would I do without them? They can't make things different for my mother or me, but they listen and don't judge me for how I feel or what I say. I'm very thankful to have them in my life.
There may come a day when I find myself in my mother's situation. I hope and pray if that time comes, my family will be able to grant me patience, compassion, and understanding.