Saturday, August 29, 2009

Not Much Room to Move Forward

It was in my mother’s repose last night, as I watched her breathing from the bedroom doorway, her perfectly bald head the only part of her visible from the sheets, that I glimpsed her as a woman whose brain is being molested by dementia, and not my mother with whom I have a painful and complicated past. It is in these moments that I experience a powerful tenderness toward her, and the choice I made to have her live with us settles easily within me. It is when I am struck by her frailty, that I feel a connection to her that is pure and uncomplicated.

However, it is not always so. Caring for the woman who is at the root of a forest full of hurtful memories is rarely easy and always confusing; She must live here because I could have it no other way - yet there are days I can’t bare being in the house with her. I do everything I can to keep her safe and healthy - yet having her live for years like this and with me is incomprehensible. The emotions are in constant battle with each other and I’ve often just sat and wondered who I was, and what side of the war I was on. Am I the girl who wants to run miles away from her mother, or the woman who would have her mother’s care in no one else’s hands but her own?

The past few months have been particularly rough. I haven’t fully come to terms with her disease or the role I’ve chosen in her life as caretaker. There are weeks of particularly intense confusion where I’ve grasped at any possible strategy for relief, searching for extended moment when I’d see “Lisa,” again and get a grip on who she is.

I’ve pondered, “Can I just pretend there isn’t a past? Is there a way I can look at my mother as if today is the beginning of our relationship?” Even the woman who fights me to get up in the morning, the woman who rarely says ‘thank you’ or gives me a kiss, is preferred over the indifferent other I spent my childhood with. Can we start from her dementia on?

There are days I try this by concentrating just on the moment, being present fully in the here and now without the clouds of the past looming overhead. Those are good days. Then there are days when I wake up knowing the past has been sleeping cuddled beside me and will cling to me like the hairs on my skin. Those are bad days.

Perhaps as the months move on and she and I live in our new world together, I’ll find a more constant place of peace; a world where the battle between the girl and the woman is over and the new and real Lisa emerges. But now, with one foot mostly in my childhood, there is not much room to move forward.


  1. Lisa, this really makes me think about my own abusive father and his final time on earth. I wonder if he was stricken by dementia instead of cancer would I feel more tender towards him? If he had lost the memories of what a terrible father he was, would I be albe to do the same? I don't think so, but your post makes me ponder it anyway.

    So beautiful. So sad.

  2. Always remember to reach out to others for support to retain your adult sense of self, as I think you never outgrow the 'child' within you when dealing with your parent.

    Continue to take it one day at a time, as you have been. We can't really share your burden, but we are here to listen.

    Your blog is a wonderful testimony to others in your shoes who might not have anyone else to turn to. Keep up the good work.

  3. Thank you for blogging about these emotions. So many caretakers try to keep emotions bottled up. It sounds as though you're reaching the point where the roles reverse and you become the mother and she the child.

    Someday I predict you'll reach a point where you can forgive her your past. I did that with my mother, but it was after she died. I now can say, she did the best she was capable of doing.

    Straight From Hel

  4. There is no question I've become the mother and I plan to detail that in another entry...right down to putting her on the bus in the morning and hanging her projects on my fridge. A part of me does know she did her best with what she had. I want to do better for her though. Perhaps that is the struggle.

    Thanks for commenting Helen.

  5. Robin, I often wonder how I would feel if my mother had another disease, one that didn't destroy her mind. I do think it would be different...but I suppose there is no way to know.

  6. Laura, I definitely don't spend enough time with adults. My job keeps me with animals (which is its own blessing), but I am truly desparate for adult company away from dementia. Maybe a book group, etc. I will look into it. Thank you :-)