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.