I recently returned from a ten-day visit with my mother. I appreciate the time I spend with her, however I am very aware of how exhausted I am when I get home. I usually am wiped out and in a state of dis-ease somewhere in my body.
My mother has Congestive Heart Failure and arrhythmia. These conditions affect her life to a certain extent, but her physical dis-ease is nothing compared to her mental decline.
My mother is almost ninety-four and has dementia. She has had it for a while but since she fell and broke her hip and had surgery with excessive meds in 2012, she has not been the same.
She has good days and not so good days. Sometimes her confusion is bad and other times she can have a lucid conversation.
There are times when we talk about her younger days and she has partial recall, but I notice how much of her recall is inaccurate due to her state of mind.
Every once in a while we have a conversation about her daughter, who happens to be me, as if I was not sitting there. If I ask her, “Who am I?” she will look at me and say, “Why, you’re Brenda.” But, just for a moment, she forgets and tells me about me.
I think the reason I get so exhausted is due to having to watch this person, who used to be my lively, funny, bright, active mother, fumble for words and thoughts. She forgets where she is and what she is doing and has a very difficult time keeping up with a conversation.
I spend a lot of time crying when I am there and cry even harder when I get home. It tears at my heart strings to see the light leaving her eyes. When I put her to bed at night she will often say, “I hope I’m here in the morning,” or “Thank you for being so good to me.” I look at her skin and bones body, and her tired face, as I tuck her in and kiss her goodnight. Then I go to my room and cry.
Often, I have the thought, “I don’t want to do this anymore.” I can’t fix her, restore her life to her, or infuse joy into her being. All I can do is be present to her where she is, shower her with love, kindness, affection, and compassion, and let the tears flow. I don’t want to not have her here physically but it is so hard watching her go down the rabbit hole. It is heart-breaking.
I catch myself feeling guilty for being ready for her physical life to end, and am learning to give myself big doses of Self-forgiveness. I don’t want to lose her, but I already have. Even though I have her body to hug and tend to, the mother I knew is gone
She has moments of joy when a friend or a family member comes by to visit her. She loves to go out to eat and have a picnic in the park with her grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren. But, those moments are not enough to sustain a desire to be here. She feels alone and lonely. She has buried her mother, father, only brother, best friend, cousins, and aunts and uncles and she feels the sting of being left.
We all do what we can to bring joy and happiness to her life. My daughter, Melissa, who is her primary caregiver, and I make her meals, clean her teeth, help her bathe, dress and undress her, take her out to eat and on little outings, and put her to bed. We have become the parent and she the child.
I love her so and I cherish the moments we have together, however, each visit is getting harder. But, I continue to go every two months to be with her and to give my daughter a break. I know Melissa suffers as much as I do because she deals with it daily.
There is a great sadness in my heart over all of this so I continue to cry, and as I feel the loss of my mother I continue to grieve. What more can I do then cry, be present, and shower her with love?