On May 4th, 2018 my mother, Carrie, passed away. She had been in assisted living for three years, following a diagnosis of (and the worsening of) dementia. Mom was 87 at the time of her death, having just passed another birthday the month before. She had been in and out of the hospital for a few months prior to her passing. The final time she was released her needs had grown and the assisted living facility stated that they could still provide the level of care she required. Within one hour of her return she got herself out of bed (one of the requirements of her new level of care was that she needed higher rails on her bed to prevent this from happening), and fell, face first, onto the floor – breaking her nose and fracturing vertebrae in her neck. She returned to the hospital that night, and never recovered enough to leave again. In just over a month she passed away.
I have purposely held off writing here about her passing whereas I needed time to process it first. I still don’t think I fully have – but enough that I wanted to mark this date by saying ‘something’ at least while I filter through so many years of memories and thoughts and feelings.
I don’t, even though she has passed, ‘sugarcoat’ my relationship with my mother. It was often a very difficult one, despite public appearance. The title of this particular line of blog posts, Confessions Of A Rotten Little Bastard, came from the absolute worst fight we ever had, where she accused me of colluding with doctors to force a diagnosis of dementia for her (to what end, I never really learned) and force her from her home in Maine. She threatened to take me to court and rescind the power of attorney and medical proxy and guardianship she had granted me in advance of need. ‘That’ll fix you, you rotten little bastard!” she hissed at me one afternoon in my living room when we’d seen a small apartment nearby well suited for her since she could no longer live in Maine on her own with no public transportation and limited help.
Eventually she acquiesced and moved to my town, then went to Florida to visit my brother – which became a permanent stay when she declined further and, due to recent injuries, could not travel even back to New England. She moved into assisted living with a surprising lack of fuss, and I visited when I could, but with two young boys to raise it grew to be impossible to get there. So I called her, every day, until she no longer could really carry on a conversation – and then I could see that it was more frustrating for her than beneficial. She also didn’t really, fully, know who I was any longer.
When we talked of the necessity of moving her to assisted living, I knew I was breaking a promise to her made long ago that I’d never put her there. I suppose it was the guilt associated with that which kept me so determined to allow her to live independently for as long as she could, despite the signs that it was no longer possible. In everything she asked of me to do for her in her care and final years, it was the one promise I was not able to keep. On the day we spoke of assisted living as a necessity, she sat and told me that no matter what happened to her mind, she’d never, ever forget me – she’d never forget her son who she loved with all her heart. I gave her an out that day, knowing full well what dementia would do to her in all likelihood – and told her even if I was no longer in her mind, I knew I’d always be in her heart. I hope that eased things for her – because just as there was one promise I had made to her that I could not keep – neither could she keep the last one she made to me. When she died, three years later, I was mostly a stranger to her aside from a few fleeting seconds of recognition.
I delivered a eulogy at her funeral. I spoke of memories, good and bad, of how over the years I’d grown to accept that despite fighting it I was in many, many ways ‘my mother’s son’. I spoke of carrying on the best parts of her, the ones that had filtered down to me, and that I hoped to pass on to my boys as they grow. I spoke about her….because I could no longer speak to her.
Therapists often encourage clients to write a letter to someone who has passed, or that you have no contact with, just to get your feelings in the open and let them air out. I think, whereas this is the last ‘confession’ I’ll write (though likely not the last time Mom will appear in something I write) that that’s how I wish to cap off this particular thread of my blog, which I have neglected over time.
It’s been a year since you passed. I know your faith led you to believe that you would, hopefully, be going to a better place when you passed. I don’t share your faith, but I did, and do, hope you found it.
My feelings for you have often been complicated. I carried many resentments and a lot of anger with you for a long time. I felt for so long that you were too wrapped up in issues with one of your other children that you didn’t have time for me or mine – I felt like they got all the ‘parenting’ and I got something else. I got picking up the slack. I got making peace no matter what. I got watching you suffer and hurt. One day, in my 30’s, you tried to give me some motherly advice, and I found myself angry with you. I recall saying to you, ‘Are you trying to parent me…now? Isn’t it a bit too late for that?’ I never apologized for that.
I didn’t understand at the time, not really, because I wasn’t a parent yet, that a parent never stops being a parent. There’s no expiration date on it until you, yourself, pass away. You advise them, you try to prepare them for life’s challenges and disappointments and successes and how to handle them. You laugh with them, you cry for them, and you always, always love them, no matter what…even if it appears they don’t need you to parent them any longer, then you just stand by at the ready if they need help picking themselves up again – you give them their wings and hope that they soar and you watch their wings spread out in the sun and inside you silently cry out ‘GO! KEEP GOING! YOU CAN DO THIS! I BELIEVE IN YOU!’……but part of you will always fly alongside them, the tip of your own wing mere centimeters from theirs – ready to hang on if they start to falter.
You taught me that, Mom. It’s taken me a lot of time to jettison all the choices you made, however dysfunctional some of them were, and realize that you made them with love. You made them the best way you knew how. You taught me that being a parent is a joy, and a pleasure and a gift. I know you loved all your children equally, but I was the ‘hardest to come by’ – the one you carried inside you against the odds you were quoted. I worked to become a parent, too – it didn’t just fall into my lap, and it’s not been easy at times, now being a single parent on top of it – just like you were. I understand so much more now than I ever did.
I know you’re in a better place because there’s no more pain for you – no more confusion – no more indignity and suffering. At times I so wish that I could be in this place, in this state of being at peace with my past – and with our past – and talk to you now. We had a clean slate when you did, I made sure of that because I both wanted you to go peacefully and didn’t want to carry that baggage around for the rest of my life. But now, a year after your passing, there’s just so much more I wish I could say. I can’t, at least not with the anticipation of an answer. And I’m okay with that, Mom. I’m going to do the next best thing. I’m going to show what I’ve learned to your grandsons. I’m going to continue to tell them that no matter what I will always, always love them. I’m going to try to prepare them for the challenges of adult life. I’m going to give them their wings one day, and let them fly…and I’m going to be nearby, always, just in case they need me. Just as you were, always, for me.
I miss you, Mom.
Your Rotten Little Bastard.