Gentle Shackles

My second mother is 92 years old, that is a lot of years to live. For most of the past twenty-five years she and I have been estranged, or maybe a better description of our relationship is distant. I acknowledge she exists, at Christmas and on her Birthday I send a card, flowers and a $100 gift certificate to Nordstroms; she rarely ever remembers to thank me and I have long since stopped caring.

My second mother has spent the better part of the past forty years telling anyone who would listen what a miserable daughter I am. I have never defended myself nor attempted to correct her version of the truth, except with her. Ultimately I stopped trying to correct her and stopped looking for an apology.

I have covered all this before, I apologize if some of that seemed redundant.

As the day grows closer to her move to Assisted Living,  I realize I will have to get on a plane and take on the role of ‘caretaker’ to a woman I have, at best, a difficult relationship with and conflicted feelings for. I am still dancing around some very difficult and delicate realities. Initially I thought I could just deal with the checkboxes of what needs to be done; you know make a list of what it will take to move this woman from one place to the other. As anyone knows who has had to undertake moving an elderly parent it isn’t easy, there is a ton, a lifetime of emotional baggage. You can’t just swoop in and say to them, ‘come on old woman time to pack it in, we’re heading over to this strange new place where the nice people will take care of you.

This is especially true when you are talking about me and my second mother, we barely speak, barely know each other and I am not at all certain she trusts me.

But this doesn’t change the what has to be done or the reality of our situation, I am still left with the hard part. It also doesn’t change that underneath my somewhat tough exterior I am mushy, I have compassion and I am even likely a kind person (please don’t tell). My second mother is old, she has a touch of dementia and from all reports she isn’t doing all that well mentally. I feel sorry for her. My brother left this too long, he should have insisted she make this move two years ago but he didn’t. Now it is left to me because he can’t get home from Korea soon enough. At the end of the day I suspect I will wind up the bad guy, the one with the hard job. Funny I have always been the ‘bad’ daughter and her biggest disappointment, now I will be the ‘evil’ daughter the one who packs her off to assisted living potentially ‘against her will’. He will swoop in a few weeks later and pacify her and listen to her complaints, commiserate even; but it will all be done. Everything will be as it always has been.

I know this is the right thing for her. She cannot continue to live alone, she is not safe. I think there is something I am supposed to learn from this, perhaps some forgiveness I am supposed to achieve in this process, some softening of my hard-heart. Some peace I can gain, I hope so. Two weeks ago I was very angry and had a very difficult time with the situation I was left in. The more time I have the more I am able to find some peace in myself, though I haven’t yet figured out why this is left to me.

My brother hopes I will finally stop hating my second mother, he doesn’t understand I haven’t hated her in decades, I simply find a relationship with her to be toxic and not in my best interest.

My brother also doesn’t understand if I didn’t love him I would not do this. My true compassion is for him. I think I know in my heart, he left this so long because he couldn’t do this it is too hard. My big tough Special Forces Iron Man brother can’t do a little thing like move an old lady for her own good.

So one more time I am going to go be the bad daughter, the evil one. I think I am actually okay this time. Maybe my chains are finally falling away gently.


  1. Val – such a tough thing to do – I have watchred my grandnother do it for my great grandmother after they could no longer take care of her, and my mother for my grandmother after my grandfather died because she had dementia and a bad heart and – that was in 2004 – she just turned 89 and we have had to move her three times abd all three times it fell to my mother while her brothers waited til the crap died down then came on to paclate grandma- irt sounds as if your brother would help if her were there – ,y moms brothers – well I should nt make assumptions I guess but my mother the fvorite eldest chilld has been called every vile name in the book and scolded and dealt with all of this stuff it has been an eye opener for my brother and I my family had always taken care of its elders til hey were right there at death’s door… I am glad you have an open ..mind that your eyes are open and you seem to have made peace with what your relationship is.. and you are doing the best thing for her – God love her 92 and stilk on her own….
    Hope it all goes ok for you and for her. Hugs

    • It was interesting. I am back now and when I have time to process the week I will write about it. Thanks for your thoughts and your story. It does help to know others go through this.


  2. These are always difficult times Val, And I suspect what ever you do will not be right.. My thoughts are with you in this… ~Sue

  3. I think there will be a peace for you in the end of this. Forgiveness is such a weird animal. When we try to pin it to the board, it wiggles around to let us know we are likely just forgiving ourselves. I think there may be a bit of that here. Being able to say “there is nothing of mine to forgive” is a form of self-forgiveness. You are letting go of the pressure of feeling you need to hide or justify what you do or have done.

    You are also ensuring there is none of that inane malarkey of “not being there” in the end. Death guilt is always such crap.

    All men are TP. Full stop.
    Much love and support.

  4. Anyone who didn’t take the time to spend time with you to get to know you has cheated themselves. You are a fine person and a wonderful support.
    You can rest assure that you are doing the right thing, and if things get tough along the way, then you just post about it so we/I can give you the support you deserve. You’re a kind loving person, Val, who is tough on the outside. But we who have taken the time to get to know you know just a what a good person you are, who always seems to do the right thing.
    Love ya! Hugs xx

    • Shhhh! Don’t tell, you will ruin my tough girl reputation.

      Thank you Deb, I am sure there will be one more post about this journey.

      • Come on now, it’s not like we that know you don’t know this. It’s something to be proud of too, because you have a great big heart, but you don’t wear it on you sleeve…perfect combination.

        I’ll keep my eyes open for them. 😉

  5. WordsFallFromMyEyes says:

    You’ve long since stopped caring… Why, I do wonder then, do you still send her things on her birthday if she has not expressed appreciation to you? I reckon in the LEAST you should say thanks so the person knows YOU got it, & the nursing home staff didn’t nick it or anything. Thanks is so easy to say, & it is so meaningful.

    Valentine, I want your shackles off!! If this 2nd mother (I don’t understand that expression – is she a step-mother?) has been badmouthing you “always” then she has not honoured you.

    I will never forget James Ricketson, a film director, saying to me (I showed him a script I’d written ‘The Horrible Illusion of Love’) – as we spoke, he said to me, “Don’t cast your pearls before swine”. I think that’s a Biblical quote? Don’t know, but what I’m trying to say is, I don’t believe you should cast your time, displacement, efforts, endurance of her attitude toward you, before (not meaning to call her swine, but) “swine”, you know?

    I FULLY understand that you don’t hate her, but simply – just simply – a relationship with her is toxic & damaging. You know I came to that same realisation in my life. It is an emancipating realisation.

    Valentine, I so wish you to do the best for YOU and let those who have not honoured YOU for so long, repeatedly before others, let them reap what they hath sewn. It may sound heartless, but I call it natural justice. I do.

    • She is the only mother I knew most of my life. I am adopted, so she is not my birth mother but my adopted mother or ‘second mother’. My ‘first mother’ is my biological mother, the one who carried me under her heart but never held me in her arms.

      She is not in a nursing home my friend, to this day she lives alone. She receives what I send and if I bother to pick up the phone she will thank me, I just have to bother to pick up the phone, I don’t. That is simply the way it is and has been for my entire adult life. She is what she is, I am what I am. I made a decision to not allow her to define me. Not in any way. That decision allowed me to become a person that I could live with, had I made a different choice I might have done harm to my children and others, just as she did harm to me.

      The story of our relationship is written in this series, Broken Chains. Why she was who she was can’t be ignored, even though what she did is terrible it still can’t be ignored that what happened to her as a child contributed to who she became.

      I am not a saint, make no mistake there are days I have raged against having to do this, being left with this. I do this last act for me, for my brother. She benefits. But maybe also I do this because no person should be abandoned and alone at the end of their life. Maybe, I need to do this for me also because in the end although I know intellectually what happened to her made her what she became I have never been able to see through the emotional cloud to her pain and forgive her.

  6. ~~~~Val,
    —very sorry your second mother missed out on the joy of knowing and loving you…What a tragedy, dear. She has missed SO MUCH.
    You are doing the right thing…you are the better person…you inspire others. You are a good and faithful servant.
    btw, when Jesus was dying, all the men split, too…Only the woman stayed to nurture him….
    you. rock. Xx

    • I know she brought into both of our lives her pain, what was done to her in her childhood was terrible. I was the target of her hurt and her fury. It is why I titled this series Broken Chains, I choose so many years ago not to do what she had done. Though in so many ways I did, only I just continued to internalize the pain and write that pain on myself and my life rather than on others. Now, maybe now this is my last gift to help the transition to her last home. Perhaps we both find peace finally.

      Thanks Kim, you are one of my muses and heroes. Much much love. XXX

  7. To my amazement, when my mom became ill, I became a HIM. The HIM I had to deal with all my life when I wasn’t feeling up to scratch health-wise. In real time, males, for the most part, disappear when their other half is laid up. Hmm. I never understood why that was. When my turn came, I realized: this is too hard, not that I escaped, but I understood why someone would want to be GONE.There were no issues for me connected to our life together otherwise.

    I say all this only to explain I think you are a bigger person than you give yourself credit for. You are a bigger person than me even though I didn’t have issues anywhere near yours. Be proud. You did GOOD!

    • Thanks my friend. I think I won’t be proud or anywhere near it till it is all over and done with. We will see how I do, we will see if I keep my temper and my restraint. We will see if I am able to face this monumental task with the grace I have fought so hard to achieve.

      We will see won’t we. I am fortunate though, I have friends up in that neck of the woods. If things get to terrible my friend of 35 years is there. My wife-in-law is there. I know I can call on them and they will have my back, they will offer a cup of coffee and a shoulder should I find it is all to much.

      Proud? No not yet but we will see.

  8. Dear Val,
    The timing of this post couldn’t be more amazing. Two days ago my mother-in-law decided to go into assisted living. There are no conflicts here, and no issue of her being forced. It is a difficult thing to do, to help anyone move to what you know will be their last known address.

    Good luck. You are a good daughter, and a better sister.

    • I don’t think really she is being forced. When my brother talks to her she is willing. I think if he were moving her and not me she would be easier. It will just be hard because it is me.

      We will see Elyse, we will see. I don’t know if I am a good anything, but you know I will try that hat on and see how it fits.

  9. I don’t have any words of wisdom, but I certainly understand and sympathize. I wish you peace and strength in the days ahead. Those labels that others have given us tend to be internalized. How hopeful you make me, that you are casting those labels aside. The love that you show your brother and your second mother reveals your deep kindness, despite all that you’ve suffered and the pain that it might bring you as you do what needs to be done.

    • In the end, what else do we have? We can only be who we are in our core and I fought a long battle to be the person I would want to be friends with. Sometimes snarky, smartazzed, sarcastic but never unkind or mean. I really did think about this for a very long time, even originally said ‘no I am not going to do this, not for any reason’.

      But that wasn’t the right answer for anyone, not even for me. Perhaps there really is a final door that needs to be closed. Some final forgiveness that needs to be laid to rest, some final peace that needs to be given and achieved.

      I can only hope so.

  10. Androgoth says:

    I can certainly relate to your thoughts on this posting Val, though my own experience is not directly with my mother, though she is a definite part of it, I won’t go into any details as there is no reason to apart from the real sense of knowing what you are going through my friend, but you know at the end of the day you are not a horrible person at all, you have been misinterpreted and as a result over years of misunderstandings the rift has widened, I know this as it has happened to me but in a different set of circumstances.

    We just have to pick up the pieces where others fail to act and in the process be branded this way or that, and always wrongly which is the worst part of the whole thing.

    From your posting I can see that you have always given it one hundred percent and for all of your efforts you have been let down, unfortunately this does happen and there is nothing that we can do to change things, instead we carry on doing our best regardless of what people think. It can be such a cruel world Val but you have done your utmost, as I have and to be honest that is all that counts my wickedly fine friend 🙂

    Have a really nice rest of evening Val and don’t be worrying about anything, you’re not bad or evil, you are just doing the best that you can in a very difficult time…

    Androgoth XXx

    • Androgoth, you are a fine friend to have….thank you. I will do this because it is right. It will be what it needs to be and hopefully it will be fine in the end. It will be hard for her, but it will still be right.

      For me, I will indeed carry on.


  11. Deborah the Closet Monster says:

    My brother hopes I will finally stop hating my second mother, he doesn’t understand I haven’t hated her in decades, I simply find a relationship with her to be toxic and not in my best interest.

    I’ve met a few well intentioned people who cannot understand this distinction, no matter how kindly or gently it is expressed. It’s become easier with time to understand that they might never get it, and I still sometimes struggle . . . but it’s made easier when I think of a poster I saw recently: “I can’t control what you hear, only what I say.”

    Some of what you describe here reminds me of my mom’s last trip to see her mom. The black sheep of her family, she nevertheless was the one who stayed nearest and was with her mom when she passed away. I always thought it was because her siblings were lacking something; now I wonder if my mom was there because she was the only one up to the challenge.

    I know you are up to the challenge, but I send you much love and support nevertheless. It is a good thing you are doing, no matter how any naysayers see it.

    • I think Deb, it is a closing of a door and the opening of a window. Does that make sense? There are so many things that will always remain unsaid between her and I, so many things that will always be unfinished. But this, perhaps this is the gift that will allow me to let go.

      I have struggled with this for so many days and through many tears. I think the tears are done now. But your love and support, well it is accepted with gratitude.

  12. why am I here in a handbasket? says:

    Simply because people are “family” doesn’t entitle them to love and respect if it’s not earned. Pack the demons, along with her belongings, and leave them with her. Your life is meant to be lived in whatever way makes you happy. Waiting for approval from a woman who, from your words, seems unworthy of you, is futile. Easier said than done, I know.

    • Thanks! My second mother and my history go back many years. I have written bits and pieces of it here in the Broken Chain series. Choosing life on my terms came with a high price, I paid it. Now at the end of her life, well I pay a different price but one not so steep but I think different.

      I think I am trying to find that middle ground now, where I can let go. Where I can do this for my brother because I do love him and I know he cannot do it. Where I can also do this for her, without resentment because despite what she did to me I know her history as well as I know our history. I did break the chain, she never was able to. I may have paid a price but I think ultimately she paid a far higher one.

      Perhaps this is the lesson I have to take away and the peace I have to earn.

  13. Its tough when your own family won’t understand you. Its obvious from the stuff you write, that you are indeed a very kind person. someone who will be strong when the need arises and do the ‘tough’ tasks. It requires not only a strength of mind and character but also immense kindness and concern. God bless you!

  14. oh i get you..i am the black sheep in my who doesnt believe in organised religion,one who is constantly breaking age old traditions,the odd one out and most people go out of the way to label me and add tags to the infamous me…and despite every label whenever someone needs help i get the first call..
    if people look beyond my personal choices just for once …they will be pleasantly surprised but they wont and nor do i try ..

    • I suspect Soma, labels are far easier than discovering the truth. I have been finding especially over this past few weeks though I am not happy with this. A lifetime spent with very hurtful labels, even when we pretend to ignore them still hurts something within us.

      XX Val

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