Last week I was in Seattle where both my mother’s live, what a strange twist of circumstance and fate that is. Originally my trip was planned so I could step into the role I have always played so well, the one I am so expert at, Bad and Evil Daughter to my second mother. The plan was for me to move my second mother from the apartment she had lived in for 28 years to Assisted Living, all in a single fell swoop.
The strategy was laid. The deposit was made on her new apartment in the Assisted Living place; it is literally two blocks from where she is now. It is a nice apartment, frankly nicer than where she is living today. The movers were arranged for and the time agreed. Her home care support was notified so they could start preparing her, reminding her she was moving. My second mother has dementia, her memory and cognitive skills on a scale of 1 to 5, five being the best, are approaching two now.
I was going to spend my Labor Day weekend moving my second mother into her new Assisted Living facility. It isn’t what I wanted to do and I approached this task with much trepidation, some resentment and frankly some fear. Anyone who has read Broken Chains knows the story of my relationship with my second mother, the time leading up to this weekend had been filled with a great deal of soul searching and angst. I landed in Seattle Thursday night though and made my way to the hotel with some peace in my heart. It would all be fine, my brother was convinced all the pieces were in place and everything would be fine.
Well, maybe not so fine. The movers, who were supposed to arrive at 9am on Friday morning, arrived at 7am instead. Was I confused? I am certain I wasn’t, in fact I had the move confirmation right there on my handy CrackBerry, right there in green and lime green, 9am. Nevertheless, let me rush across the bridge to and get things moving. When I arrived at my second mom’s apartment, no one was there but her and she was still in bed sound asleep. You cannot get a 92-year-old woman with dementia out of bed and tell her, “come on old woman it’s moving day!” This is simply not the way things work, hell this approach wouldn’t work for me and I am significantly younger. It took her nearly 20 minutes to realize who I was and that I was there, in her apartment.
We talked about her move. She was genuinely confused and resistant to any thought of moving. She doesn’t remember falling and has remained on the floor until her home aid comes the next day. She believes she can continue to live independently and that she is not a danger to herself. She doesn’t remember that she forgets to eat or that she has bouts of incontinence. We had the same conversation at least seven times in the space of an hour.
I called my brother in Korea, it was 3am there but I did not care because I was doing this for him. He didn’t want to be the Bad and Evil Son. We had gone through this with our father who had Alzheimer’s, my brother didn’t understand how bad it was, how horrific the failure was. My brother couldn’t face the failure of our fathers mind. Now we faced the same issue, he didn’t understand or couldn’t face the failure of our mother; she said ‘yes’ but did not retain the information.
I sent the movers away agreeing to pay for their time. I sat with my second mother and continued to talk about the move, about what she needed to make her comfortable with it. I wrote on her White Board, “You Are Moving to Ballard Manor”. I gave money to her favorite caregiver to buy moving boxes so she could start sorting some of her personal things when Veronica was with her, it helps her to feel in control.
I will never hear from my second mother the words I spent my entire life wishing to hear; never will I hear any of these;
“I love you”
“I am sorry I hurt you”
Despite my original trepidation, anger and fear going out to Seattle to be the Bad and Evil Daughter, I am glad I went. Although I don’t think my mother knows this, we made peace. She is at the end of her life and I realized in sitting with her over the days I was there, despite it all she deserves my protection and care. For her humanity, for the fact that she was so greatly damaged as a child and was unable to heal throughout her long life she deserves my protection and care. I came away knowing I would always have a small hole, but it was one I could fill by preserving her dignity.
To the other side of this trip, the time I didn’t know I would have I filled in a way I hadn’t originally considered. Early this year I had reached out my first mother, we hadn’t spoken in several years and at the urging of one of my siblings I opened the communication door again. I wanted to repair old wounds and re-create a relationship with my first mother; we had a rocky start the first time. With this in mind, well I just picked up the phone and called asking if I could come to Vashon Island for to visit.
Why not? Surprise I am here!
One visit turned into two, they were both wonderful and peaceful. We were both I think changed in some fundamental ways by life and our experiences. We were both different and the same, but both ready for a different relationship with each other. For me, it was easier to internalize ‘this is my mother, blood and she did what was best.’ I had always pragmatically thought so, but my emotions had overruled my thinking and I wanted to lay at her feet so much of my pain, even when I didn’t realize I was doing this. I can’t speak for her, but at least on the surface she was softer though I worry for her health.
The bonus visit was with one of my siblings, a younger sister! I learned something on this trip, though in my head I have always known. I have this large extended family, some of whom I keep up with at least within the context of social media and some of whom I rarely talk to at all. I think we do ourselves such a grave and terrible disservice by losing sight of the bonds that tie us together. We don’t have to love one another, but at least for me given my status as an adopted child I want at least the chance to know who I love and whether I can love you before I let go entirely.
If you are confused by my references to mothers:
First Mother – my biological mother
Second Mother – my adopted mother