Letting go of Animosity

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;

Mom and I, San Marco Square, Venice Italy 1965

“I love you”

“I am sorry I hurt you”

“I understand”

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.

Ferry to Vashon Island

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


  1. Funny that I should read this today. My husband and I spent the day helping his Mom pack for her move to an assisted-living place. She was everywhere and nowhere. She does not have dementia, but neither is she able to comprehend the move, and the tasks that need to be done.

    It’s a hard thing to do when there are no difficulties in the relationship. My admiration for your ability to overcome your problems with your second mother knows no bounds! You are awesome, Val!

  2. You did the right think, Val, and you’ll be all the better for it in your process of healing.
    Thank you for the recent visit as well.
    Much love, and hugs xx

    • I am still processing ‘doing the right thing’. Still processing ‘being better for it’ also. Healing, that I think is happening.

      I love visiting your place, it is the week away that killed me.

      Always hugs and love.

  3. Stacie Chadwick says:

    Great post. Dementia runs on both sides of my family as does divorce. Glad you’re tackling the Ds with such grace.

    • Divorce runs throughout all of my families (First and Second). Dementia and Alzheimer’s only through the second. I think I am blessed in that.

      Grace? Thank you, right now I think it is only with all we can.

  4. A very moving post – you did the right thing.. Old wounds take time to heal but you are getting there. You are a good person.

    • Good? I don’t know if I am there yet, but softer yes getting there most certainly. Some wounds, I suspect they don’t heal instead they are what makes us who we are, gives us wings even. But we can choose whether we grow in terrible ways, twisted and stunted or in wonderful ways reaching for sunlight and blossoming. I hope I always choose the later.


  5. Dementia is such a horrible beast because it affects not only those afllicted, but also those around them, especially those that tend to them.

    I enjoyed reading about your relationships with your two mothers and how you seek to be at peace with them. It’s true that we shouldn’t “lose sight of the bonds that tie us together.”

    • I had the opportunity this trip to watch her interact with her two caregivers, it was both funny and wrenching. Funny because the one she is most bonded to is not the one I would have guessed, she is in her forties, tattooed, with multiple ear piercings …. well me in many ways. While the other is, very decorous very suburban mom….well her.

      I wondered the entire time, what drew her what caused these relationships to blossom and grow in the way they did.

      Her dementia is terrible and hard. I was saddened by it, softened by it also.

  6. My mom is starting down the same road and I have never had patience but must learn it now…

    Good post.

  7. Deborah the Closet Monster says:

    I love this post. I don’t know what has me so tender-hearted this weekend, but I’m crying as I read it. This part especially made me want to both cheer and reach out to hug you:

    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

    That is the mark of a great heart. I am blessed to know it.

    • Hugs my friend are always welcome. I said to someone else today, I am thinking I need to fall into them this weekend. I had a difficult time recovering from that weekend. It was a tough time, I felt drained and wrung out. It took a week to sort out my feelings and write them down, then I did it without re-write or audit.

  8. May be easier said on my end, but I guess sometimes, all has to be let go and then one has to love their own kids better than what was given. I wasn’t abused but looking back most recently, I realize how incovenient my sister and I were; that we saw a lot of crap we shouldn’t have, living in an adult world that we’d never expose our kids to. We were simply lucky, unlike some female cousins, that we weren’t molested with all the men coming and going. That we didn’t fall prey to drugs because it was surely there. Yes, we’re very lucky. Funny how I didn’t realize how screwed up all of that was until adulthood. The stories I could tell…and probably will.

    • These are the stories I have been telling, I think Totsy it is what has helped me to finally see my second mother and maybe my first also in different even softer lights. My own refusal to allow what harmed me, continue on into the next generation just as your refusal to expose your children to the world you were exposed to was and is the reason for Broken Chains. I think though it might have also been the reason for this trip to Seattle, a healing or mending of sorts.

      It doesn’t mean the bad didn’t happen or that we weren’t fundamentally harmed by it. It doesn’t mean we aren’t wounded, we are. Healing is a funny / odd thing, the scars remain and if not cared for properly we continue to peal them back. But, we can become whole even great humans. You are marvelously talented, wonderfully smart and giving. All of this despite the hurt and harm, some of us we spread our wings and soar because we are lifted up. I think you are one of these.

      • Thank you. And it does take time to develop that soft lens toward folks who have caused pain. I’m sure in your second mother’s mind, she is sorry and thankful for you being there but sometimes it doesn’t come out in words. A softer countenance may be the I’m sorry. Cooperation could be the I’m sorry. It’s there in subtle and informal ways. I’m seeing that, actually, as I read your post. One thing for sure, we always need other folks down the road and you’re good to put aside your feelings to be there. Real good. Your wings took you all the way to Seattle to care.

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