One of the biggest challenges I have going on right now is figuring out how to deal with my mother who is 1700 miles away, 85 and failing fast. She lives in an assisted living home near my older sister in Rockford, Illinois. I go back a couple of times a year to visit and try to talk on the phone regularly. I say “try” because phone conversations are sometimes an exercise in patience and humor. Yesterday, I was talking to my mom on the phone and she kept saying, “I can’t hear you!” I think she may have been holding the phone upside down because her voice sounded far away. I had this vision of the speaking part of the receiver near her ear and the listening part near her mouth and her shouting at me, “I can’t hear you!” And me yelling louder and louder into the phone talking about nothing really important but trying to make myself heard. Finally I told her I was going to hang up and call her back. I think when she hung up the phone and picked it up again when I called back, she picked it up right because the rest of the conversation was better.
It makes me want to laugh and cry at the same time. The woman in the body is not my mother. She’s interesting at times and frustrating at times but definitely not the woman I grew up with.
There are some pluses. Her old patterns of judgment are gone. My mom was the one that looked at a report card of all A’s except for one A- and would ask, “what are you going to do about the minus?”
Now, I could tell her just about anything–including that I had decided to jump out of an airplane and her response would be, “That’s nice dear!” Now whether this is because she doesn’t really hear me or she really has mellowed, I don’t know. I’m taking it as acceptance that I am now an adult and she is giving me permission to live my life without her sniping at my choices–that a sort of healing has happened.
The one sweet thing that has happened through my mother’s decline is her new ability to say, “I love you.” My mom was of that WWII generation that didn’t express their feelings. I can’t remember a time in my childhood or early adulthood where she actually said the words, “I love you.” I knew she did but she never said it. A couple of years ago, after her first stroke, I decided that every time I spoke to her I would tell her I loved her. I knew that each phone conversation or visit could be our last so I made the commitment to make sure each time she heard me say, “I love you.” In the beginning it was rocky, I’d say, I love you Mom and she’d either snort or say “I know.” But over the last year each phone conversation ends with me saying, I love you and her replying, “I love you too!” Yesterday, she actually said it first! It made me tear up. Because I know that she knows her body is failing and she won’t have many times to say those words. It is so bittersweet.
The thing I miss the most is the ability to bring my problems to her. Mom was always there for me to cry about a relationship that didn’t work out or strategize about how to handle a difficult employee or boss. I didn’t always like her solutions but darn it she was always there. Little did I know when I would bitch to my friends about “my difficult mother” how much I would miss her when she was no longer “my difficult mother.”
There are so many mixed feelings as a parent ages. A lot of them we don’t really talk about. I have a few friends who are all in the same place with their parents and the stories and fears and laughter and tears we share help us get by.
So in my new community of friends here on the blog, I’m sharing a little of both today. When your mom is going or gone, I think you need your community of female friends even more. Thanks for being my shoulder!