I’m My Mother’s Person Now

Photo by RepentAndSeekChristJesus @alexharvey

I went to my first therapy session today, and had a revelation.

I think part of the difficulty of caring for my mother is that our roles have shifted. I get this is not really news, but it’s a new awareness on my part, and perhaps grief realized.

My mom and dad moved out of their house a state away 4 years ago, and into a continuous care senior community near me, so that they would have the occasional help they would need as they lived out their final years. I’m sure it’s a hard move, a hard realization that your final chapter is here. My dad would say it’s like living in a warehouse waiting to die.

Funny, but not. And really kinda true.

After 2 years in the “warehouse,” my dad’s final breath came the month before the pandemic hit, and I became my mom’s person.

You know what I mean.

Still daughter of course, but now the person who pays her bills, makes the doctor appointments and takes her to them, takes her to the grocery store and on a few errands. I’m the person who tells her to get Charlie the maintenance guy to change a hard-to-reach light bulb, and the person who points out that the computer is not broken, but in fact she is confused about what button to push. I’m the person who fills her medicine organizers, gets the Christmas wreath out from under the bed, and tries to convince her of the importance of using her cane. I’m the person who gives her reminders for her calendar, and the person who watches her forget them.

Like a child she thinks it’s okay to traverse a bumpy, root-filled area with a little hop across. Like a shortcut is a fun jaunt for a 5 year old, it too is still my mother’s preference, neverminding the potential to fall with her severe osteoporosis.

The mother in me rears its scolding head and quickly, not so kindly, is annoyed that she isn’t more mindful of her fragile body, isn’t more self-aware.

Her 84-year old self still thinks it’s 44 or 54 or even 64. But she’s not, and I wonder if I too will find it difficult to accept my elderly position in life when the time comes.

There’s a burden in being “the person.”

I’m the one visiting every week, sitting in the adjacent recliner, trying to fill my dad’s shoes. I’m sure their conversations were routine, and rarely new, but he was the one there to listen to her. She talks, she vents, she shares stories repeatedly.

Everyone needs that person.

But it’s hard at times. And I’m not entirely sure why.

I think, in part, I’m seeing a mom I’ve never fully seen before. As an adult I would see her a few times a year, and now I see her every week.

There are personality traits I wasn’t fully aware of, and now I am, painfully so. She’s judgemental of everyone, focused first on everyone’s appearance. Every story starts with describing a person’s looks, and it’s often not very nice.

She doesn’t like heavy people. Or people who are unkempt in any way. She doesn’t seem to have much empathy for anyone’s journey, and how time, trauma, illnesses, medicines, financial means, and mental health can affect one’s appearance. She is fairly fit and active for her age, boasting how she walks outside most every day, and doesn’t understand why more people don’t do that.

Well mom, there are many reasons why.

She’s all about appropriateness. Appropriate grooming, clothing, walking, manners, speech, behavior. Anything that falls outside what she deems appropriate is wrong to her, and will even call someone out on it, with her brash, unfiltered way, as though her rebuke will lead them out of their wrongful ways.

Her conversations are mostly small talk, repetitive, and trite. Like a wide-eyed second-grader she entertains herself in the car by reading aloud the store signs we pass, chuckling about funny words, or surveying the parking spots to tell me which ones are open as though it’s a game.

We sit in the waiting room for her turn to see the doctor, and the momentary stillness makes her antsy like a child, as she tries to recruit me into a game of “I Spy.” She proudly tells me about the time she and Dad played one time when they had a long wait. I imagine he endured more than a game or two in his lifetime with her.

She is closed-minded and child-like, with a narrow scope of human understanding. She knows all she is going to know, and will know no more.

And because of that my sister and I filter ourselves, undersharing details of family events so as not to have to explain something she can’t grasp, doesn’t try to grasp, but rather jumps to her critical mindset to sort the details in her brain. To share everything would open ourselves up to prolonged judgement, repetitive questions, and insensitive remarks.

She’s abrasive. We blame it on her New Yorker roots, but it’s hard to reconcile that with the fact that she has lived in the south for 60 years. Why didn’t any southern charm wear off on her? Her lack of adaptation is baffling.

When you first meet her she can seem friendly, nice, sweet, vivacious, fun, and entertaining, but it’s the slow burn of getting to know what goes beyond the facade that’s become frustrating.

I know we all do it. We all judge, we vent to those closest to us, saying not-so-nice things, but she lacks filtering. Where others may think things, she will just say them to people she barely knows. My mom had just met a lady in a wheelchair sporting a crew cut, and rather than understand all the challenges she must face, she told her she would look better if she didn’t cut her hair like that.

And I know as the non-elders we’re supposed to shut up and be respectful, as though the senior citizen card earns them the right to live and speak unapologetically unfiltered. But I find myself being embarrassed by my mom at times, and it makes me feel ashamed.

Two years as her person, and I now surprisingly see how her world is so little. It’s depressing and frustrating. She’s not entirely who I thought she was all these years, and I find grief in that too.

My time with her is precious, I know, but I struggle with the monotony and her unawareness, as I wade through her strange world. Her simplistic nature dumbs down our life together as mother and daughter, and I feel a little robbed of what I would’ve liked to have been a fulfilling relationship.

The notion that my kids will feel the same about me some day is not lost on me. I dig deep to keep the gratitude and awareness of how wonderful a mother she has always been to me, but it’s hard.

Time has stolen her best life, and it’s sad to watch. It steals everyone’s best life. Her greatest pride and joy in life was her ability to take care of her husband, her children, and her grandchildren, and now that part is gone.

I’m not sure what to do with my shame, embarrassment, depression, frustration, and ongoing assignment. I think it just is what it is.

As my mother, she was my person, taking care of me so, so long ago, and taking care of her is of course exactly what I will do for the rest of her life.

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On a writing journey to somewhere. I like talking about life lessons and self-awareness. Proud mom, happy wife, just trying to leave something behind.

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Della Jennsen

Della Jennsen

On a writing journey to somewhere. I like talking about life lessons and self-awareness. Proud mom, happy wife, just trying to leave something behind.

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