My mother had a stroke. If you are fortunate enough to have one or both of your parents, you know some time in the near future, if they are elderly, time is going to rear it’s ugly head and you will witness the decline and disappearance of someone who may have been your rock your entire life.
In April of this year, my 83 year old mother had a stroke in the early hours of the morning. When she woke and found she couldn’t move and panicked. She slipped off the bed to the floor. After a couple hours she inched her way to the phone cord and pull it down from the table and call 911.
My mother doesn’t look at herself herself as 83. As long as she was able to go outside to her beloved bright blue Honda Civic and whiz off down the road, as she did her entire life selling Tupperware, she was happy – until one day, I heard a knock on my door early one morning. The ambulance service tracked me down because they couldn’t reach me by phone and told me my mother had stroke and was in the ER.
My husband and I were at the ER as fast as I could get dressed and made the 25 minute drive. What I found resembled a broken bird. My heart crushed but I still needed to smile for her. Her life crashed that day and was she would never going to be the same woman again. I understood how much this was going to cost her. Family came together quickly. Being the middle child of three girls who are close in age, born in ’53, ’54 and ’56, I wasn’t the baby in the family and compared too often with the first born.
The oldest of her daughters lives twenty minutes away, but might as well live on Mars because she made it known long ago she didn’t want her mother in her life. My younger sister lives 2 1/2 hours away. Instead of day to day care she takes care of bill paying and the multitude of calls to set up the help she would need when she came home. and has driven here every single weekend for at least one day. I absolutely detest making calls. Stomping on the phone with a big brick would be my first thought if it woke me up.
My younger sibling came flying into the hospital room letting everyone know she was now in control. Whoa . . . excuse me . . .hello, what am I, invisible? She gave the feeling that no one but her had the capabilities of making a decision. My sister and I had not talked at all for several years because she talks on the top of issues and I talk about why an issue is important. We speak two different languages and I get angry at her complete inability to accept responsibility for the causes she made.
Initially the bossy attitude pissed me off. She had not come out to visit with our mother in at least two years, only seeing her only for a couple days when my mother drove in to her high school class luncheons. Now she comes out usually one day a week for a few hours. Before the stroke my mother would drive to her house every two months for her high school class luncheon. My sister never lived close enough for daily visits on a whim. Cutting her some slack, though, her job for years didn’t give her 2 days off in a row. She did say recently, after five months of dealing with the stroke, thinking about something I said, she admitted she did come on too strong. That was surprising. She was used to doing things herself because then she knew they were done right. That admission was not easy for her to make. It is necessary for us to be able to work together on this and I can’t always talk the way she needs to hear it. Sometimes she needs to be able to hear what I say in the words I need to say it.
My mother told me on more than occasion, no one came to visit anymore and calls were rare. Her granddaughter who lives nearby seldom came. Her grandson, who used to come, didn’t come anymore and seldom, if ever, called her. She also said my sister didn’t call her as often as she used to. Why? Because busy lives come with their own set of obstacles to overcome. It is not unusual for younger people to think they can visit later and sometimes later is too late. Gradually, she only saw her family during planned holiday events and that bothered her enough to talk to me. She and I visited each other often because I live close by. This is not criticism. We all have our own lives to live, and have relationships that sometimes need work. Welcome to life. Every day is a gift we give ourselves and it isn’t to be wasted.
My relationship with my mother is deeper than she had with my sisters, because of our ability to talk. I am not saying I had a better relationship – we have a different kind of closeness. She and I are also both Buddhist and speak the same language of life. We are twins born 20 years apart. The similarities are almost scary. Knowing how she thinks and understanding what is going on in her head is easy because we often think alike. Would my sister argue with that? Probably, but how can you understand when you aren’t able to discuss what is going on in your own head, let alone your mother’s head?
Mom and I talk about issues for hours and apply the Buddhist theory of the law of cause and effect to understand why our lives have become what they did. What good is it to look outside ourselves for answers if we aren’t willing to do the work to change the parts of our lives we aren’t happy with. Ignoring the bad parts does not change a thing. We reap what we sow, if you believe the Bible. Buddhism is simply the law of cause and effect.
My mother is the only one in this family who understands who I am. I learned so much from her. Having her for my mother means I did something right somewhere. I am who I am because of her. She taught me strength and courage. She taught me to grab life by the horns and run with it. She said I lived a life she wished she had a chance to live but couldn’t, because women in the 50’s weren’t supposed to reach high. What she did to add income to their household was sell Tupperware – until she retired. Growing up at this time there was a lot of Tupperware in our home on order packing day!
My sister and I never had a close relationship. No sister talks not did we do things together. She stayed close to home and I left home at eighteen and moved many times. She does not have one clue about what makes me tick and if I try to encourage her to talk in any way, she shuts down. She stuffs what she can’t deal with and pretends they don’t exist. I stuff nothing. We don’t confront life with the same set of objectives and are extreme opposites. I’m not saying I am right and she is wrong. We are different and I can’t talk to her about anything deeper than the weather. We are a dysfunctional family.
I’m afraid of my mother disappearing. Her memory before the stroke was at the point of repeating things but there weren’t gaps of time. Now there are sizable holes that pop up when we talk about certain times in the past. I am making recordings of her memories that no one else has shown any interest in doing – except maybe later. Family thinks they are doing all they can without being too disruptive to their own lives, but what about my life? Maybe my sister doesn’t want to see and shoves reality far enough inside to be safe so she can go about her life. My house is only a block away so I understood from the beginning that her care was going to fall on me. How else could it go? We would need a few weeks to see if a routine is established that allows me to do my work. Because I don’t get a paycheck and can’t get fired, do they see what I do as less important? Do they really know what I do because my mother has told them things? Do they understand why I do the things I do? No, how could they?
In addition to the different avenues I write for, I write record improvisational piano music. No one in my family was ever interested in my music. They know I have played piano my entire life but they have never heard me play or wanted to hear it. I wrote a piece for my niece for a special occasion. She wasn’t home when I took it to her house so I left it with her husband. She never thought to say thank you until I finally asked her one day if she received it. I wanted to believe it got lost and that was why I didn’t hear back. To be given something so personal and not say anything at all was hurtful. The music piece on this post is the one I wrote for her. It is titled Graduation Day. Spending twelve hours a day behind my computer is not unusual. In addition I teach a few piano students. My life is jammed, and doesn’t take a lot much twisting to get out of rhythm.
My family believes they are doing all they can for my mother. They want to think she is going to improve and be around for an indefinite number of years. My husband said, “Go. Stay with her. She needs you.” My niece is an LPN in a nursing home caring for elderly people. She knows the odds of her ever being completely self sufficient again. Not impossible, but age works against her. She works nights and long hours and has a family. Can she do more than what she is doing?
Five months in a nursing home trying to overcome a stroke is a long time, and a big shock to her. This type of illness is something you hope will never happen to you. It took the right half of her body. It is easy to see the damage to her right arm,hand and leg, but cut a body in half and see everything inside the body, from her brain, half her throat and vocal cords down through her bowels. With a brace on her leg and a belt around her waist she can get up to a walker while I make her walk throughout the day inside her home, and do other exercises. Use it or lose it.
She needs help with everything. The love I have for my mother and the realization someday she will be gone is something I know I can never prepare myself for. This stroke made that very clear, and to lose pieces of someone is worse than if you have a cut and quickly rip off a band-aid.
Two weeks ago she finally came home and I have been by her side because she can do little by herself. They declared her independent, I think, because they knew she had family. But if I couldn’t be with her she would not be able to go home. My mother tells herself she is going to overcome this and even drive again. She needs to believe this to push through the permanent fatigue the stroke caused. But who knows? She has determination and that is the only thing that will make it work. My niece and my sister are doing all they can, they think, but they get to go on with their lives and fit my mother into their schedule when they can.
I’m going to make this paragraph as short as I can because I have already written about the liver transplant that caused me to have to move home, close to the family I thought would be there for me through this. It didn’t happen. I can’t find closure. I had no one but my husband to care for me for the two years I spent mostly in my bed. The family members I deal with today treated me as though I was an evil person out to hurt my mother, yet no one ever talked to me about why. Not one time did I receive a phone call to asking if I was still alive; before the transplant or after. It is hard for me to forget that.
This is a poem I wrote earlier and posted that says how I feel.
My sister won’t talk to me about it because she insists she didn’t do anything wrong. Her words were, “I have nothing to be sorry about.” That was damn hard to hear. Am I supposed to pretend it never happened, because I can’t. Not once has she made even the smallest effort to make it better. Doesn’t Christianity teach that we are to treat people the way we want to be treated? Buddhism teaches why we need to, because karma is a bitch. What if she ever needed me? Could I be as callous as to her as she has been to me? I don’t think I could.
The strength I need to not let the pain come out, because of what my family did to me during my illness, is sometimes more than I can control. The words “I’m sorry,”has never been said. We now see it takes three people to care for my someone. I’m just supposed to forget about that now, because it is in the past even when it is right in my face.
My sister threw in my face, “I don’t know how to be a sister, but all my friends love me.” I lost it – I absolutely lost it. Why do they love her? Maybe because she cares about them. In her stories I am sure I am the only one at fault. We are in our 60’s, isn’t it getting a little late now? I tell my mother I’m done, I will never try again. She says to me, “No you aren’t. You have to keep trying to reach her. Some day she will listen.”
This story is not unique. There are grown children caring for parents everywhere, and some of it is from a distance. These are painful times. My sister and I deal with life in a different way. It is harder for me because this “thing” between us is an infection with a light scab and I bleed when it is She is right, she didn’t physically do anything to me. The hurt is because she wasn’t there for me when I needed her and didn’t care what happened to me that created a hurt unable to heal. In the past few years not seeing her at all I could push it away. I can’t now.
My brother-n-law is a very caring person. He has sent my mother at least 160 get well cards. He has other people he sends cards to every day as well. I have known him for decades, but not one card was sent to me – by anyone in my family. Am I feeling sorry for myself?
There is a positive inside every negative. If I hadn’t needed a transplant I would never have moved home. I owned a store in Key West I loved. But could I be here now for my mom? Would she never leave the nursing home to be in her own home with her 15 year old cat? If my mother didn’t have a stroke would my sister and I never be in the situation where we have to talk to each other? She is not a mean person. Why was she mean to me? Everything happens for a reason. What we learn from these things enables us to grow as human beings. Is there a possibility to see things from the perspective of someone else?
What is the real truth of anything if you only ever listen to one side of a story? This truth can become ugly if the nature of the person is negative. This is how I became someone to be gotten rid of when I moved home. Those are the words my sister spoke to me. “I will get rid of you if it is the last thing I do,” . Tell that to a dying person of liver failure and liver cancer. it wouldn’t take much to be rid of me. Can people admit their perception might be wrong? It’s hard sometimes to admit out loud you might be wrong. For my sister, my internal pain isn’t real and she didn’t care what happened to me. “Apologize? Me? I didn’t do anything to apologize for.”
P.S. I’m not looking for sympathy, but have you ever had someone in your life that couldn’t -wouldn’t hear the truth?