Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Mother and Grief

I know I have some followers who read along to keep updated on the adventures of Mother, so I feel remiss that I have abandoned her story to concentrate on other things, so allow me to update you briefly on her and how she is handling losing one of her only two grandchildren.

I suppose one could find some of the scenes played out between us over the last week in a Wes Anderson film or a Augusten Burroughs memoir. Sort of funny in an oddly dysfunctional way. But, of course, I was not terribly amused most of the time. So, as I try to work out my own emotions, I struggle to remember that her comments are based on being from a very different generation and/or her dementia. That keeps me from being hurt by some of the things she says, but not from being annoyed. The extreme effort of being patient with her that I will give myself credit for over the last several months is simply beyond me currently. Yesterday she clearly saw my annoyance and commented on it. But, hopefully, dear reader, you can take some humor from her behavior, and I can take some comfort from spitting it out in writing, and we all will benefit.

Chapter One: Breaking the News
Mother was the last of the main family members to find out Kelsey had died. My husband waited for Marissa and I to get back from West Virginia, which was an all day ordeal, so we could all go together. It was late on Monday before we got over to the nursing home to break the news. Mom saw Marissa first, and her face immediately lit up in happy surprise, then she turned and saw me, with Greg bringing up the rear and it dawned on her that something had to be up. We told her we had all come together to bring her some sad news. Greg sat down on her bed on one side and took her hand, Marissa and I jointly held her other hand and, with somber tone, I announced that Kelsey had died. She looked a little confused and didn't say anything immediately. Then she looked at me and asked, "You came back early for that?" All three of us were stunned. I looked at Marissa, whose face was now streaked with tears. Marissa looked at the floor and Greg just looked sort of shocked. Then I became angry and was toying with calling her some very impolite name, taking my family and walking out for good when she asked, "So, how many does that leave you with?" Suddenly, both Marissa and I understood Mom thought we had come to tell her I had lost one of my eight dogs. Greg still had not caught on, so we had to whisper it to him. Then, we still had to make Mom understand, so in turn I said, loudly, "Kelsey, my daughter." Marissa patted her chest and said, "My sister." and Greg finished by saying, "Your granddaughter." Finally, acknowledgment spread across her face. She finally understood. She said several times, "That's a shock" and then asked the same three questions about the circumstances of her death over and over, sprinkled with updates on her bandaged feet and how early she had been woken to take a shower. Finally, I couldn't take answering the same round of questions any more, which were 1) was she at home when she died, 2) had she known them long (meaning the "people" Kelsey was with when she died, which was actually just one person, but we gave up early on trying to explain that)and 3) what was the cause? When I made an excuse and got us ready to go, her eyes got red and the initial shock seemed to be making way for grief, but I couldn't take any more, so I asked the nurses to keep an eye on her and we went home.

Chapter Two: The Funeral
She did want to come to the funeral, and we had specifically chosen the funeral home we did because of its proximity to her nursing home, but I still knew that this would be a strenuous outing for her. My ex-brother-in-law agreed to take her van and pick her up so we could meet with the pastor early without wearing her out too much. She made it through the service well enough, and sat quietly in her wheelchair off to the side while people made their way up to us to express their condolences. Finally, my business partner for a number of years asked to meet her, so I brought him over and made the introductions. He leaned over to hear her and she said, "Someday I'm going to drive that van." He peeked up at me and smiled kindly, saying something polite in response. When I repeated the remark to Greg, he replied, "Oh, she's been saying that to everybody."

Chapter Three: Every Day Since
For her, it's important who and how many people come to send you off, so she seems intent on reviewing how many people attended and who she knew every time I've seen her since. I get that actually, Greg shares some of that with her. It's clearly important to him that the funeral was well attended and who all made the effort to come. I even confess to some of that, but I really am not anxious to spend days and days rehashing it. Particularly when she makes those little judgmental comments about them that people her age tend to do. Such as comments about people's piercings or their weight or their too-casual-shoes. I am particularly sensitive to the comments about someone needing to lose weight, having just lost a child to an eating disorder. I know I should let such things go, but occasionally find myself unable to, so I've made a few argumentative comments back that just seem to inflame the situation. She also wanted to argue about who gave her a ride to and from the service. The first day after the funeral, she mistook her chauffeur for Greg's best friend. The next day she named some invisible friend, or at least someone I certainly don't know. I figure poor dear Paul should be up for saint hood for driving her back and forth, so I keep trying to correct her. But, I really do know I need to let it be. Working on it - that's all I can say.

Then the talk of moving to Pennsylvania is back. This was a recurring theme in the months before her accident. At the time, she did it to try and make me feel bad. She would trot it out when she thought I was being neglectful or I had made her mad. Of course, she didn't really understand that, at those times, I was feeling about the same toward her and really would not mind her moving across the country from me if she were only well enough to do it, which she wasn't, even then. Now, I think the motivation is more complicated, but she is far less able to make a move like that as a practical matter, so it's irritating, I must confess. And, the fact that she can't see that this is not exactly the right time to bring it up, even in her mental state, is hard for me to accept. So, Greg has Mother duty today. When he offered to visit her today in my place, I jumped at it. In the meantime, I am trying to regain some sort of Zen state so I can move forward and take care of her the way I know I need to. Like most things at the moment, I just have to take it slow.

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