Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Oft Told Tale of the Oft Told Tale

I realize from time to time that I began this blog to chronicle caring for my elderly mother, and I realize too that I have barely mentioned her in weeks. I have not stuffed her in a closest somewhere, she is still being expertly and compassionately cared for at her nursing home, but there really has not been that much to say. She carries on. She's like the Wall of China, I've decided. She just continues to stand the tests of time. Plus, if I'm being honest, I don't see her as often as I was doing this past year. Real life is clawing at me, trying to pull me back in and away from this surreal existence I've spent the last 14 months living. But too, there just doesn't seem much point to dropping by every day anymore. As a friend once kindly suggested, sensing I needed a break, I can skip some days because she really doesn't seem to notice that I'm not there everyday. On the positive side, she's involved in their social activities now, and has friends. I'll confess to some shock when she passed an African American resident in the hall yesterday, and their eyes collectively lit up at the sight of one another and they reached out to touch one another's hands. Is that the same woman who once drove my husband out of the house when he was so offended by her opinions on race? Wow. Maybe that's the miracle of old age, you don't have the energy to hold onto old prejudices anymore. Or maybe you just finally see people for what they really are, which is the same as you. Whatever the case, she's got friends now. I can rest a little easier that I'm not her only social outlet. And, that saves me from having to hear the same story over and over and over and over again. It's not just the Alzheimer's that causes her to do this, there's just not that much that happens in a 91 year old's day to report to visitors. To fill the void, one tends to repeat oneself. But, before you think me heartless, consider that I have been dealing with this for three decades now. Mother has been a repeater for a long, long time.

Of course, we all do it. We forget who we've told a story to, so we tell it again. People listen politely and don't let on. I've done it. My guess is, if you're around my age, you have too. But Mother has been notorious about it for a long, long time, and it can make you batty. Now, it wasn't always her age that made her that way. Back in the day, she'd come home from work, have a few adult beverages and then call me up, her speech a little less crisp than it should be, and then almost like she was on a looped recording, she'd cycle through a monologue again and again.

I don't really remember it happening much before 1982. Before then I was still in that phase where you work odd jobs at odd hours and then your social schedule fills in between, so it was hard to catch me. Remember this was long, long before cell phones or even answering machines as a standard piece of equipment. But, by 1982, I had settled in to a working girl kind of routine, I had a 9-5 gig, and not a lot of money, so most nights were at home. Mother had an uncanny knack of calling me on Monday nights in the fall or on Thursdays at 9:00. She knew I'd be home then. Monday Night Football, and Hill Street Blues. I was addicted to Hill Street Blues on Thursday nights. As a matter of fact, the whole Thursday night NBC line up was pretty good, so I rarely worked late that night, and was always home, ready to curl up and watch my favorite show when the phone would ring. Naturally, this was also well before things like a VCR, DVR and a pause button. But, there was no resisting her. She knew I was home. And she knew why too, but there that phone would be, shrilly ringing. Thank God for re-runs. Sometimes I was mildly amused by it, but sometimes I wasn't. It depended on her mood. Sometimes it was just pleasant chatting, but sometimes it was because she was angry with me. I left her after all. Left her behind with a husband she didn't understand (she often complained how he had changed after the military, part of that generation that never really accepted the frailty of the human psyche and how what he saw and did impacted him. She was far from the rest of her family. And there were a lot of times in those early years she was blatantly angry about that. I listened to her because I still needed her. I needed her financial support from time to time, but more than that, she was my Mother. And sometimes a young woman just still needs her mother. But, sometimes I would get off the phone and just cry for hours. I think I listened too because I knew I had hurt her deeply when I left, and felt like I deserved it to a degree. Not enough to go home. I missed home, I've missed it from the second I stepped off the plane here, but at least I got the repetitive stories once or twice a week, not everyday.

I listened too because I felt for her. I felt she was lonely. Dad was invariably asleep in his easy chair (a condition I can unfortunately now relate too, because if you let me sit too long in one place, I'm likely to nod off myself), and she was there in the house essentially alone. They had lots of friends, but they were all a bit older even that my parents, so the nights spent together had gradually thinned down to an extreme rarity. So, she'd roll her hair up in curlers, knock back a couple whiskey and waters, sit in front of the television and call me to vent. I think I was smart enough to see that, but not what to do about it. I'd just get horribly frustrated because she was taking up my show telling me the same thing over and over again, but, mad as I was, I would listen passively. When I did try and defend myself, it went badly. That's generally when the tears would flow. Poor Greg, who was dating me by that time. He put up with some after shocks in those years, let me tell you. Isn't there a law in psychics somewhere that says a reaction will always generate an equal and opposite reaction? Well, she'd let me have it, and so I would let someone else have it back.

Don't get me wrong, she wasn't always like that. Other times, she was my mother. She was generous and supportive. But, she'd still repeat herself. That never changed. On those nights, I was still frustrated to a degree. I was still missing my date with Capt. Furillo.

The funny thing is, I look back on that now and wish she could have had the benefit of some counseling. I think I was her only outlet, and I was way too immature to handle it correctly. And, honestly, it wasn't my responsibility. She shouldn't have laid all her frustrations at my feet. Over and over again. But, neither of us saw that. Now, the tables have turned, and she is my responsibility. The question therefore is whether or not I've matured enough to see her actions for what they are and help her manage them better than I did all those long years ago. What you tend to find is, that's harder than it sounds. There's still this tendency for both parties to see themselves in their former roles. I'm the daughter, she's the Mom. All of it is rolled up with the emotion of that, whether it's good emotions or bad ones. I need to heed what I've realized when I interact with her. I need to do better. But, I swear, if I have to hear about the wedding invitation she got one.more.time...

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