Saturday, February 13, 2010

A Few Reflections on a Thing Called Love

Being that it's almost Valentine's Day, I thought I should probably ruminate on the event. I hate Valentine's Day. It's a manufactured reason to boost retail sales during the dead months between Christmas and summer vacations. I bought Mother a $50.00 bottle of cologne that she dictated she wanted. What a crock. If I had a spare $50.00 I would put it toward that Mike Wallace jersey I want so bad. So, there you have it. My thoughts on Valentine's Day!

However, I guess since I'm at it, I should contemplate the meaning of the day: love. Love comes in all shapes and sizes. I love chocolate. I mean I really do. And I LOVE the Steelers. I love my dogs and the very fat cat who just jumped into my lap to disrupt my typing. I love my husband. I love Marissa, so much so it makes my heart ache. And I loved Kelsey. Maybe more than I knew, getting her mixed up with The Beast. I hate that the pain I feel now is how I learned of how deeply I loved her. I love my mother too, although I am quite sure readers might be surprised by that. I just don't like her much.

The lesson I am trying to learn from Kelsey is to separate Mother's disease, which is invasive and impacts every aspect of our relationship, from the woman who raised me. Our relationship was never a particularly easy one. Mother was never quite a natural parent. But, then again, how many people really are? Surely not me. Aside from the three or four years immediately following Dad's death, when our relationship smoothed out because we had that shared grief and recovery process, the best way I know how to describe our relationship is to call it complicated.

We were mutually manipulative. She always used her largess to buy my affection. She was not super wealthy, but Dad left her secure, and she used it. I, ashamed as I may be to say it, allowed it and even played the counterpart of the game by needling to get what I wanted. I am not proud of it, but I did it, so there's no use denying it. A healthy adult relationship does not result from how we interacted. When I look back on it, I can see how badly she has always needed to be in control of any situation, and buying me off was a way to always have me in some sort of obligated position. I would like to think she would have found me beholden to her simply because she was my parent, but we'll never actually know because the relationship was never based on straight mutual affection.

One can be totally sympathetic as to how and why she was like that. She was a product of an ill-tempered, overbearing mother and a gentle, hard working father who bounced from job to job trying to support a family of six children in the Depression. He helped build the Pennsylvania Turnpike, he lived and worked on his wife's parent's farm. he worked in a tollbooth, and he mined coal, a job that would eventually kill him. (He died when I was just little of Black Lung Disease.) Mother was just out of high school in 1933, the worst year of all for the economy. Old enough to have it make a lasting impression on her. Then came the war, and the sacrifices a serviceman's wife has to make. The risk that any day you'll get that visit telling you your husband isn't coming home. You can't control those things. World events bigger than you are, sweeping you along. All those ingredients added together to make the mother that I would eventually know.

Therefore, I get it when she wants to have things her way. Unfortunately, the Alzheimer's takes that impulse and twists it into something both ugly and dangerous. She cannot physically do the things she desperately wants to do and therefore deludes herself she can do. She wants to pull large amounts of money from her account to prove that she can. She wants to move back to Pennsylvania because she believes she can be independent there, and she misses her sister. She wants, in short, to run her own show. Her health has other ideas. Can I love her enough to save her from herself? Even if it means she'll end up going to her death hating me the way she hated her oldest sister Merle?

I think that's the true test of love. Can you do what it takes on behalf of the other person even if that other person will truly hate you for it? It's a question every parent of a teenager has to answer at some point. And, it seems, it's a question that the families of aging parents sometimes have to face as well.


  1. I didn't know 60 Minutes had jerseys for their! I want a Anderson Cooper jersey! ;)

  2. Yeah they do! As long as their correspondent doubles as a bad a*s wide receiver!