I am in the grief process. And one of the basic problems I’m having with this grieving process is that the person I most want to talk this though with is the person I’m grieving. My mother, Mary, is fading from Alzheimer’s. I was never close to my sister and my dad and I have always had a contentious relationship. Mom was the one that was there for me. She was not a perfect mother and there were times, especially in my adolescence, that it would have been great if she’d asked me more about what was going on, rather than judge (out of fear) and “ground” me (also, out of fear.) But I do believe she did her best, with what she had and who she was. I look back at those years—late 70s, early 80s. I can see now that she was changing as fast as I was. She too was trying to figure stuff out. Her marriage was just wrong, and I knew a big part of her wanted out. I encouraged her to get a divorce. But she chose to stay, for her own reasons.
Her memory issues began to surface about seven years ago. She called me from Connecticut and asked me to take her to Scotland and Ireland, so that she could see her half-brothers, her uncle Peter and other loved ones. “I know I can’t handle it by myself anymore, Lor,” she’d said about the travel. I said, “I will take you, Mom, of course.” I knew in my heart of hearts that this was her farewell trip. Her goodbye to the Scottish highlands that she loved, goodbye to the Scots/Irish family she had adored. While traveling over an active two-week period, she’d ask the same questions over and over again. “Now, how do you convert a pound to a dollar?” and “Should we get a tea? Oh wait, did we just have a tea?” I mostly ignored this, except for the one time I lost my patience. The good thing about memory loss is that when I tried to apologize five minutes later, she had already forgotten about it.
Over the last few years, I’ve watched Mom turn inward, wilting into herself. A slow disappearing. She lives at home in Connecticut with my father and sister. During a visit about a year ago, I met with an attorney to review my responsibilities as Mom’s Power of Attorney. I also visited the nursing home Mom had told me she’d like to go to, before she became “a burden” to the family. When I arrived at the house, she ever so slowly made it down the hallway with the help of a walker and I tried to keep my best poker (if I played poker) face. She looked terrible, almost unrecognizable. Her once beautiful face was sunken down, her blond wavy hair now gray, stringy, lifeless. Mom, dear Mom. I smiled at her, embraced her. Mommy. Inside, I was wailing.
At moments, it seems I will never stop crying. I want to call and talk this out with her. But I know I can not. I remember when my friend Foster lost his brother on 9-11, he said “I just don’t know where to turn. Pete was always the one I called when shit happened.”
So I share with my beloveds and I let the tears come. I’m continually learning that grief makes no sense and there are no rules. Grief shows up unexpectedly, like in a movie theater or in the shower or when I see photos on Facebook of friends with their very-alive and engaged mothers. I let the tears come.
There are some days, some moments, when I can remind myself that this is the circle of life. That we get born, we live, we die. I can be very Zen and accepting, some times. I can even say, with a nod to my pragmatic Celtic roots, “Well, that’s that then.” I can feel deeply grateful that I had a close relationship with my mother well into my adulthood, that she saw me get married to a man she too adored, she played with her beloved grand-daughter, we shared some great adventures.
Then there are the other times, like when my book got published, or when we got a kitten for Marin for Christmas, or when I just want to talk about stuff with my mother, like we used to. In those moments, I am so sad, like this is a loss that’s affecting my everything. It’s so intense to lose my mother in this way, this long, taking forever, but sacred way.