I am writing this in the dark, hiding in the guest room of my mother’s house, pretending to be asleep because if I have to answer one more question (that I’ve already answered a dozen times) or field one more wild goose chase (at 9:30 pm, she’s on the hunt for her black pocketbook…which I’m not even sure she owns anymore) I’ll either go mad or sit down and cry.
Caretaking is not for sissies.
There’s been a marked change in Mom since my father’s death two months ago. I don’t know if it’s grief or depression or sadness or another UTI (‘urinary tract infection’ for the blessedly uninitiated) or the natural progression of her illness or a combination of all these or what, but we are (as I think Harlan Ellison once put it) truly in cloud cuckoo land.
She knows me…and then she doesn’t. I am me…but then I am my sister or her sister or my niece. Once I was even the nice nurse who takes care of her. That was momentarily rough to swallow. She spent today “looking for Melissa,” but the Melissa (me) she’s looking for is the eight year old version. She turned to me today and said, “Do you have any idea how awful it is to wake up in the night and not know where your children are?” In truth, we’re all grown and living lives of our own (or would be if we weren’t caretaking), but in Mom’s mind we are small children she has somehow lost and she searches for us endlessly, prowling the hallways of the house, looking into closets, dreaming our loss when she does sleep.
Past, present, and future have ceased to exist. In Mom’s mind, time is one event. All things occur simultaneously. Her family (mother, stepfather, siblings) are alive and then dead, over and over and over without differentiation. She speaks of Dad in the present tense, as if he’s still here…but she does the same with relatives and friends lost to us better than two decades ago. She sees things and people the rest of us do not, has conversations we cannot hear, does things we cannot see. “Where is everyone?” she says every morning, having dreamt that she has a houseful of people and stares in bewilderment as I try to explain it’s just us here, just her and me and the dog.
It’s wearing us down, my sister and niece and I who have taken on the burden of caretaking her. And, yes, let’s be totally frank and honest, okay? It is a burden. It would be nice to say that it’s an honor. It would be nice to say that we’re capturing the last of the quality time with our mother/grandmother, but the truth is that the real quality time is past. We do what we can to salvage silver and gold from these days, but often they end up tasting of copper and lead.