There was a moment last night when I wanted to shoot myself dead.
It had been a tense day with Mom. Some of those sorts of days stem directly from her behaviors. Some stem from mine – those days when I find it difficult (read impossible) to be patient. Those days when my empathy, sympathies, and a slew of other thies take a powder.
I’d finally gotten her to bed and was curled on the couch watching a stupid movie (a new rental that turned out to be way stupider than I’d have liked) when I heard her bedroom door open. Instead of tottering into the bathroom, as usual, she started down the stairs. Fuck, I thought, but instead yelled, “What’s wrong?” (I didn’t yell because I’m mean, I yelled because she doesn’t have her hearing aids in at bedtime.)
Of course it was the same old thing – the missing children, where are all the people who were here earlier, why are you all alone down here. I got her settled back into bed and then about a half-hour later, down she comes again. Now I’m on edge. All I want (all I need) is some time alone. She’s stressed about the same stuff. I know I’m being short with her, and I hate myself for it, but I can’t really seem to help myself. She apologizes for bothering me and turns to go back upstairs, but I can see that she’s really upset, her face ravaged, her eyes wet with tears, so I go up after her. I find her sitting on the edge of her bed, staring dismally ahead of her, so impossibly sad that it tears my heart. She wants to tell me what she’s thinking, what she’s feeling, but the words won’t come. The people she wants to ask about hover before her eyes but their names have vanished. She’s so frustrated and terribly, terribly frightened. Her eyes fill with tears and she drops her face into her hands.
How awful it must be to have this terrible disease and be aware of it – to know that your mind is failing and there’s not a goddamn thing you can do about it. How humiliating. Horrific. Terrifying.
I got her calmed down and back under the covers and she managed to stay there the rest of the night. I went back downstairs and bawled my eyes out because no one – no one – should have to play the hand she’s been dealt.
Today, she was…diminished in some way. Not more vague, but weaker somehow, more frail. Her lumberjack-sized appetite has slacked off over the past few days and it makes me wonder what’s next.
Tonight, though, as I put her bed, I stressed to her that there aren’t any missing children, that everyone she knows is where they’re meant to be and all is well with the world (whether or not it actually is). Then we got to talking about those missing children. My theory is that these children are, in fact, my sisters.
Many years ago, when my mom was just a young woman in her early 20s, she had to put my sisters into foster care. She was newly divorced and trying to support a family on her own. She had to work and there was no one — no one — in her family who would help her. She says she wrote to her mother asking for help and received no answer. (Knowing my grandmother, I can believe it even though I can’t accept it.) I don’t know if she wrote to her sisters or brothers, although her eldest sister knew. No one offered to take the kids until she got on her feet. No one offered her help to come home to Maine. She didn’t know what else to do. So she put them in foster care and their foster care “mother” turned out to be a not-very-nice woman.
A lot of guilt and anger has grown from that circumstance. My mom feels guilty for giving up her girls. She feels guilt for their placement in a home where they were treated poorly (though she had no control over that). She blames herself, I believe, for her family’s lack of interest in helping her. She harbors shame for what people thought of her for giving up her children. (Tonight was the first I’d heard of that particular guilt. Mom cried when she told me people talked about her and what she’d done. Real or perceived, it doesn’t matter. This has laid on her shoulders for 70 years.)
My sisters also bears scars from that time. Have they dealt with them? I don’t know for certain and I don’t need to, unless they care to share. That time belongs to them and our mother. I believe they have come to understand what she did and why. Maybe they’ve even come to forgive her. Again, I don’t know.
What I do know is that tonight I received a spot of inspiration from the Universe. In the belief that enough is enough, that guilt is useless and should not be carried (and certainly not for 70 years), I told my mother that she needs to forgive herself. Like any of us, she did the best she could with what she had at the time. Like all of us (and like all parents), she made mistakes. She’s done things she’d love to take back and can’t.
She said she would try to forgive herself. I said that’s not good enough. And I asked her to say the words: Ginny, I forgive you. She said them – and began to cry. So we talked for a while. And when she calmed down, I asked her to say them again. And she cried again. So we talked some more. And I asked her a third time. And this time, she said them without crying. And she almost smiled. So I tucked her in and gave her a book to read and came downstairs.
One night won’t bring her forgiveness, but it’s a start…and a reminder that maybe I need to try those words as well.