My Mother’s Mourning

My mother and father have been living in separate places. After sharing a bed, a table, and a life for over sixty-seven years, they live three miles apart needing different levels of care. Like so many folks who have successfully managed to pass their  eighty-fifth birthdays, the sands under their feet have shifted and life has suddenly become unfamiliar and frightening and often lonely for both of them. 

Since my father’s fall and declining health my sister and I have made countless trips between the two facilities so that my mother can visit my father. 

Some visits are difficult, but successful. My father is always in bed, but he can communicate if we write our “news” onto a white erasable board. Mom struggles to come up with much to write, and begins to tire very quickly. However over all, those are the “good days.”

On the “bad days” my Mom isn’t able to get my father to awaken. She’s kissing him, rubbing his face, or patting him (sometimes quite vigorously) on the chest and arm-still nothing. He just sleeps and sleeps. One of his nurses has suggested that this may be a manifestation of his bipolar disorder. When he is “low” he is really low!

The bad days take a huge toll on Mom. She’s sometimes angry at my father and at other times her face clearly shows the signs of intense and gut wrenching grief. She says her heart is breaking. 

My mother is caught between my Dad’s life and his death. She is stuck in a place of deep mourning. She’s physically unable to care for him (as am I) and yet each parting comes with a massive load of guilt and second guessing.

 Surely if he just tried harder to get well, or if he would/could do physical therapy or if he would try to eat, or sit up more, or, or, or…and all the other “what if’s” and emotional bargaining that we all do with the dying process are heavily weighing on her each time we leave. 

My mother is mourning. At eighty-seven she is learning to live alone for the first time. She’s experiencing all the stages of grief while her husband is still living. It is difficult beyond words. 

Some days we pray for it to end. 

The Narcissist’ s Child. Part 1

A child is a treasure placed in unqualified hands, and many are blessed by the hands that received them, but some can only look back with a sense of relief and joy that they survived, in spite of whose hands first held them close.

When you grow up in a crazy person’s house you learn quickly who holds all the power. You learn to play an elaborate game that satisfies the needs of the broken, crazy parent, and only many years later gain any perspective on just how disturbed those survival techniques were.
You just don’t know that you don’t know. How could you? In your life, “Normal” is a setting on the dryer. The world you live in doesn’t have clear references that make sense outside of your house or car or family. You are the narcissist’ s child, and so much of your life, even your thoughts and reactions have been formed and skewed by that reality. It will take a lifetime to unlearn some of the crazy, but you do eventually grasp reality with trembling fingers and hold on with all you have, and even then it takes years to think a disapproved independent thought.

When you are a small child you are so overwhelmed by the volume and verbosity and magnanimous character on display that to you the Godlike Parent is larger than life. You don’t realize, because you are small and vulnerable, that your basis for those thoughts comes from being clay in the hands of a master manipulator. Every word you hear, every “truth” you are taught, even parroted back for the sake of your safety, comes from a disturbed and broken mind. It’s so easy to get lost in the crazy. If you only are verbally assaulted by non-stop crazy, what on earth is “normal?”

The crazy sounds so believable when you are five, or ten, or sometimes even fifteen. But soon other voices break through the fog, and doubt begins to creep in on silent feet.  You question why the Godlike Parent withholds love, withholds approval, never praises, never approves, never shows affection unless someone is watching.
The narcissist loves an audience. A performer is fed by the reactions of the crowd. The bigger the crowd, the stronger and more “charming” the performance. Your friends are all jealous that you have the “fun” parent. Godlike Parent (here after referred to as GP) is just so fun, so funny, so involved and interested in your friends. GP tells great jokes and plays games and shows what a truly terrific person he/she is. Until your friends leave and the cruelty, and cutting remarks about your friends begins. Nothing was sacred, not their faces, their bodies, their families. Nothing. And you feel shame because you invited them. And they were just lambs for the slaughter. And they loved GP like a rock star. And you cannot tell. It’s the lie you live.

But children get older and life opens up doors that you run through like prison gates. And the light breaks through, and hate settles in for a good long stay. That Book says to love and honor, but hate rears its head and stiffens it’s back and helps you to live long enough to escape the crazy. And you are stronger than you ever knew, and now you know what you didn’t know then, that you are the Narcissist’ s Child. And you survived.

Clueless

It has been a difficult time for us. The accident and death of one parent and now the illness and hospitalization of two more. There are no books that teach how to cope with this, no classes on protecting the lives of your elderly parents, no celebrity infomercials on how to be in this awful, exhausting place and not become a quivering mass of ineffectiveness at a time of immeasurable need.

My husband’s mother, that immovable, indestructible force of nature is gone. She was taken from us by an injury that had she been even five years younger, instead of ninety-two, would have barely slowed her steps. How can she be gone? I thought she was indestructible. Her spirit and will were legendary. I miss her.

And then, not two weeks later my father became dangerously ill. He spent agonizing days being tested and retested after gloom-filled “talks” that he could not hear and refused to listen to. He saw things out his hospital window that only he could see, and told us he preferred his alternative reality to ours. Who could blame him? Cancer might be the ugliest word ever spoken to him. Why should he agree to listen to it?

And while he lay there having test after test, mama fell, and fell again and again. And because we were focused on him and the danger he faced we didn’t hear her pain, or see how badly she was broken. And she hid her pain and just gutted it out like she always does and always had until she could no longer stand the pain. So he went home to her and she left to go to the hospital.

And her body is broken, so broken that only time can heal her. If at all.

And still, I have no idea how to do any of this. I don’t know how to let them keep their sense of self and maintain their small grasping clutch on what is left of their dignity. But I want them to have more good days. I don’t want to define those days, or control those days, I just want to make sure I do what I can to help them get those days.

Teach me God. They will be home to you soon. Hold them safely here until you call them home.