Old mothers, bad daughters, & therapeutic books

I have an old mother and an old dog. My dog lives with me. My mother lives in a nursing home four miles away, and I am her Primary Person.

In the abstract, being Mom’s main person is a huge honor and I know full well how lucky I am to still have her. In reality, I’ve turned into a short-tempered bitch who alternates between hating myself for being the worst daughter on the planet and being angry at my mother for being so unreasonable.

The truth is that there simply are not enough hours in a day – or a week – to give my best at work, home, to my writing, my dog, my Sweetheart, my music, my exercise routine, my friends and Mom. Who, since moving to live near me, has become a combination of the best parts of the mother I have always known and someone I’ve never met before.

Parkinson’s disease was not part of her life plan. The Cape Cod condo she bought in 1984 was supposed to be her last stop before joining Dad in the cemetery.

“I want to be carried out of here feet first,” she’d say when mortality was the topic of conversation.

She had no interest in being cared for by offspring. (“I don’t need anything from you and I don’t want to live with you. Go live your own lives. I have long-term care insurance.”)

I have vivid memories of nursing home visits to elderly relatives with 50-something Mom (“Just give me pills if I’m ever like that”).

When my grandmother became too old to live by herself, Mom and her sisters were militant about keeping her out of a nursing home. They took turns having her live with them. Bubby spent four months a year on Cape Cod, four months in California and four in Florida. Mom only had one rule.

“You are not allowed to die on my watch.”

I have not made rules for Mom. It seems irrelevant (although Bubby did die in California with my Aunt Freda, so I could be wrong). It also seems kind of cruel, given how her plans to grow old worked out.

In a lot of ways, we’re lucky. As nursing homes go, she’s in one of the best. Her unit is single rooms around a communal living area. There’s been virtually no staff turnover in the time she’s been there, and I’m on a first-name basis with most of her caregivers. They are wonderful people who do a difficult job well. I talk to Mom daily and see her several times a week. Sweetheart and I bring in take-out and we also take her out when she’s up for it.

My sister, who lives 1, 400 miles (2250 km) away, comes about three times a year. Debby takes Mom to lunch. They go shopping and play word games. Debby has infinite patience with Mom. She has also learned to be patient with me, her ranting sister.

It’s been a growth experience.

Neurosis and guilt are baked into our DNA, so it’s been a challenge for Debby to wrap her mind around the notion that when I call ranting, I’m not beating her up for not being here. I just need to vent to someone who has as much of a stake in this as I do. Someone who understands how hard and terrifying and overwhelming it is. Someone who gets just how infuriating it is to try and be patient with the mother who regularly engages in behavior for which she would – and sometimes did – slap you into next week as you were growing up.

Thanksgiving was Thursday. Mom was here. Wednesday, I was there. Friday I was there. Saturday I was there. Today I really wanted to just stay home. So when Mom called this morning to tell me she had a hangnail and that she really needed prunes (which, trust me, they buy in pallets over there), I was sweet and kind. Then I hung up the phone and called my sister, screaming.

“Unwrap the Hanukkah present I got you,” she said. “You need it now.”

The Hanukkah present Debby got me. (Now someone needs to send me something else to unwrap.)

She wasn’t kidding. It might not make everything about our Mom situation easier, but Roz Chast’s graphic memoir “Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant” is making me laugh at the same time it’s making me feel a lot less alone.

You don’t have to be in our situation to fall in love with this book. I’m sharing a link that will let you locate the library copy closest to where you are. No need to thank me.

But if you insist, just make yourself available for the occasional rant.

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