by Elise Bowerman
“You’re a f----ing bitch.”
That’s the last thing my mom said to me as she stormed out the restaurant – before our lunch had even been served… with my seven month old son in my arms.
Never before had she uttered those words to me. Never before had I seen such anger and hatred in her eyes as she looked at me.
Five years later I get the phone call propelling me to take care of the mother who would not do the same for me.
Last August I flew to Colorado with my brother (from Michigan, where we live and where my mom grew up until the day she walked out of that restaurant) to witness her deterioration of not caring for herself, while living alone in a land where she didn’t know a soul.
Background in a nutshell: my mom divorced my dad when I was 28ish, and expecting my firstborn son. She then moved to Colorado, because, well, only God knows why. She had never been there and didn’t know anyone, but picked that place to be. She was alone, and didn’t reach out to any family or friends. When she would talk to my brother she’d get angry and yell at him for not calling sooner or whatever else he was “supposed” to do since he can read her mind (insert sarcasm.)
My mom had a stroke, and since she was living alone, it’s estimated she may have been found two days after the stroke. Minutes matter with stroke victims. Days make it more difficult to heal; making prognosis questionable. We found out my mom was hospitalized due to her apartment building staff being good Samaritans. Someone checked her phone book for a phone number with the same last name. (This was after two weeks of being in the hospital.)
If my mom had control over the situation, I believe, we would’ve never known.
There’s a time crunch when the hospital is ready to discharge a patient. I had two weeks less to work with. Plus I was figuring out where to do Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF) and Long Term Care (LTC) tours in Colorado from Michigan… it wasn’t easy. The endless paperwork and the way our healthcare system operates is ridiculous, and a--backwards. But I did it… with the help of my husband, dad, and brother.
Walking into the hospital with my brother, going up the elevator, baby-stepping our way to her room our hearts were leaping out of our chests. Would she be happy to see us? Would she know who we are? Would we be met with anger? The only word that describes my feelings is f---. F--- with a period. Over and over again.
She was slightly hunched over; eating some puree, then looked up, and saw us. My brother ran to her side and they hugged. I stood back, watched, and cried. I was protecting myself as much as possible as I was in survival mode figuring out what I was to do with only a week to do it.
A week away from my children and husband. The only time I spent more than two nights away from family was to finish my advanced yoga teacher training. Together my husband and I never spent more than two nights away from our kids since they were born… maybe only one night since our daughter was born. Yet, I was spending nine days to take care of someone who wouldn’t do the same for me.
My mom was appreciative we were there. She thanked us a lot. One time she said sorry. No specifics on what she was sorry for, but she was sorry. It was okay, uncomfortable as f---, but okay.
We made it through her signing the papers to trust me to be Power of Attorney, emptying her entire apartment, finding a new home for her dog, paying off bills, returning her cable box, and ultimately transferring her to the SNF/LTC facility she is still at.
Lots of sushi, eating out, drinking, crying, and talking kept us going. It would’ve been impossible if my brother and I weren’t together.
I didn’t “come down” from survival mode until early Spring of this year. (Seriously, the paperwork is brutal. It seemed to never end.) All of a sudden in March it hit me how exhausted I was; and immense weight of emotional turmoil I was experiencing. Most of the paperwork was done, and I didn’t have to deal with constant phone calls. There was space between what had happened, and myself.
About three years prior to the phone call, I had been in active psychological therapy. Healing my childhood scars, and the wounds of my mother abandoning me when I needed her the most: as I was becoming a mother. I realized I mourned the loss of my mother, and was mentally prepared for the phone call of my mom’s death; just not her being disabled the rest of her life.
She’s not the same person she once was. She’s gentler in her speech, she tells me how much she misses me, and she speaks about my children as if she’s a part of their life. (The latter gets under my skin.)
In less than two weeks my children are going to meet their Grandma for the first time. My son is six-and-a-half, and my daughter is four-and-a-half. I’m filled with anxiety of what may happen or not; excitement that my mom gets to see the beautiful little humans my husband and I have created; and, sadness of the time she has missed with them as babies, and all the moments in between as they will continue to grow without her around.
We’re blessed to bring our family to her, but it is challenging unlike anything else. I’m parenting my parent. Showing her what unconditional love looks and feels like.
I promise to tell my children I love them every day, give hugs, squeeze their tushies while I can, and instill unconditional love from me to them. They will never question whether they are loved.
Check out the follow up from our visit.