Sunday, November 28, 2010


Reya, over at According to the Cosmology of Reya, has been posting about family and group souls and and the drama of our family plays, our gatherings for holidays and life cycle events. My mother passed away some years ago and with her passing went the drama that always surrounded her, that she carried around with her like a prize.

I've been thinking about my mother a lot lately, something I don't ordinarily do. I didn't like my mother much and towards the end, I'm not sure I even loved her. Even now, there's mostly emptiness when I think about her. I cried when she died though, something that I don't think my brother ever did. My sister had already shed her tears when she took it upon herself as the oldest to 'handle' Mother's dying, making all the decisions and arrangements (with our input) as the spokesperson for us kids.

The three of us were there. We had gathered because her death was imminent. She had been living at an adult family home near my brother and the damage from her TIAs had finally shut down her ability to swallow. She had already lost her ability to speak. My brother had to cut short an overseas business trip and my sister and I had to fly in. She knew we were coming and waited for us.

We stayed by her bedside until evening intending to go back the next day and spend more time with her but she died in the early morning before we could return. We went over to the home where she had been in hospice care, my two siblings dry eyed while I cried at the kitchen table, her body still in the bedroom waiting for the funeral home to come fetch her.

My mother's end was messy. She was a selfish, self centered and demanding woman who needed to be the center of attention. While my father was alive he cared for her and pandered to her and when he stroked out one night she reacted as if she had been released from prison. I don't think I ever saw her cry over his passing. Us kids had scattered. Well, my brother early on and finally settled in Washington state and my sister and her grown kids eventually all ended up in Arizona. That left me and even I was an hour away as our parents had moved to the family beach house, isolated on the end of Galveston Island.

We had no idea how damaged she was even then from the TIAs. She seemed lucid and in control and she stubbornly refused to move into town where it would be easy for me to look after her. We didn't find out until several years later that she was already suffering from dementia and depression.

As her health started failing and her dementia progressed, still it did not occur to me or to my sister just how bad things were. We did what we could, my sister long distance and me by driving down once or twice a week. She just seemed like the same person she had always been if a bit more distilled, never vague or forgetful. When she started falling I finally gave her an ultimatum and I wasn't nice about it. She could move to town near me or she could move to Washington state to live with my brother. His contribution to her care was telling her she could come live with him but he really had no idea how bad things were even though I would send him updates. I think he thought I was just being over dramatic. She only stayed in his house for 6 weeks because by then she really needed 24 hour care, could not be left alone.

I should have done a lot of things differently. I should have been more caring instead of just dutiful. I should have been more insistent that she move to town instead of insisting, if she was determined to live alone, she have a paid helper to check on her every day. I should have been more forceful when she fired the helper instead of letting her continue to live alone even when I found out she was living on cookies and frosted flakes cereal. Instead, my sister arranged for meals on wheels. I should have started accompanying her into her doctor's appointments sooner instead of just at the end before she moved to be with my brother. I would have learned much earlier that she was suffering from dementia and depression and refusing any and all medical care and advice. I should have remembered first and foremost what an actress my mother was and that I was her main audience.

Maybe I'm thinking about my mother more now because I have turned the age she was when she proclaimed herself old and then proceeded to become old. Maybe I'm thinking about her more now because my BIL is one step away from being a complete invalid with only my sister to care for him while she works two part time jobs and tries to keep home and hearth together while waiting for his appointment with the doctor Dec. 13. We fear it's already too late for the surgery and wonder what's next with no insurance and two years too shy for Medicare. Maybe I'm thinking about her more now because I am afraid that I have created my own future via my own uncaring inaction towards her. If my being in this family dynamic was a karmic test, then I fear I failed the section on compassion miserably. Maybe it would have been different if my own life hadn't been falling apart at the same time.

I suppose that getting her up to Washington state and in the care of my brother was the best thing I could do for her. What she would have fought with me tooth and nail over, she readily acquiesced to him. And her last years were spent with excellent caregivers in a warm and compassionate family home with three other residents because Washington state cares about their elders, unlike Texas. Had she remained here, she would have ended up in a stinking frightful nursing home because the nicer facilities here do not accept medicare.

I didn't know that at the time though. All I knew then was that I was getting rid of her and glad of it.


  1. Boldly and brutally honest. I admire you more for this than I have the ability to express.

  2. Such heartfelt observations. I hope it was healing to write this. I find a measure of healing in reading it, Ellen.

  3. oh sweetie... I understand more than you can imagine! Im not there yet, but struggle so much with my Momma & Dad Drama. I want to help, but they only want help that they see fit, not what we offer. I have a father that blames me for much of their misfortune and misery (what a joy it was when he called me right before his 4th suicide attempt blaming me). A mother that seems to love the center of attention, & is bipolar & manic.
    I worry that I am not doing enough, I worry that I will have regret. But I also have to take care of myself & my family.
    I appreciate your honesty. Your words, help me to know that it is okay. Love to you Elen♥

  4. Brilliantly and brutally honest here Ellen. It is refreshing to here someone review the past without spinning it to salve their ego-needs. That being said, it is good to remember that just as in any drama their and roles and in the family drama we are often 'assigned' (with no words spoken) our roles. We may grow beyond the roles assigned, but often the moment we step back into the drama we unconsciously are under pressure to resume the role. Perhaps the compassion you feel you could not muster for your difficult mother, could now be applied to her conscious and conscientious daughter. (And I'm not referring to your sister! :-)

    You have set a nice example for us all - to look back dispassionately and honestly at our past. While we can't redo it, we can decide how we will proceed with those we love now.

  5. Hi me again. Just noticed all the typos and SP errors in my previous comment. Apologies.

  6. Oh Ellen, this must not have easy to recollect. You were both strong and honest with her the whole time. We are who we are and people who love us will put up with us or let us be.

  7. You are brutally honest and a bit too hard on yourself! You did the best you could at the time. Hindsight is always 20/20!
    Gentle hugs to you

  8. We all think we could have done more, felt more, loved is a curse.

    Every day I think shoulda, coulda and would drive myself insane with it but you have to let it go. You did your best and that is all we can do.

  9. This story reminds me so much of Dr. M's mother - she had all of that plus had been compulsively spending so much money that they nearly went bankrupt. She's in a nursing home now and we are somewhat glad that she doesn't seem to remember things from day to day - so she's stopped asking to go home.

    It's really hard - and we can't be there. And yes, Mike beats himself up for what he can't do. But you can't do what you can't do. That's all there is to it. And that includes what you can't emotionally deal with.

  10. Oh, and after spending the weekend with my aunt from Chicago, who seems to be emotionally stuck in her 20s when she was a resentful bride from France - I think your growth in the matter is amazing!

  11. Just because someone is a relative does not mean you can have deep feelings for them. Speaking out as openly as this post is written is what I strive for. Just telling things like they really were and are, not writing cutesy stories just to get lots of comments. Give me a break. I so relate to your situation with your mother. My mother has told me on many occasions that I would not nurse from her and have stood off from her ever since. She was not someone I felt safe around as a very young child and she set me up in some ways to be in harms way. She is an older woman now and prefers to live in denial of most things of her life. My brother has so much anger toward her but my anger has been dealt with. Reading this post has been interesting for me because I don't automatically jump to the things between me and my mother; I read your account and have an understanding for why you didn't feel close to your mother.

  12. I'm not sure I agree with you that you should have done a lot of things differently. People make their own choices in their lives, all with their own set of repercussions and results. Your mother made her choices on how to live, and you responded the best you could. I wouldn't second-guess those decisions with hindsight.

  13. Cynthia - thanks. I see no point in hiding from the truth.

    San - I think it was and hopefully it will help me learn to be a better person.

    Janis - holy cow! How terrible for you. there are some people for whom you cannot do enough. Not that you can't do enough but that they will never be satisfied. Do what you are able to do but not at the expense of yourself or your family. The only way I could have done more was to give up my life, my family, my business and move down there and live with her and still she would have complained about everything. As it was, my business went in the toilet while my husband and I were struggling to repair some (previous) major damage to our relationship. My emotions were stretched pretty thin.

    Bonnie - While I'm not good about applying compassion to myself (because I know how cold I can be) I do try to be there for the people I love and be as kind as I can to those I don't. Unfortunately, restrained hostility was sometimes the best I could do for my mother.

    lakeviewer - well, I could have been a little friendlier and less resentful with her but she had no concern for the effect her demands had on other people's lives. We are who we are, yes, and I try to be very up front with who I am.

    SueAne - oh you are one of the true hearts of the world. The fact was, I could have been nicer to her but I just didn't care.

    Gail - well, I don't know if I did my best or only what I was (un)willing to do. I don't usually dwell on this, been reading too many daily notes on compassion from the Dalai Lama.

    Bug - I know you are right but being aware of my failings will make me a better person I hope. Even though my mother was in the best possible place for her she never stopped asking to come home to Texas. But even if she could have traveled, which she couldn't, there was no place here that we would have been able to put her that wasn't a rat hole.

    TechnoBabe - similar situation different genesis. My mother took one look at me as a newborn and told the nurse I wasn't her baby and get me out of there. (No chance of a switch, I am the spitting image of her sister). She did not like children, I wasn't the son she wanted and she didn't like to be touched and she did some terrible things also in the name of image. I used to be very angry but that's in the past. The thing is, I don't wish I had treated her better for her sake so much as for mine. clearly I still have work to do.

    Joanne - thank you. I guess my only other choices would have been to move down there with her and abandon my family and business or physically force her out of the house. couldn't do either.

  14. You feel the way you feel. You can't make yourself feel somehing you don't. If we can say anything (not really ANYthing, but criticyse, too, among other things) about the living, why shouldn't we about the dead? It's about the same people.

    Writing probably helps. And you're so good at it!

  15. This sounds like it was very difficult to put to pen. I so admire your honesty and hope that it's cathartic for you. Hugs to you, Ellen.

  16. I love reading your blog, I love learning some of what's going on in your heart and mind.

    The "should have's" ... try not to go there, OK? It just zaps your energy and doesn't help anything.

    Everything about the situation with your mother sounds confusing and complicated. How could you have been more caring? What you were was honest. That's the most respectful way to behave in every situation.

    You did well. Nobody can control the way life unfolds. I salute you. Shalom.

  17. Wow. I need to re-read this, but from a family science perspective I would say that the karma test was passed. You did what you could with the information and the ability that you had at the time. Families are big mucky messes sometimes and the best we can do is survive, and determine not to repeat the processes with our own families.

    My MIL is in a beautiful retirement home in Vancouver, WA - I know what you mean about nice places for our elderly vs. horrid garages of death.

  18. I had to digest what you wrote for awhile. The reason is because of my own Mother drama. Your story is so very close to mine. My Mother was always so self absorbed and always professed not to be. Said she was the most wonderful parent ever. That's one of those you say potato and I say bullshit kinda things.
    Anyway, I too missed out on the ending of the drama because I was still in "protect me" mode. Don't be hard on yourself. You did all you could do with what you had. Life is like a "make do". The older I get the more I realize that given the information, emotional baggage and the job we were put here to do, most all of us are doing great. Learning what we need to, teaching our life lessons to others and sharing the load when we need to.
    You're a goodie to have posted this. Not easy stuff this life junk. Blessings, The Olde Bagg, Linda

  19. I'm sorry, Ellen. I remember when my mother was declining from Alzheimer's, a family member kept urging me to do more for my mom and told me that after she died I would always feel like I didn't do enough. But what is enough, truly? What can possibly ever be enough? For some people, there is no end to their neediness, and for others, the tiniest act of kindness is so deeply appreciated. So in the end, I decided that I would not fall into the trap of knocking myself out to "do enough" and that taking care of me was just as important as taking care of her. I still ponder if there's more I could have done, but in the end, I trust that I was guided to do exactly what I was supposed to do. As big and open as your heart is, I've no doubt you did, too.
    Peace, dear Ellen

  20. Ellen, I am so behind on reading all of your blog and feel ashamed at missing visiting you when you are going through difficult times & could use words of support. Family dynamics are many times difficult at best and down-right impossible at worst.

    Most of us (at our age) have been through the loss of a parent(s). No way can it be easy even under the best of circumstances. Luckily my mother was able to live in an assisted living facility in GA that took wonderful care of her. She had Alzheimer disease but because it is a gradual illness it took some time to detect the problem. My brother & SIL could not care for her on a daily basis & SIL & I found this lovely place for her to stay in a nearby town were they usually go 2 or 3 times a week.

    For the last two weeks I have been caught up in the illness & other drama of a friend. It is difficult and I have missed my reading you, Reya & others because of it. The good thing for my friend is that she just became eligible for Medicare at the end of October so now she has some options.

    I hope you are coping and know my thoughts are with you. I won't delay my checking in again. :-) Lizzy


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