After a three-decade relationship gap, I am parenting my mother. She has three ailments, one of which is fatal. I am legally and financially responsible for her, and she lives in an assisted living program. I would say that I feel guilty about that last part, but I don’t. I barely remember this woman providing for me. More than once, I have had to remind myself, and even have said out loud, “Remember, she gave you life. You must give her dignity in death.”
My mother has always been a spitfire. Once her first illness—paranoid schizophrenia—began to ravage her brain, she became less charming and more horrific. During our few interactions over the three-decade gap, she has accused the President of the United States of being a child molester and me of being a murderer. To be more specific, she accused me of trying to kill her as I was literally saving her life.
Just when I grew to accept the brain disorder, she was diagnosed with two more life-ending/quality-of-life-taking ailments. My mother became legally blind in addition to being mentally disabled. She also began twitching as that fatal degenerative disease has started to attack her nervous system. She's got about nine years before she most likely starves to death because her muscles will stop working. Sometimes, I wish that her life would end quickly and peacefully instead of being picked apart by the birds of destiny.
The blindness has forced my mother to become subdued. She is so disinterested in life that it is frightening. When I visit her, I know that I will find her half hanging off of her bed listening to the television. Her doctors are concerned about her lack of engagement.
The last time I dropped her off, I wondered how long it would be before this place could no longer meet my mother’s needs.
When I feel like an orphan, parenting my own children seems to get me out of my stupor.
After rolling her behind a line of ten wheelchairs for her 5 p.m. dinner, I ran outside to my truck and wondered if I could make it home in time to cook the kids a hot dinner of their own. When I feel like an orphan, parenting my own children seems to get me out of my stupor.
I had just clicked the remote to unlock my SUV doors when I heard someone say, "Excuse me? Is that your mom?"
I looked back and feared the worst. Did something happen? During my 39 years on this earth, I have gotten calls about my mother’s involvement in everything from identity fraud to kidnapping. What had she done now?
I took a few steps back to the facility and spoke to the woman who wore purple scrubs and tennis shoes. She told me that sometimes, the facility brings in outside entertainment and recently, they hired a black musician. My mother was a gospel singer and her voice is on the hit track, "Oh Happy Day." Maybe she had caused a ruckus during the performance?
"Your mommy, she loved it. She was singing and smiling. None of us had ever seen her like that, so we all started crying."
"That's who she was before ... that's the mom that I remember," I answered.
Before our lives were ripped apart by ailments, foster care and family, my mother and I would sit in the car for an entire Michael Jackson album, eating happy meals and singing along.