When my mom moved in with us, I didn't need her friends or mine to recognize my selflessness and sacrifice. Well, maybe I did just a little, but mostly I wanted that acknowledgement from her. I'm not sure I realized it at the time, but what I needed, longed for even, was a deeper level of connection with my mother, a closeness that we'd carry through the last decade or two of her life.
Trouble is, my mom doesn't remember living with us after her first shoulder surgery. Or the second. No memory whatsoever of a six-month convalescence in our home! And she was so blasé about it!
"Huh," she uttered blandly when I told her. "I guess I don't remember that."
When this stunning revelation came to light I was disheartened. For both of us, but mostly for myself since I craved that elusive, intimate bond as well as (okay, I admit it) credit for my good deeds. Besides, the literature says adult children of alcoholics constantly seek approval and affirmation. Naturally, as a teen, when I didn't get that affirmation, I rebelled. My mini mutinies led my mother to say on numerous occasions that one of her greatest accomplishments was getting me through high school without my father killing me.
Who knew that nearly 30 years later, I'd be struggling to get my own depressed and anxious 16-year-old through high school? So I was less than thrilled when, midway through my daughter's junior year, my mom landed in our home once again to recuperate from surgery and a long hospital stint -- for the third time in two years, to be exact. That's when I realized that Mom's recollection of her two prior stints with us was zilch. Nada. Completely blank.
No gold stars for me. No checkmarks in the dutiful daughter column. No heart-to-hearts. What the ... ? This wasn't fair at all.
"Mood and memory," the doctor says, "are what we're most concerned with in dementia."
Well, I want to tell him, she's lost her memory and I'm in a bad mood.
The thing is, my mom is a good woman. She's not overly demanding or mean-spirited or critical, the way some mothers are. Her dementia didn't trigger a massive personality change and turn her into a nasty old bitty. She's still my mom... only less. Or more, depending on how you look at it. Never what you'd call the life of the party, Mom is more withdrawn now and certainly more dependent than she ever imagined she'd be. While in our home, she went to bed early and slept late. She parked herself in front of the TV (at maximum volume), a bump on a log, watching "Law & Order" reruns and the saccharine du jour of women's television. Every hour or so, she'd shuffle to the kitchen and graze on whatever sweets were available. She hated -- maybe even resented -- having to rely on me for bathing, meals, doctor visits and hair appointments. She didn't like to ask for help, so it would come out something like, "Do you think maybe you could work it into your busy schedule to...," which infuriated me no end.
Truth is, I was furious about all of it -- my mother's incapacity, my daughter's teenage angst -- and the fact that I couldn't fix any of it. I am the oldest child, after all -- the hero, the one who tries to fix everything. And it really irked me that my daughter and mother had virtually no relationship. Never had. No lunch dates and shopping, no cookie baking or Nutcracker matinees... just nothing. Of course, I wanted to fix that, too, until my therapist assured me it wasn't my job. But it didn't stop me from stewing about it.
I had a different vision. I fantasized about my mother, my daughter and I -- three generations of women -- gathered in front of the fireplace, sipping tea, dishing on "Grey's Anatomy" and reminiscing about my mom's hot orthopedic surgeon, a warm, fuzzy scene from one of her Hallmark movies. But my mother didn't remember McDreamy 2.0 or either of her damn shoulder surgeries, let alone the night she fell while taking out the trash -- the event that launched this season of our lives. Heck, she couldn't remember how to use her cell phone or wear her $4,000 hearing aids. One night, while eating Chinese food, I asked if she wanted soy sauce and she replied, "Do I like the White Sox?"
TV became the one constant in her life, so you can imagine she was baffled one morning when her favorite channels had vanished. Turns out our daughter had hacked into the cable box and put the "parental block" on Lifetime, Hallmark and TNT. A little passive aggressive? Sure. A comment on her grandmother's viewing habits? Perhaps. But more likely, a statement on the whole consuming, exhausting ordeal of having my mother in our home. It felt like a rare moment of solidarity between my daughter and me. I fixed the cable. "Law & Order" was restored and for one of the few times that winter, I laughed. And I didn't tell my mother. She wouldn't have remembered anyway.