"You look just like your mother!" And other terrible things people say
I visit my Mom where she lives often and EVERY time I do, someone says "You look just like your Mother!". For everything that Mom has forgotten, once we get together and she is sure who I am she will point me out to everyone we see- "That's my daughter". In the elevator with people I don't know, that Mom may or may not know, I see a finger pointing at my saying "My daughter". It's clear how proud she is of me. And yet... I pull away. When I go to see her I always make the effort to do my hair and put on makeup (things I don't do every day!). I need to differentiate myself from her. My brain works! Look at me! I'm a professional! See how we are different? I know what day it is! I know what time it is! I haven't worn this shirt for the past week. I want to scream it out- we are not the same! I am not her. I need to not consider what it would be like for me to have no memory. I can't go there. I don't want to be like Mom anymore. She is broken and I am begging the heavens that I won't be. Last week I gently pushed her arm down in the elevator and said "It's okay Mom". Because I just wanted her to stop, and I couldn't handle that she was looking at me with such pride and all I felt was a mix of embarrassment/disgust/sadness in seeing her.
Dementia is not something that you wake up in the morning and hope to get. It feels contagious, like if you hang around too long it might bring you down with it. I see it happening with others too- they pull away, or cut conversations short with her, they make sure that even if they are the same age as my Mom, they are sure to show me how they are different, how dementia has not touched them. I do it too. I don't want to be "just like my Mom". Recently I wanted to put highlights in my hair (I know, so fancy! I also bought a dress with ice cream cones on it last week- it's amazing!). I couldn't bring myself to get the highlights because I was so worried that in making my hair lighter I would look even more like Mom, and that is the last thing I want right now.
On Tuesday I went in search of fresh vegetables, chocolate and Thai salmon at the Redding Terminal. There was a homeless man in the street laying in front of the Terminal. People stepped over and around him, not looking directly at him, not offering help- I did the same. Nothing to do, just a category to put him in- homeless. And then we are allowed to walk by. Somehow it made me think of Mom, and what is okay or not okay in her life right now. Having a family member with a mental illness is so isolating. It's still the unspoken thing, the thing that is never really talked about, just hinted at. We tell Mom she "has a little trouble with her memory" when she asks why she has to go to the doctor. And others say the same: "I know your Mom has a little trouble... um... remembering". No! She doesn't have a "little trouble". She has a massive, terrible disease that is stealing her from me and it sucks and daily she loses track of something really important, some detail that made her who she is/was.
I don't know how to have a relationship with this new Mom. For those of you that want to say "She is still there!", please understand that she is not there. This Mom is different, and it's heartbreaking and seems nearly impossible right now to figure out how to be in a relationship with someone who is slowly fading into someone I don't know. My counselor this week asked me what I used to do with Mom, thinking that maybe we could connect over that thing. What we used to do was take walks and talk, or drink wine and talk. And those things are not possible. So I will search for the thing that will be our new thing. It's hard right now. I want to find some joy in my relationship with her but I don't know what that looks like. I'm lost with where to go from here, stuck under details of long term care insurance, hiring nurses and managing accounts. It's safer there in some ways- I can solve those problems. I can't solve this with Mom and I'm trying just to see this as a phase too, and that there is a possibility of feeling differently.
My joy this week is in meeting others that are going through something similar, who are taking care of their family and being honest when it sucks and when they have nothing left, or when they are able to finally speak the words that press on them- even when they aren't kind or loving. I am so thankful for this community and for the friends I can calling crying and just start talking knowing they can handle what I'm about to say. This has taken me weeks to write but I kept coming back to it, knowing that it needed to come out and be said.