By Yolanda Conroy*
Belonging to the senior club is relatively manageable until one finds oneself taking care of the people who originally took care of us. At 68 years old I find myself, like many other people my age or a little younger, taking care of my parents. I consider myself supremely lucky because my role in day-to-day care is currently temporary. My sister, who is a little younger than me, and her husband have carried this responsibility for the last 6 years and all I feel is gratitude. I know what it means to take care of someone daily since, four years ago, my husband and I took care of my mother-in-law during her last years.
However, today I feel between black and white. With «Mother’s Day» celebration approaching, I decided to update my Whatsapp and FB profile with a photo in which my mother holds me in her arms. The photo is in black and white and in it we are both smiling without looking directly at the camera. She looks beautiful, young, and elegant. Her expression reflects the love and pride of having her first daughter in her arms. My face reflects the joy and security of a 9 month old baby girl who feels protected and loved. When I look at the picture I think: this is my mom.
To think of the mother who raised me and who without any selfishness helped me raise my children is to think of her energy, love, and wisdom. In the way she so naturally enjoyed children, the apparent ease with which she knew how to raise 7 children, making each of us reach adulthood without getting into trouble with the law and with sincere mutual affection. An upbringing with patience and discipline without beatings or severe punishments.
To remember my years at home is to remember my mom always looking for the best, healthiest and most delicious diets for us. For a while she established one day a week of fasting, where we all ate fruit during the day and at night she would make us a consommé that tasted heavenly. She was always thinking of the best way to keep us healthy and to teach us good habits. To see her knitting the most beautiful dresses for her daughters and sweaters, coats, blankets, for her children and grandchildren. To hear her calling the attention to the older ones, because the younger ones were taking naps and we had to respect the babies’ sleep.
To think of Mom is to remember her femininity and her desire to be better every day. Her impeccable daily appearance. Her elegant way of dressing up and putting on makeup every day, even though she would not go anywhere. Her dedication to yoga practice to help keep her body and mind connected and healthy. It is mom teaching us to handle the good and bad times without losing our way or sanity.
To think of Mom, is to see her mourn the death of two of her children and although for a long time, remembering them affected her, she found a way to move forward for the rest of us and for the new generations.
My relationship with Mom was complicated at times; however, seeing her today is another matter. I hardly recognize the person she has become because of Alzheimer’s, and even though I try to find the person who raised me, the one who taught me to read, I see that she is no longer present. It is difficult to observe her in the morning, walking slowly, in the pajamas she has worn for the last two days, confused, greeting me with affection and surprise, without remembering that the day before or a few minutes ago we talked and shared space together. Many times, I enjoy her amusing comments, but as reality sinks in, I am deeply shaken to reorganize my feelings and accept who she is today.
Like me, I know that there are many people in the world who are going through the same mourning. We usually relate mourning/grief to the death of a loved one, but we also feel it when we receive a serious diagnosis, lose a pet, go through a divorce, someone close to us leaves, and we can even relate it to our current situation with Covid-19. This loss creates feelings of confusion and insecurity.
So I arrive at Mother’s Day understanding that this mourning/grief is real, that I am smiling in black and white in my mother’s arms and that to find the mother I knew and raised me there is no way back.
«So I arrive at Mother’s Day understanding that this mourning/grief is real, that I am smiling in black and white in my mother’s arms and that to find the mother I knew and raised me there is no way back.»
With my mother’s situation I have recognized that my feelings of confusion and insecurity are my mourning, my grief. A mourning for losing the mom who left. And I feel that day by day, I go through the different stages of mourning, without a specific order:
Denial: she’ll be better, tomorrow she’ll remember that I’m visiting, that she bathed today, etc.
Anger: why she doesn’t want to bathe; why does she has to be so stubborn about food; why it had to be her;
Negotiation: if we change her diet she’ll react; if I hug her and make her laugh she’ll enjoy it for the moment; but I know she won’t remember that I’ve been with her for two months, that I helped her bathe, etc.
Depression: the moment of surrender, of pain, of crying, because she is not the same person who raised me, etc.
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Acceptance: knowing that the diagnosis and its consequences are irreversible, that I have to continue living, enjoying the moments together, accepting the change, remembering that mother I knew and enjoyed, is somewhere inside the one I am meeting today. Acceptance is power, it is control and it helps us to find the balance we are looking for internally.
Some days I go through two or three stages and live them. To have a few minutes alone to cry, is important, to avoid being with her for a moment, because I am angry with her behavior, is important. Acknowledging my feelings is important.
So I arrive at Mother’s Day understanding that this mourning/grief is real, that I am smiling in black and white in my mother’s arms and that to find the mother I knew and raised me there is no way back. I can only educate myself, seek help, rely on what I learned from her and on the unconditional love of my family to live and enjoy the mom I am meeting today.
*Psychologist from the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Bogotá, Colombia.
Master in Multicultural and Bilingual Education, Northern Arizona University, USA. Master in School Counseling, Northern Arizona University, USA.