My mother died five days ago at 6:15 AM. She’d fallen the week before and broken her hip. We knew the time was short and her passing was a sad relief. She died at home and pain free (thanks to morphine and the wonderful hospice caregivers). I stood on one side, my father on the other.
My parents had been married 64 years (that’s 33,000,000 minutes or so Dad says). As we sat at that hospital bed with her between us, he said, “She was good woman, a good wife.” Then he chuckled and added, “But she had her shiny spots.” What a relief to not pretend my mother was perfect.
Then he looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, “You were a good daughter.” It seemed the pretending had begun.
My mother suffered either from bi-polar (like me) or severe depression for at least sixty years. For the next several posts, I will write about my personal experience watching her pass. I hope someone will find this useful as I intend to be brutally honest with you and myself. I will be judged harshly but I will not pretend.
She broke her hip very early on a Saturday morning. I need to back up to the Friday before. I had planned to visit my parents that Friday. Visiting them (or her specifically) was always hard because I resented what she had become or what she allowed herself to become and her refusal to try to improve. Every time she went in the hospital (and we lost count long ago), they would send her to PT and then send a PT for home visits. She’d be given an exercise prescription that would strengthen her legs so she could take care of herself.
She didn’t do those exercises. And, to make matters worse, she lied about it. She also refused to eat and/or refused to eat anything healthy. Yet, she wanted to go to a gastroenterologist. As a matter of fact, she wanted to go to all the -ologists. Before we implemented hospice, she was on nineteen different medications and some weeks she saw a different doctor every day. *
We didn’t have a lot in common. She only watched TV and it’s very secondary for me. She never read and I only read. She cared about my kids, but “the kids are doing fine” only goes so far (seriously, they are great but there isn’t a lot of interesting “news” with them). So, what did we talk about? I had stopped asking her “how are you?” because I didn’t really care anymore. Okay, maybe I cared. I’m truly not sure at this point – but I am sure that I dreaded the possible “Wo is me” response. When I visited, they didn’t turn the TV off or even lower the volume. She didn’t ask me to do things for her because she understood I was so over that.
I guess I should also say my father has Parkinson’s and is declining so visiting him wasn’t easy either.
I also knew when I left she often complained or made negative comments about me.
As someone who suffers from significant depressive episodes, I understand how depression can manifest itself into physical pain. But I also understand that I can fight that by exercise, eating right, etc. I tried to be sympathetic but seriously, her unwillingness to even try a little bit just became a burden on the rest of us.
The Friday before, then, I found an excuse not to go. It was a good excuse. A valid excuse. Instead I agreed to come visit on Saturday and take her shopping. I hate shopping. She loved shopping. She would buy something she knew she wouldn’t keep just so she had an excuse to go back the next day to return the item. UGH! But, I agreed to do this anyway. You know what, I wasn’t doing this for her. I was doing it for my brother who needed a break (more about him later). I figured I could read a book on my phone while she toiled over which pillow to buy and then return. And my reading a book would give her a valid reason to complain about me later – fun all around.
Before I even got in my car, my brother called to tell me she’d fallen. Good daughter? Nope. I was relieved not to have to go shopping. Even when I arrived and realized she had broken her hip and I understood what that likely meant, I was relieved not to be strolling through the Kohl’s department store.
“Good” daughters might feel guilty about that and, on some level, I suppose I do. But, even eleven days later, I’m still relieved I didn’t have to go on that shopping excursion. When I try to rationalize it, I tell myself that had we gone on that trip our relationship would have disintegrated even more. But, come on, let’s be honest. I am relieved in a wholly selfish way.
I think I SHOULD feel guilty for my entire attitude. I can’t muster the emotion. And that’s what I feel guilty for.
* After she died, I found out that she used to call her cardiologist up to ten times a day. Finally, the nurses realized she just wanted to talk and whine. So they’d give her five to ten minutes of attention. What makes this so frustrating is that she did this behind our backs even after we told her there was nothing they could do for her. BTW, this was really sweet of the very-busy office staff who had many other things I’m sure they could be doing.
In April 2012 I had a mental breakdown. The real thing. I have about 36 hours that I don’t remember....