I’m glad I don’t have to work in this horrible place anymore, says my mother as we walk to the main dining room which I’m now calling “the restaurant,” like she does, where the assisted living residents eat their meals and I sometimes take her so she can get away from the horrible people she “works with” in her memory care wing then she tries to remember what the horrible things are, tries to find the words for the horrible things the bosses have her do and how they keep changing everything which really means she’s confused, confused beyond all rational possibility over the new bathroom routine, with the caregivers taking her to the toilet every two hours and assisting her so she doesn’t keep going on the lid or in the laundry hamper in the closet or throw shit and toilet paper around her bedroom like some teenage-TP-in-the-front-yard gag gone bad and then she says, maybe next year, not realizing, naturally, that we actually are at the end of the year, a day away from Christmas, which as we all know, she says, takes FIVE CIRCLES before it arrives and I’m as baffled as she is at the speed the holidays hit us, all Mack truck-like, how fast they come every year, how fast each week passes now and yet it’s not fast enough, maybe next year we can go “back,” she says, we can leave this horrible place and she doesn’t say back to Maine or back home and I’m not even sure she knows she’s in Arizona ninety percent of the time but like me she always wants something else, something more, something better, something different, to be somewhere else, anywhere but where we are, and again I’m astonished because it’s like we share a brain: I’ve been thinking for a month solid about moving her back to Maine, to the dementia care home by the sea where I originally wanted her to live two years ago when I realized I couldn’t continue taking care of her in her house, I wanted to keep her in a similar environment, a smooth transition from the old house of my childhood to another old house, isn’t it perfect, mom? You get to stay at a bed-and-breakfast, I imagine saying as the fantasy unfolds, I’d leave her there for a few months because lately I just can’t deal with watching her implode and taking care of my husband, I’d leave her there with people who really care and understand dementia, not this corporate “care facility” with caregivers who quit before they get their first paycheck and an activity director whose idea of art projects is finger-painting and coloring books which pisses the former artist in my mom off to no end, her high-functioning moral superiority still shining bright, then I’d return to Maine myself with or without my suddenly-wheelchair-bound husband whose staph infection just won’t quit, I’d spend a very long summer and fall in my old house and visit my mother often in her B&B by the sea, and I’m positive, I’m certain now that I’m going crazy, the slow drip of insanity from my drinking days has returned and my mother’s tangled mind is seeping into my veins and neurons and organs, I can’t not be crazy, can I, after all this, five years of crazy: my mother and my father and now my husband, taking care of everyone but myself and if it’s true, like they say, the caregiver is the first to go, well, then, toodle-oo, bitches, I’m gone.
I’ve lied to my mother all my life.
As a teenager, it was all about the party.
“Can I borrow the car? My friends want to see the new Superman movie.”
(We’re going to the kegger at Barrett’s Beach)
“We’re going on a field trip at school.”
(It’s senior skip day)
Through much of my adult life, the lies were silent whispers, shrouded in alcohol.
Today I am sober. I care for a mother with Alzheimer’s, in a world of falsehoods and misperceptions.
“We’re going to Arizona for a while so I can take care of my husband.”
(You need more help than I can give. The memory care home is safe.)
“I’m so glad you’re here to help me take care of my husband.”
(His imaginary illness reminds you you’re needed and helpful).
Therapeutic lies have become our reality. Yet my decisions—once based on self—are now motivated by love. And, as every medallion marking another sobriety milestone tells me: “To thine own self be true,” I find that I am.
I’m at the grocery store, navigating through the chaos of an afternoon before Mother’s Day: more floral arrangements than a funeral home, enough pink balloons to supply a dozen nine-year-olds’ birthday parties, greeting card racks laden with glittery sentiment, chocolate-covered strawberry display that engulfs half the produce aisle. Men and women surround me, their shopping carts loaded with sacrificial offerings to place upon the altars of the women who brought them into this world.
My own offering is modest. A small yellow orchid, beribboned in pink, to pin to her blouse. Two cookies, pink and blue icing stating “I Love you, Mom” and “Happy Mother’s Day.” A card for her collection, one of the few things she’s managed not to lose or throw out.
I will not feel guilty that I did not get her more. Last year, the rose bouquet was overturned not long after I presented it, glass shards to clean up, flowers forgotten moments later.
I will not feel guilty that I choose to take her to the special brunch in the dining room of her memory care community. Last year, the silverware at her favorite restaurant became frightening, napkins mistaken for toast.
I will not feel guilty that she lives in a memory care community. I took care of her with love and compassion for the three years I was her sole caregiver.
I will not feel guilty because I do not visit her every day. Every time I visit, our time together is special.
And I will not feel guilty because she’s already forgotten the memories from moments ago, last week, my childhood.
I am a mother to my mother and I love her unconditionally. For us, every day is Mother’s Day.