In Which I Admit I Am Not Noble and Can't Do This Alone

It’s been a day. I spoke to my mother, who had sounded better the last time we spoke. She sounded much worse today, and informed me my grandfather’s in the hospital, although she can’t say for what. A rehabilitation center of some sort. She thinks he’s going to die soon. And then she wants to move to Washington.

I’ll admit that cold dread fills me at the idea.

We have a history. I spent a considerable chunk of my twenties trying to extricate her from a horrible situation. She’d call me in tears every time her husband went back to drinking and began beating her. She’s really leaving him again, this time, she’d say, and so I’d tell her to come on down. She’d live with me for a few days or weeks, interrupting my writing, putting my life in disarray, and inevitably, just when we’d got things sorted enough she could begin to live a life of her own, she’d go back to him. Always. This went on more times than I can remember.

He called me once, drunk, barely able to do more than breathe, and said, “Your mother…” His voice trailed off. My heart tried to explode. My body went cold and numb, my field of vision shrinking to a sliver, because I thought this was the call, this was where I’d find out he’d finally killed her. I still don’t know the reason he called, but I got hold of her later and found out she was fine. But he was drinking and abusing her, and every time she went back because he was good at winning her back, I’d watch her leave with the certainty that this was the last time I’d see her alive.

I spent a lot of time angry and scared. I spent a lot of time confused and hurt. The confusion and hurt would morph into anger. That’s how my personality works. I’m not one of those people who can suffer mildly and patiently. I just get mad, and the more scared or hurt I am, the angrier I am.

But no matter how angry I got, the fear won out. I’d always accept her back. She eventually left him for good only because he beat her dog. I made her buy a house that time, not trusting her not to go back. Get her in a house, something she’d invested in, where we could live together, and this time she’d stay put, I thought. It wasn’t much, but it was a pretty double-wide with potential. Between the two of us, we could afford it. I gave up my lovely little studio apartment, where I’d been happy for a great many years and could walk to work in a trice. I gave up my freedom and independence, and moved in with my mother. And her dog. And her two cats.

It was a disaster. She treated me like I was still a child, virtually a toddler. You’d think someone dancing attendance on you and making you meals would be awesome, but it wasn’t. It felt like being smothered. She wanted to know every detail about what I was up to. And while she didn’t demand, the constant quest for information got right up my nose. We had opposite schedules: she’s an early bird, I’m a vampire. The walls were thin. And she wouldn’t smoke outside. I’m a smoker, but I smoke outdoors. Can’t stand the smell in the house. I’m a desperately light sleeper, awakening at the slightest noise or strange odor. So sleep deprivation piled up on top of the loss of autonomy.

And then there’s the Illness. Being faced with that every day, this shell, wearing an approximation of my mother’s face but with few traces of who she’d been, that was rough. Incredibly rough.

It wasn’t easy. I was miserable, and sometimes she’d push a button and I’d lash out. I yelled, and hated myself for yelling. But she knows which buttons to push and can’t help pushing them. Everyone in the family talks about that, how Linda just finds those buttons and grinds her finger in. I don’t think she’s even aware of doing it. But you’re surely aware. And you howl.

But we were making it, to a degree. I wasn’t happy, but we had our good moments, and they were enough to keep me from going mad myself. We’d get it sorted out. We’d forge a life together. We were on our way.

Then she abandoned my ass for Indiana. Temporary, she said. Just to take care of her mother for a few weeks. Then months. Then it became permanent.

I’ll spare you the details of the shrieking that ensued. I’ll just advise that I was not happy being left with the land lease, and with her trying to also dump the mortgage on me, which I couldn’t afford, and then constantly after me to sell the place for her. The house we’d started to build together, all she wanted to do was get rid of it. She couldn’t think what that meant for her daughter. She couldn’t think.

And that was during one of her best times. She was pretty coherent, back then.

So I told her the truth, tonight, when she said my aunt had told her I wanted her to fly back here. I know how that conversation went. My aunt told her I’d floated the possibility of getting her into an assisted living facility out here, and that morphed in her damaged mind in to “My daughter wants me to live with her right now.” You can’t trust her thinking anymore. You can’t trust that what she says is true. It’s true to her, but it’s like seeing reality through a funhouse mirror. So who knows if she’ll even remember the truth? But I told her:

She can’t live with me.

There’s no way. Both of us would end up destroyed. I don’t have the time, money, physical and emotional resources to handle it. The only way she’s coming out here is if I can get her in to an assisted living facility. And I won’t bring her here unless we have that. She will need to live with people who can take care of her physical and medical needs, in a home where she might make a few friends, so that I’m not her only friend. I don’t know if this state will pay for such a place for a dirt-poor person. We’ll find out.

If they don’t, she must stay where she is. There’s family there, and she’s established residency, and she has a home, and a mental health facility that picks her up thrice weekly to make sure she’s treated and taking her medicine. These are things that are already being done for her. She may not like them, and they may not be quite enough, but they’re far more than I can do.

I’ve had to face the fact that there is no possible way, short of sacrificing my own life, to take care of her. And I’m sorry, I’m selfish, and I do not want to let my life go. I’ve sacrificed quite a bit of it for her already, and I know what happens when I do: I get us nowhere.

I feel, right now, like a trapped animal eyeing its leg and considering how much less pain will be involved in chewing it off rather than succumbing to the trap. I actually, seriously, considered emigrating to South Africa. Not kidding. My dad’s about to lose his job, but he might get a job in South Africa, in a gorgeous region I might add, and I swear to you all I can think about is that if he does, I want to go with him. Because then I could escape.

I’ve considered engineering a break. I’ve considered a lot of things that are not at all noble, and involve me running away at greater or lesser speeds. All this in the course of one afternoon and evening, all this because I want, desperately, to elude that trap. In the end, I won’t do them. I won’t let her completely down. I won’t (probably) move to South Africa. But there’s a negotiation that has to be done, in which boundaries are established, and it’s determined just how much of a sacrifice I can make. It won’t be as much as some. Those people who give up their lives in service of others, that’s not me, and I can’t be that person, no matter how much guilt and anguish it causes to admit it.

So, I shall be spending part of the day tomorrow on the phone with various people, including her counselors, and trying to track down what resources might be available here in Washington, and whether any sort of life for her here is viable, or whether we’re going to have to do this long-distance. Because she agrees: I can’t go there. I can’t move to Indiana. No jobs, and I’d be suicidal almost from the moment of arrival. It has that effect. At least that boundary’s clearly established. But what can I do if we find out there’s no way for her to be here? No help, no health care, no home? How do I tell her that, then, that’s that? How do I live with that answer?

VNV Nation’s “Entropy” speaks to me: “When does enough become enough? / When does “no” have meaning?”

[Los Links is coming. I promise.]

In Which I Admit I Am Not Noble and Can't Do This Alone
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19 thoughts on “In Which I Admit I Am Not Noble and Can't Do This Alone

  1. 1

    I’m not noble, either. Right now, my Dad, 87 and getting about on his two artificial knees, is looking after my mother. He shops, he cooks, he cleans, he pays the bills. If he dies before my Mom, I’ll do whatever it takes to get her into an assisted living facility, either in her state or mine. But I won’t suggest she move in with me.

  2. 2

    You have my sympathies. The only reason I’m currently employed is because I’m employed as my Aunt’s caretaker. Rather than Medicare/caid paying for assisted living or a full-time nurse, my Aunt got into a ‘self-determination’ program. Basically, she can hire her own caretaker who is then paid indirectly through medicare/caid.

    She gets a caretaker who she already knows and trusts, and someone who actually gives a rats-ass about her well being beyond a paycheck.

    But it’s 6 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. No benefits, no insurance, no holidays. If I want a day off and my Aunt isn’t going to be alright for the day by herself (she’s got good stretches and bad stretches) I have to pay my own replacement to fill in for me.

    She suffered roughly 30 simultaneous mini-strokes, and because of the rarity of her condition it took a while before they diagnosed it and started getting it treated properly. She’s not too bad, she does crossword puzzles better than I ever will…but sometimes her perception of time is off, something that happened 3 weeks ago was ‘just yesterday’ to her, or even spending all day watching a TV show marathon and she’ll think only an hour or so has passed.

    Fortunately for me, she’s flexible about what time of day I start and lax about letting me take off a little early now and then, which is probably whats really kept me from going crazy.

    Taking care of family can really be mentally, and physically, taxing, and I’m not about to brand anyone as selfish for wanting to have their own life to live for themselves. It’s obvious you love your mother, and you put a lot of time and effort into making sure she’s being taken care of, that there’s a limit to what lengths you’re willing to go isn’t a flaw on your part, in my opinion.

    Good luck and I hope everything turns out for the best, for you and your mother.

  3. 3

    *sigh* No one should ever have to do this alone, my dear. If we’re not going to live in larger family/smaller community groups anymore, which we’re not, then we need to find a way to distribute care so that this sort of illness doesn’t use up two lives.

    Remember, please, that not having your mother come to live with you is not just about the fact that it won’t work for you. It clearly hasn’t worked for her either. It’s normal for someone as unhappy as your mother appears to be to look for a drastic change that will make everything better quickly. That doesn’t mean that desire for change will help instead of hurt.

    Also, *hugs*

  4. HLH

    Your mother needs an intense amount of care, and you physically cannot provide it. It’s not a matter of loving her enough. It’s not a matter of caring enough. It’s not a matter of being a good daughter. You physically can’t do it. You tried, but you can’t. There’s nothing to be ashamed of.

    Would you feel guilty if your mother was 300lbs and handicapped to such an extent that someone had to physically lift her? Would you be capable of doing that? You might think, Well there’s machinery and lifts and we could try it. And you did try, but it turns out that the lifts weren’t enough and someone would have to physically carry her. Would loving her more mean you could lift 300lbs? Or would you come to the conclusion that you, personally, could not do the job of caring for your mother. That someone else would be able to do what needed to be done, but you are not that person, and that doesn’t mean you don’t love your mother enough or you’re a bad person. It’s that the person that you are is not able to do the job of meeting the needs of your mother as she is.

    If she were a different person, then you may have been able to make it work. If you were a different person, then you may have been able to make it work. But as the saying goes, you need to be able to accept what you cannot change, and you can’t change who you are or who your mother is as a person. Accept that. Accept that you physically can’t be the person to take care of her, but that you can be the person who finds where she can get the best care.

  5. 5

    You have my sympathies, too. My family is similarly crazy. You might love them, but you have to have some boundaries if you’re going to stay sane.

    I actually, seriously, considered emigrating to South Africa.

    Note my moniker.

  6. 6

    Having just finished caring for elderly, dying parents for seven years, I feel your pain. At least mine were (mostly) in their right minds. Now that it’s over, I’m glad we did it but it’s been tough not having a life. Now that we’ve got “our life back”, we’re having a hard time figuring out what to do with it.

    We were fortunate in that my parents were able to afford in-home caregivers, so we only had to do that part with my mother-in-law. I don’t know what your mother’s financial situation is but I suspect she can’t do that. It’s a tough situation and very hard to give you any advice other than “hang in there”. I sincerely hope things work out for you and you can find a good situation for your mother.

  7. 10

    Hi. Just stumbled upon your blog from another free thought blog. This post moved me. I’m the survivor of a parent who refused to take care of herself and damn near brought down everyone with her and her abusive marriage before she died. I share this so you’ll understand I’m not being flippant in what I’m about to say.

    You’ve described your mother’s current living situation as adequate, albeit not ideal. She can stay where she is. Good on you for asserting that she can’t live with you. Whatever guilt you may be feeling in sticking to that, just remember you can’t help her if you’ve cracked up yourself.

  8. 11

    One thing I’ll have to say is that mental illness isn’t the excuse some folks use it for. My husband is very bipolar of his meds. But he never used it as an excuse, he could still think and still tried. Sounds like your mom doesn’t want to do either.

    You live with the answer becuase it would kill you to try to help someone who really doesn’t seem to want help but only attention. My parents are my parents but I have so little in common with them. They are very nice people and I wouldnt’ hurt them any more than any good person, but would I sacrifice my life for them? No, I wouldn’t.

  9. 12

    I thought very carefully about what I wanted to say in this comment, and I’m still at a loss. What I’d really like to do is hug you.

    In your post title you declare you’re not noble. I would argue that you’ve been noble in the past and it didn’t really solve anything. Sometimes nobility doesn’t, and that’s one of the unhappier truths of life.

    My own mother was terrified that she’d end up in a rest home. She and my father had agreed when they were first married that none of their parents would end up “abandoned” in a rest home. None of them did, thanks primarily to one sibling in each family; in my mother’s family, she was that sib.

    It turned out that when my parents’ time came to need extra care, I was able to quit my job, live off my husband, and give them the support they needed. (I may end up doing the same for my in-laws.) But I never promised to do it. I always said that situations change, we can’t know the future, and to “never name the well from which you will not drink”. (I’m a Marion Zimmer Bradley fan.)

    You’re doing all you can. Having your mother live with you is something you can NOT do; having my mother live with me would have been something I could not have done, though having my father live the last years of his life with my husband and me was a pleasure. They were simply very different people; my mother would have made my life hell. Yours will make your life hell. You have no option but to say NO.

    You can only do your very best; it is enough.


  10. 13

    It seems that what I’d like to say has been said already, and much better than I could have worded it. So rather than fumble through what may or may not be the right thing to say, I will tell you that I am always and forever here for you in any capacity I can be, and my thoughts and prayers are with you and your mom and this heart-breaking situation.

  11. 14

    Dana, I’m sorry you have had to deal with this. You write so well that this blog literally hurt. You reminded me of an old saying: Domestic abuse may be a one-person crime, but it is often a two-person illness.

    You are, essentially, asking permission to be “selfish”. But it is not selfish. You have a right to your life. As someone upthread said, it is clear that living together was as miserable for your Mom as it was for you. That is not the answer. It is not a question of whether or not you love her.

    And this is the important part.You are not responsible for your mother’s mental illness. You have a certain duty to her. She is your Mom. But that does not mean that you must fail to live your own life. Let go of the guilt. If your Mom was mentally healthy she would want you to be happy, to live your own life. Trust me, I am a Mom and I know this. It’s not your fault. Stop taking the blame for it.

    There is a point where you have to let go. I had to watch my enormously beloved Daddy drink himself to a point of near-mindlessness. His dementia has not been definitely diagnosed, but there was no question, starting about 10 years ago, that during the times when he did not drink he was much less affected. Now, though his 81 year old body is relatively healthy, he can not always remember how to get dressed in the morning, without being reminded of what comes next. For a while, I was very angry with him about what he was doing to himself. I felt betrayed because for many years I consoled myself with “someday he’ll just up and quit and that will be the end of it” but that never happened. Not until he couldn’t remember that he wanted a drink. At a certain point, I had to let go. I had to accept the fact that he was going to kill himself with alcohol, or at least kill his brain with alcohol and there was not a goddamed thing I could do about it. I love him no less. I have even let go of most of the anger, because I don’t want that anger to taint my memory of him. I will feel little sorrow when he dies, because the part of him that was my Daddy is about 99.9% gone already.

    And none of that is my fault. Your Mom’s problems are not your fault. Let them go. Do what you can for her that will not impede your own life too much. And then let it, and her, go.


    Yes, I know. My kids call this “lecture mode”. But you hit me where it hurts.

    I hope you can work through this to a happier day.

  12. 15

    Why do you HAVE to sacrifice your life? Why is there GUILT when you want to live the one life you have?

    I have never understood this.

    We are all individuals, responsible for ourselves. A DNA connection does not automatically give one the right to demand complete servitude from another.

    I’m sorry, you say selfish…I say bullshit. You are ALLOWED to live your life! I see that many posts before mine agree with this.

    I sleep with a fan on, it masks most of the small noises…can’t sleep without it.

    I like the song.

  13. 16

    I echo what most of the others have said, most better than I can. You have my deepest sympathy. My mother died in 1964, when I was 13, and my alcoholic father 10 years after. I always feel a twinge of guilt for saying this, but I’m so thankful to not have to answer the questions you now face. I don’t know you, but your writing has always struck my as poignantly honest and forthcoming and I see no trace of selfishness in a desire to live a sane life. It sounds as if you are doing all that a reasonable person could expect of another, and note I did say “reasonable”.

    Who wouldn’t, if honest, want to run away from these awful decisions? Take good care of yourself and be as well as you can manage.

  14. 17

    I am so sorry Dana.

    A couple years ago when I was in the hospital, and it was a bit dicey. My son was getting out of grad school and moving to California. I had come home and he was visiting, but his to-be-wife needed him desperately, being overwhelmed by work and health/practical details. Then I took a turn for the worse and was readmitted to hospital.

    He asked MrsDoF; “How sick is Dad?” Implication: “What if I go help my fiance and he dies?” I sent word for him to go – take care of her. I’d either die or not, and if I did I wanted the damage localized to me. That’s what parents want when all the parent instincts are working. That’s why we’re parents.

    I just read your follow-up and am so glad you’re getting some help. We will be thinking of you. Take care of yourself. Seriously, watch your own levels carefully. Really.

  15. 18

    Every so often I am reminded of how lucky I am in some respects, and your posting reminded me. I wish you the best, and I believe that you will make the right choices. IMHO, there are people who can be helped–they need something, you provide it, and then they are back to being able to handle their lives. There are also people who can be given help with no upper limit and will ALWAYS need more help, to the point where it’s all-consuming. I have a couple of relatives in that second category, and the only thing I can do is limit what I give so that I don’t destroy my life in the process. Your mother has brought you close to destroying your life without ever actually improving her situation. If you let her she will destroy you, and none of it will actually help her. Being a good person doesn’t require you to sacrifice yourself for a lost cause.
    Be strong, and keep in mind that you have a lot of friends in the blogosphere.

  16. 19

    I really understand your feelings here.

    My partner’s mother is already in an assisted living facility (with some issues of her own). We couldn’t possibly care for her (even between the two of us), she’s too much of a handful, and much too poisonous and controlling if you spend more than a day or so with her. Yet in the facility she’s in, she seems to be doing quite well. I only spoke to the night before last, and she seemed to be the best she’s been in many years.

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