Caring for a parent, family caregiver, mother daughter relationship


The trees on the street where the Yoga Loft is are turning red and gold. I was startled to see it Wednesday, it’s only just turning into August. But that is the way of the seasons, a little counter-intuitive: build up through the challenges of winter until we finally reach the zenith of the summer solstice; then, whoosh, we’re sliding downward through the beauty of summer bloom.

My yoga teacher, that day I noticed the trees, told us our practice would be one of turning inward. That in the midst of the extroversion of summer we were going to spend the hour surrendering to our centers. I looked out the window at the red leaves; that sounded good to me, I get tired of extroverted summer. We worked on strengthening our core, on breathing through our center. After the events at home at the beginning of the week, it was the kind of third eye focus I needed.

I realize now that Mama’s irritation with me probably had nothing to do with me. A friend had left a note in the door while we were out on Sunday saying she would come back the next day. I know she meant well, and Mama would love to have time with her; but one thing I have learned about Mama—maybe about old people in general—is she doesn’t do well with surprises, and she is not flexible. She didn’t know when the friend would come on Monday; and I thought it was highly likely she would not come at all, but Mama took her at her written word. She didn’t take her nap for fear she would come while she was lying down. She wasn’t feeling well, and she was afraid she had missed her while she was in the bathroom.

I am still learning to surrender to the fact that I have to cook dinner for someone else every night, and to the fact that the menu must meet Mama’s needs, not mine. After two years I have made only a little headway. I wanted to sit in the late day sun with my book, but at 6:00 I finally surrendered to the need to head up to the hot kitchen and prepare a meal I had only a couple hours earlier decided on. I thought Mama would like it: chicken salad and zucchini (from the garden) stuffed and baked with tomatoes and basil (from the garden).

I had the zucchini hollowed out when Mama came into the kitchen and informed me I didn’t have to cook for her, she didn’t feel well. And that she had been hot in the kitchen earlier and I didn’t need to heat it up cooking—trying to make her need about my comfort. Could she have told me that at 3:00 when we had a conversation? I could still be reading in the sun with a gin and tonic. I opened the garbage bucket and dropped the zucchini boats in it without saying a word. The only expression of my frustration.

She raged at me (in her own controlled way) for losing my temper, when she just wanted to tell me what she needed. She needs me, she said, to tell her what I’m having for dinner so she can tell me if she can eat it. She needs rice or potatoes tonight, she says, because her stomach and bowels are upset. (Two things that would heat up the kitchen more than what I was making.) “Okay,” I said, my voice controlled, “do you want nothing for dinner, or do you want rice or potatoes, and which one?” “You get so angry, Gretchen,” she said. “I’m not angry, I’m just confused.” “I just won’t eat,” she said, in the martyr tone I knew growing up, flinging me back to bygone days. I wanted to say, “Fine, then!” but I didn’t. I said that was not a solution, and asked her if she wanted rice or potatoes. And what else? Potatoes, and a very thin slice of chicken, and were there still beets? and a slice of tomato.

I made myself chicken salad and ate it standing in the hot kitchen in front of the boiling potato pot.

Mama didn’t sleep that night and the next morning she told me either I need to move out (that was a new twist) or she does. But if she does she will have to sell the house and she doesn’t know where I would go. I’m not sure if she thought about where I would go if I moved out, but I know she doesn’t mean for either one of those things to happen. I reminded her that if she moved to assisted living she would have to choose between two entrees a week in advance and I didn’t think that would be an improvement over my cooking. She was mystified by that. I could have told her I certainly would not live in Centralia if I moved out, and she would have to pay for all the things I do for free that she doesn’t even know I do, as well as for an overnight presence and someone to cook her meals. But there was no reason to go there except in my head.

But it was my anger, keeping her from sleeping, that she was focused on. I have a real problem, she said, and I need help. It’s interesting that except with her (both now and in childhood), my “problem” has always been that I turn my anger inward. Bottle it up, don’t rock the boat. It has been an issue for me in both my primary relationships. (Yes, I learned it from her.) And now when I need to hold it in, I seem incapable. In this case, though, I did pretty well. She apparently saw through my calm exterior into my core. Mother-daughter: it is a relationship like no other.

She didn’t remember that we have tried before having her choose her meals, and found she was incapable of it. Since Monday, I have asked her each morning what she wanted to eat that night, dutifully preparing what she asked for; and changing the menu late in the day when she changed her mind. This too shall pass, again. And though she won’t realize, again, how incredibly lucky she is to have a meal set before her she doesn’t have to think about, we will return to my choices that work 95% of the time. Personally I can’t wait for the day I can relinquish that control to someone else.

It was during the surrender of yoga that I remembered her friend who didn’t show up on Monday, and realized the whole incident was about needing a place for that uncertainty; and I was there, preparing the wrong thing for her dinner, whatever it was I was making. She needed to reestablish control. Since Tuesday morning we have been very gentle with one another, as the iciness of anger gave way to  rebirth in the cycle of our seasons.

This time with my mother is one of ongoing surrender for me, and a time in which she refuses to surrender anything willingly in the face of so much she has no control over. As if the One Who is More were looking into my core at what I need, two new Meet-up groups appeared in my email. The first a baby boomer group for women interested in shared housing (a long time interest of mine for some day in the future, with someone not my mother). The next day a group for daughters caring for a parent. As the walls closed in more tightly around me, and as the days advance toward the dark season, suddenly a window opens.

3 thoughts on “Surrender”

  1. Wisdom is knowing when the words are meant, or not, as you clearly said. Doubt mounts, but we are stronger to see the truth and cling like crazy to it, like Amelia, Maya, and even Hilary!


  2. So well written that you put me there, Gretchen. In the yoga studio, looking outside at the change in the color of leaves and going inward to get in touch with your center, in the hot kitchen, witnessing the stand-off, later, feeling the frustration, later, seeing how gentle you are toward each other as you recover your equilibrium. Thank you for sharing your life with all of us who read your blog..


  3. I can just imagine how life is for you and for your mom. So challenging for both of you. I love reading about your story as it unfolds. Much love to you and may you continue to find some joy and good for yourself as you take care of your mom until the day comes when it is no longer possible. I’m closer to your mom’s age than yours and I often wonder how it will be for my daughters when I can no longer live alone.


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