Caring for a parent, conversations, Mental health, mother daughter relationship, paid caregivers


“Did you hear that racket?” Mama asked when I came upstairs to start dinner a few days ago.

“I did,” I said, though I wasn’t sure. “What was it?”

“Well [pregnant pause] I reached for a tissue on the back of the toilet and knocked off the toilet bowl cleaner.” She sighed deeply and shook her head in a gesture of hopelessness. “I try to help M with her forgetfulness, but I’m afraid it’s a lost cause.”

It was the line of the week, but I said nothing—knowing that too was a lost cause. I just stared at her and shook my own head, which of course she couldn’t see. With another mother, I would have collapsed in laughter.

I’m trying a new practice to help me keep my words to myself when she is making me batshit crazy. In the space of a deep breath before the words that race up my throat into my mouth escape, I ask myself: What do you hope to gain by letting that challenge out of your mouth?

Like when she and M, her paid caregiver, bought three jars of Nivea cream at K-mart because it was buy two get one free and she already had two jars in the cupboard from the last time it was on sale and is she really going to live long enough to use five jars of Nivea? Ninety-five percent of the time saying the words serves no purpose, unless I want to highlight the fact that she is losing it—and sometimes I really do want to do exactly that, which is just mean.

But back to the story at hand. Like I said, with another mother and a different history, I could have helped her see the absurdity of her statement and laugh at herself. I don’t have that mother, don’t have that relationship. I kept the plug in it. But she wasn’t finished with her rant about the help.

“She gets in such a hurry!

I couldn’t let that one go, though again it is pointless; but there is that five percent of the time a response might be helpful. “You give her a lot to do,” I said, “then you complain to me that she doesn’t get it all done.” She wants to please you, and you are really hard to please. I kept that part to myself.

“She does things I don’t ask her to do!”

“She sees what needs to be done and does it.” And when one of the not-M substitutes did things without being told, you praised that wonderful quality.

“Yesterday she made my bed.”

“How nice!” You loved it when the hospice bath aid did that.

“Well she made it like I make it for night, not how I need it for nap, so I had to remake it!”

I let it go at that and amended my assessment of when it is not helpful to speak the words to 100%. I have no clue what the difference is, and I doubt if she does. And it turned out not to be toilet bowl cleaner, but rinseless butt cleaner she knocked off, which has been on the back of the toilet since hospice provided it two months ago.

What, I wonder, is it like to be unplugged like that? Her brain and her will unable to accept dependence on others, yet knowing she needs help. She avoids making sense of it by blaming it on those who work like dogs to please her, the words flowing out without knowing they are ridiculous, and inaccurate.

I had a bit of personal unplugged experience this week when I dropped my iPhone in the toilet. I blamed only my own stupidity, not Apple for inventing the damn thing and making me dependent. I know Mama doesn’t blame me for her dependence on me, but I am the face on it, I think. Anyway, I was without a phone for two days while it rested from its trauma in a baggie with silicon packets. I was pretty frantic for a few hours, but then I got strangely used to it. Really, the only problem was I was waiting for a callback from the plumber and I had to ask him to return my call to the house phone. Meaning Mama might answer it and not know what he was saying. She said she wouldn’t answer the phone if I was there. He called ten minutes later and she answered the phone.

After 48 hours I took my phone and baggie to visit the Apple geniuses in Tacoma. It’s working, but “it will quit. Maybe in a week. Maybe in six months.” Kind of like Mama. The clientele at the store at noon on a weekday was mostly old people—like me—with  issues any ten year old could have solved. I noted how patient and kind the young employees were with their demented elders. Good hires or good training? I could take a lesson.

After dinner clean-up Mama continued her rant: “M put the blinds down on the sliding door in the corner, and the sun never shines through there and it’s supposed to be all the way up and I can’t reach the cord.” (I’m pretty sure it’s always been down; I’m very sure M would not have put it down uninstructed.) I clamped my lips together and put the shade up.

I guess it was just a bad day, and who knows why. Most certainly not she. And on bad days she needs a scapegoat. I said goodnight and turned toward my sanctuary for the night, where only the cat complains. She still wasn’t finished.

“Thank you for all your patience,” she said. I stopped in my tracks, took a moment to recover from the shock, then turned and told her I was sorry I didn’t have more. Which is true. “Well that is understandable,” she said. “You’re remarkable.”

“Thank you,” I said. “You are remarkable too.” And I meant it, perhaps not quite in the same way she did.


7 thoughts on “Unplugged”

  1. Wow, finally praise. What you have been looking for these last few years. By the way, the phone event could have been worse. Mine fell out of my pocket into a pot of epoxy. Phones don’t recover from that.


    1. Oh dear. Well, at least it’s clear. (Pun unintended.)

      I think the praise is not what struck me, although it was nice! I have often thought this job would be so much easier, and–though she obviously doesn’t understand it–her life would be so much easier, if she would acknowledge that her mind is changing, accept the help of others, and adjust to a new way of being. But she sees it as personal failure that must be avoided. The only way to avoid it is not to bow to it, to blame others, to deny culpability. In that comment, I heard a vulnerability. I think when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, we open doors.


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