This has been a hell of a week so far. This was the week of my birthday and there were good parts of the day and there were hard parts of the day. Yesterday was just as tough. Why?
It has come to our family's attention that my mom is not well. Without going into a long detailed account, my mom has a type of Dementia / Alzheimer's that is overwhelming for me to accept and yet I have no choice but to do this. I don't want it to be, I don't want to accept this. I want life to be normal. I want my mom to be like other people's moms and just age gracefully and with all the dignity possible. Because my mom is a Southern Belle who expects to be treated as Miss Scarlet like in Gone With the Wind. For right or wrong this has been her way of living. She has trod on her family at times and she has been wonderful to each of us as well. I don't always like her but I do love her. It seems grossly unfair that life should repeat itself as my Nan, her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in the late 1970's. She died in 1991. These were the women who raised my brother and I.
The act of mothering....
I look at this photo of my mom holding me and I see her eyes looking at me so intently. I wonder what she is thinking. It is my Christening day and I am in a dress that I have in a drawer in my bedroom now. A while batiste dress with lace inserts on the front and on the sleeves, handmade by someone though I don't know who. When my mom gave this dress to me some years ago, I didn't realize that it was my Christening dress. After all, the dress I was told was the family Christening gown, the one my daughters had their photographs taken in, was not in the end the one my brother or I ever wore. This dress now yellowed with age, it's hem that has been let out and is frayed has been a mystery in it's history as well as the other dress. When I began transferring old slides to digital I found such wonders of my childhood as well as my brother's. Images that I have no story of.
My father is absent from this day. I don't know where he is but I must assume that it was because of his being in the Military and not able to be there. I was brought back to my mom's home town of Selma, Alabama to the First Presbyterian Church, the same church my parents were wed in. I look like I was being a good baby and my mom looks serene. I wish she was smiling. I wish she was smiling and hugging me letting that dress wrinkle and not be concerned with keeping me neat and tidy. Am I fresh from a nap? Is this before or after my debut in the church?
Then there is my Nan holding me. This is the way I remember her. Smiling and being cheerful. My dear Nan who had to mother and father her daughter when her husband died when my mom was a young girl. Who still had to mother her grandchildren while my mom worked or went out with her friends.
It must have been hard to do it all. To raise a daughter who could be so self-centered and wanting, always wanting more for her life. My Nan the stable, calm woman who gave up so much for her daughter and her family. Did she feel that my mom needed more help since my dad was gone so much when my brother and I were little? Did she feel that because her husband died while my mom was so young that my mother needed to be always kept happy and spoiled to make up for that loss? I will never know. My mom was never one to want to tell too many stories of our family. I know so little about my father's family. I have no names or addresses of his side of the family. I only know that he was an only child just like my mom. There were no other kin for my brother or I to grow up with or get to know. There are so many stories that are buried in the Live Oak Cemetery in Selma where many of our family lie. My father, grandparents, my Papa too. People I wish would tell me their stories of my family so that I may know who they were and what kind of people they were to know more of my story. Who am I like? I would like to know....I dearly would like to know.
My mothering was self taught. When we brought our first born home I was walking through a door of inexperience. I would sit up on our waterbed with our beautifully exquisite baby in my arms looking at her with delight but not knowing how to mother. I didn't know the first thing about newborns except in the books. Yet I was drawn to her like nothing I could comprehend. A deep primal desire to not let her out of my sight but to have her as close to me as possible. I refused to let her go to the nursery after her birth. My dear mother by marriage taught me without knowing it the way to talk to a baby. She did that with her sing song voice so light and loving. I found myself conjuring up lullabies or nursery songs that would come into my head while I got to know this baby of mine. She nursed so well and I never had a problem of breastfeeding her. Every two hours night and day I would arise to bring her to my breast. The pull of mothering growing stronger with every rhythm of her pull at my breast. The letdown of my milk tingling me with a pleasure I could not understand but wanted. My Love lying beside us watching with a love in his eyes that created a new bond to our relationship. Our being a family. Of being a mother and a father to this helpless babe we conceived.
My mother taught me how to bath my daughter. I was so afraid I would drop her when she was slippery with baby soap. She taught me how to give her a sponge bath when she was two days old. My mother filled a bowl with warm water, soaking a baby wash cloth and applying the baby soap to it creating velvet soft bubbles to gently clean our little one. Her small body didn't like the sensation of lying naked on her back. Her little arms out to her side waving them stiffly as she cried out. I felt awful for bathing her! Once we rolled her to her tummy she seemed to relax for a minute snuggling into the towel she lay upon and then she cried out again. But oh she was so lovely. Her body so perfect! My mother being a mother to me equally rejoicing in her crying and her sweet little body. We quickly but efficiently bathed her. I learned that babies are going to cry but they still will be fine. Once we wrapped her in a warm towel she relaxed once again and calmed down. Those days of my mother coming over to help out meant so much to me. Bringing dinner to us where Papa, Nana (my mom), my Love and I would just dote on this new member of the family. I hadn't seen my mom this type of happy ever before. She was so careful not to tell me what to do but to just be there to soak up this special time.
I wonder about the act of mothering that circles around to our elders. That circle of life that goes round and round. How now my care will be towards my mother in the years ahead. So often when she talks she giggles when she stumbles over names, dates, times and places. I am grateful she does not get frustrated with the limitations of her language difficulties. I often wonder if she really grasps the fact she is having trouble or if she is waiting to have me pick out the words she can't find. I wonder how I even pull these words out for her. Is it because of the familiarity of our mother daughter relationship? I have felt like an interpreter for her these past several years as her speech as declined. Her friends calling me or taking me aside to tell me how hard it is to understand her and hear her as her voice is softer than it use to be. This was the woman who could reduce me to tears with her sharp words so strongly laid. Who even with the soft voice and lack of speech can with her tone still stab my heart. That young girl in me who didn't put her foot down to tell her to back off and except me and her family for the goodness that we are. Now she is fading.
This new path I am about to walk on is uncharted. I have no map of my own but I will ask for directions so I can keep going. I know it will get tough and I will need all my patience and positive thoughts to get me through the days ahead. I will ask for help as hard as that will be but I am ever so grateful that my Papa has left my mom in a position of comfort financially to be well taken care of for the remainder of her life. I do not look forward to the day my mom does not know her life the way it has been. I have a lasting memory of my Nan when the Alzheimer's robbed her of the knowledge of who we were. She would say a mumbling string of words but she looked out of eyes that saw nobody she knew. I wondered if she even saw me at times when I would bend over to speak to her. I would bring my daughters along on occasion where I would tell them we were seeing "Nan who is sleeping" because towards the end she seemed always asleep. They would go along unconcerned with this, looking up at her in her bed. To them it was normal. I always had wished they new her as I had but that was not to be as she was already too far gone by the time I had children. We would speak to the other patients and in my mind pretend that some little lady there in her wheelchair was my Nan.
My mom is complicated. It is a tragedy that she will be robbed of the memories of life as time goes by. Or is it? She won't have to say how this friend or that has aged or died. She won't look back with regrets of her life. It will almost be like a clean slate at some point. She will be a different person for all intensive purposes. It will only be us left behind who will be struggling with this. I think I will just greet this with an open mind. I will take this one step at a time.