Tale Tues: My Mother’s Aide and Mayhem

There’s a stranger in my mother’s house. She greets me at the door in comfy moccasin slippers. As if she’s living there. Which she is.

I enter the house as if I’m a true guest, rather than my mother’s daughter who used to live there as well. Who wrote her first stories at a broken table up in the attic. Who, when she was grown, returned there after college, to bike to a job at the local newspaper until she figured out what she really wanted to do. Who still returned once she found her roots in the city.

My mother would meet me at the train and we’d go out to dinner. We would share a plate of mussels steamed in garlic and oil. Then we’d go home to the oceanside cape, sometimes build a fire in the fireplace whose bricks we’d stripped together, of its blue paint, when my parents inherited  the house the back when I was fourteen. We’d sit in the sunroom, her favorite room.

Where now, on my weekly visits, I bring her fresh sunflowers to place in the middle of the table.

“This isn’t my house anymore,” she can say.  Of this stranger, dressed in her aqua-aide uniform, who cooks her own recipes with my mother’s pots and pans. Who whips up her own healthy concoctions of kale, green apples and ginger in some old blender she found that I’d forgotten my mother even owned.

My mother can shake her fists in the air and hiss, “I have no privacy! None! She even goes through my drawers!”

I listen to these accusations, speechless, sitting at my mother’s bedside. Hearing the aide in my mother’s kitchen, warming up some soup for lunch. My mother’s cat is curled tightly at her side as if he feels it too, this invasion of privacy. Not only is my mother’s own space invaded, but ours, as mother and daughter; there’s a baby monitor in her bedroom now, so the aide no doubt can hear everything we say.

And the aide did hear it all. She seemed distraught herself and said, “You need to believe that I don’t go through her drawers. Your mother asked me to open a drawer for some socks and that’s how she remembers it.”

And I believed her. Because the paranoia isn’t quite new; my mother is sure “kids” got into the house to make mayhem with a pack or cards found strewn across the coffee table (most liked the cats’ mayhem….) She thinks someone stole a new shower curtain she remembers buying which I now think she has imagined ever buying in the first place. My mother accused the aide of drinking all her scotch when she asked for a light drink one night, and the aide didn’t know where she kept her liquor.

“I don’t drink. It makes my knees weak.”

And then the aide and I are laughing – as only my mother and I could ever laugh. Giggling really, on the edge of a kind of hysteria; I knew the aide was tired. Her first week, she’d been up most nights as my mother rummaged through her closet for something to wear so she could go out at 3am. But she’s also an aide who could assure my mother that she is still “a beautiful woman” when my mother complained, “I look like a witch;” she was unable to wash her hair for ten days before she could get the stitches out, from where she’d gashed her head when she’d fallen on the sharp corner of an open bureau drawer.

My mother is sleeping better. The UTI has cleared up and so has the disorientation. And so my mother now knows exactly where she is: “I’m in prison! I go nowhere!  I’m sick to death of staring out these same dirty windows!”

My mother spends most of her time lying on her bed, facing these windows. I have tried to clean them. I am desperate to make them smudge free, to appear as if there is no glass there at all. Because, in her more contented moments, she finds real peace gazing out those windows. “I can still find happiness, you know, in the little things,” she can say. And point out a window:  “That burning bush, how brilliant it is now! I will miss the fall colors. But then through the trees I’ll be able to see the sun set better.”

The aide can see I’m distraught. And one afternoon, she asked me to sit down beside her on my mother’s couch. “You have to understand something. This is all new to you.”

New to me. My mother and I were best friends. We took vacations together. We sat by lakes sketching old straggly pine trees. Not everyone can find beauty in an old tree. We could.

I don’t know what we are now.

“You never take my side,” she can accuse me, if I try to dispute her accusations of the aide going through her drawers or drinking her scotch.

Or if I try to explain what every doctor, social worker and even her physical therapist has confirmed, in no uncertain terms, after this last fall when she could have bled out: My mother can no longer live alone.

“Don’t tell me I can’t take care of myself. I’ve been taking care of myself since I was 21! And I took care of my parents when Daddy lost it all in the Depression. We were broke and I took care of them!”

It’s all I can do to resist snapping back that she’s not 21, she’s a very elderly and fragile 95-year-old woman.

“You wait until you’re 95, you’ll see what it’s like!”

I want to scream back I’ll never make it to 95, never mind 55,  the way I feel now, old and creaky and angry myself.

The actual tone of our arguments can vary. They can sound as familiar as when I was a rebellious teen and could seethe because she thought my caramel 70s vinyl boots made me look “cheap.” Or when she can still tell me what I need, like a new couch, or need to do, like clean out my closets.

Then there are the arguments that feel far too awkward to be anything other than the unchartered territory of a daughter now having to take care of her mother.  As when I sat on the edge of her bed and told her the truth. Her mind is not working correctly. She cannot even remember all the times she has been in the emergency room from falls, but I remember them too well. She no longer can make all her own decisions or I, her only daughter, will be “sick.”

She looked at me then, not angry. But worried. About me. And she was my mom again. And I wanted to cry on her shoulder, and for a moment I did.

And she was so sorry. “I’ll do whatever you need me to do.”

The day finally came when she was able to get her stitches out. Dressing for the doctor’s appointment, she sprayed perfume between her legs and I laughed. “What was that for?” Very ancient perfume, by the way,  that she hasn’t worn in years and for some reason was now on her vanity counter.

She laughed. “I have no idea.”

We both laughed. Suddenly feeling silly. But the laughter is the one thing that can still bring us back together. As the mother and daughter we always have been. And sometimes, although in smaller and smaller moments, still can be. (Especially as I’ve had the brilliant realization to turn off the damn baby monitor when I’m there.)






About Sandra

Author;editor of The Woven Tale Press at thewoventalepress.net; mother; weaver
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15 Responses to Tale Tues: My Mother’s Aide and Mayhem

  1. Jo Heroux says:

    I love reading about you and your mom. Mine is still able to care for herself in her apartment 2 miles from my home. She is 91 and her memory is very fragile as is her body. She is barely over 100# at 5′ and I worry about her eating and check her grocery usage like a spy. Did she go through enough food this wee? Did she forget to eat? She can sometimes tell me what she ate for dinner and lunch and sometimes she has no idea, but is always sure she ate something. Just when I think I will need to start bringing one meal of good food daily, she turns around and begins to think about her meals and do better.

    I think of you often, Sandra and know how the love of your mother is irreplaceable and becoming the caregiver is more than difficult. We do what we can and we give the love they have always given us and really, what more can we do?

    • Sandra says:

      Thank you Jo. It’s been a very tough transition. Really new territory that is leaving me stunned and barely able to write which makes me feel more frantic. As to eating, My mother drinks a lot of Ensure. Not a bad thing to have in her fridge. I’ve been told you an literally live on the stuff. She drinks at least one or 2 a day.

  2. I’d been wondering how things had been going. You know I empathize with what you’re going through, even though my own mother wasn’t much like your mother and I’m not much like you, actually. I never married and she and I always lived together, which makes a big difference. We used to say to each other, “It’s just you and me against the world.” Of course, in the end it was just me. My mother pretty much accepted the fact that ultimately everybody loses her independence, although she didn’t like it. It sounds like you’ve finally found a pretty responsible and reliable aide – sure hope you can keep her!

    • Sandra says:

      You know Lorinda, for many years it was with us too, “You and me against the world,” especially when I was there to support her in the care of my father who had dementia for 13 years and finally wound up in a nursing home. Mother daughter relationships are complex and by god, this sure makes it all more complex.

  3. Amy Morgan says:

    Ah Sandra, my heart aches for you both. I am pleased you’ve found a full time aide who seems to be working out. Now that some of your mom’s confusion is gone and she is better from the UTI and healing from the fall, maybe a small outing or two a week can be planned and she won’t feel so much a prisoner. They could be without the aide (which would give them both a break) or with the aide (and then she may begin to see her as a source of some freedom as well). I know, the guessing and decisions just don’t seem to end, but hopefully things will stabilize. Prayers to you both…

  4. Elizabeth says:

    Oh sweetie. Two years ago I was exactly where you are now, with a mother I loved desperately who was no longer the woman I’d know all my life. The anger (on both our sides) was so hard to deal with, partly because I was so freaking stressed out, and partly because anger had never really been part of our relationship. Like you and your mother, my mother and I were very close. We went to museums together, talked about books we were reading. So when she became angry, paranoid, and resentful of me, of the aides who were helping me take care of her, it just blindsided me.

    As I think I told you, I had people tell me I needed to “change my attitude,” which was doubly devastating. So I just want to tell you what I wish someone had told me then; there is no right, easy, happy way to do what you’re doing. It’s hard and it’s painful because you’re watching someone die slowly – a little bit every day. All you can do is do the best you can each day and forgive yourself when you do it badly. Here’s a link to a poem I wrote when I was going through what you’re going through now:

    • Sandra says:

      Thank you so much, Elizabeth. It’s a tough very stressful road, isn’t it? Im having a hard time managing the stress. Wake up in the morning and every day even if it’s not, feels like a crisis.

      • Elizabeth says:

        Your mother is leaving you and the world you built together and around each other is crumbling. There is no way it won’t be stressful. What you’re experiencing now – with your mom still partly herself but also deeply not – was the hardest time for me. It’s gotten easier as she’s gotten more disabled. (Yet you can’t exactly “look forward” to your mom getting worse, right?) But things are in profound flux for both of you right now. They will stabilize and a new normal will settle in. Many many hugs.

        • Sandra says:

          Yes. I do indeed with we could meet for coffee. Oddly, I kind of get what you’re saying and don’t know if I “look forward” or not. But it’s truly taxing emotionally to have some moments with her as we always were and then have them taken away.

  5. Barbra says:

    Imagine if you didn’t have the release of your writing. You will get through…I promise!

  6. Beautifully written. I could feel the bittersweet ache from you both.

  7. Kathy says:

    This is such uncharted territory for both of you. How hard it must be for the both of you. I thank God I never needed an aid for either of my parents. I was the aid. I did that for both of them and when it got to the point that I honestly didn’t know how either of us would go forward, God took away the burden from us both and took them home. No matter how hard it was, I still wish they were here with me…if they could have been well. I wouldn’t wish either of them back suffering, in pain, and frustrated. You are stronger than you think. God will never give you more than you can handle. I honestly believe that. May God be with both you and your mother.

    • Sandra says:

      I think of you often, Kathy, as I know you were close to your own mother. And I know you had to go it alone, even though you do have a sister. It’s a heavy load. But I also believe what you do, that God only hands you so much that you can handle at least in one day.

  8. Hilary says:

    Hi Sandra – I can understand where you’re at and even though my mother and my uncle by marriage on my father’s side were able to communicate and in control to an extent – I understood that laughter was the best medicine … and used it often – when things got rough for them.

    One thing I did for my mother … as she was bedridden, but in a Nursing Centre so her care was organised, was put some posters on the ceiling … and for a few years those helped take her mind away to other climes … I had pictures printed out on A3 poster sheets …

    But laughter is the best – your aid sounds so helpful and understanding .. and your mother is obviously better with good food, someone to be around and care …

    I know that I was so so lucky with my mother and my uncle and they never grumped and groaned excessively … I went along with my mother when she wandered and turned it into an adventure …

    With thoughts – such a lovely heartfelt post .. full of love too – Hilary

    • Sandra says:

      What a loving gesture, to go to the trouble of having posters actually printed out, to think what she’d like to look at, and then putting them on the ceiling. My mother is quite bedridden, though she does spend so much time sitting on her bed, that she’s starting to deal with sore tailbone issues etc. But as long as she has her windows to look out of…and the laughter is important. Just wish it happened more often.

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