I recently went through a notebook from grad school and found the following scribbling. I forgot I wrote it down. The date has been torn and hard to read, but I know the month and the year. I think about this memory about once a week. It sometimes makes me sad. It sometimes makes me feel overwhelmed. However, it always makes me feel proud of us that my Mom is somewhere she is safe, where they like her, where she receives the medical attention she needs, and somewhere that gives us peace of mind. We’ve come so far.
Mom is standing in the kitchen; hands on the counter, head down, staring into the kitchen sink. She didn’t move or say anything when I walked in the front door and up the hallway. She just stood there like she was lost in deep thought. She didn’t move when I stood in the doorway and gently said her name.
“Mom,” I said it softly, again. She kept staring into the kitchen sink.
“Hey, Mom, I’ve come to see you.” I remember trying to make sure I kept my voice level, calm, quiet, and soft.
She turned her head in my direction very slowly. The look on her face is burned in my memory. She looked so pitiful. Her face looked so sunken, so sad, so broken, ashamed, and lost.
We just stared at each other like we were looking for the persons we remembered each other to be in our memories.
When I close my eyes and think of my mother she is early forties, dark curly hair, full face, smiling, eyes bright, and healthy. I imagine she closes her eyes and I am child again, maybe a teenager.
We are not those people anymore.
She has aged decades due to her illness. Living the life of a self-imposed prisoner of that house, watching it fall down around her. Watching helplessly as it just wastes away, unable to make it change, unable to make herself change.
I am an old thirty. I am a bit lost. I don’t know how to care for a mentally ill parent. I am trying to figure it out, and make it up as I go along. I develop a routine. Work with brother to make a plan. Make a contingency plan. Make a contingency plan for the contingency plan. Do your best. Lay awake in your bed worrying until the early hours of the morning. Get up out of bed and do it all over again. It has made me an old thirty.
We stare at each other across the kitchen. Some of the tile on the floor between us is cracked. Some had chipped and come up. There is a three foot oval hole in the ceiling plaster above us. I don’t know why. I’m not sure if the stove works. Two of the burners are gone. She just leans against the counter.
We stare at each other. Maybe we are both wondering how we got here. How did life turn out to be like this? Where did we take the wrong turn?
She looks so broken, so pitiful. The sick woman who was my Mom for so long just stands there breathing in the dusty air.
My mother got tears in her eyes, and then she finally spoke. Her voice was like a raspy whisper. “I don’t want to live like this, Joey. I….I don’t know how to make this right.”
She turned her head back down. She stared at the sink again. My heart broke. I cried, silently.
The next day she would be admitted into a mental illness ward of a hospital. It would be her second time in four months. She would be discharged 30 days later. I would drive her from the hospital to an assisted living facility. As per instructions from the doctor at the hospital we would not stop at her home on the way. Two weeks later I would move to Charleston for the summer and begin cleaning the house so repairs could begin.
It’s been almost two months and I now realize I saw my Mom in her house, in the home I grew up, for the last time. She won’t be allowed to go back there again. I am so sad for her, for all of us.