The process of Mama moving into the local nursing home happened quickly. One night she fell from a chair while watching television. Russell and I, working together, got her into her bed. Later that night, after Russell had returned to his house, she fell again. This time, her 180 pound frame was unresponsive. Her speech hard to understand. The ambulance was called and off to the hospital she went and then the nursing home. After cleaning out her cluttered and ramshackled house, the place was auctioned off and, over a period of seven years, the money gone. Her care consumed everything.
During this period, life at Russell's changed the course of my life.
Every day, I'd visit the nursing home, honoring my mother with whatever care I could. The fifth commandment echoed my intention to look after her as she had looked after me. But with her declining health and the physical distance between us now, the state of our relationship morphed into a place of unhappiness.
For whatever deep seated reason, Mama's behavior seemed to spill from a place of anger, loss, loneliness and abuse. Maybe those who had grown up with their own history of abuse had whittled away her sense of self. In the nursing home, weak and confused, I watched as she put aside a mask of a better nature: the one who cooked and cared for me when I was sick, who tried to maintain a quality of life at which she failed, who lived through the suicide of a husband who she loved, fought with and watched drink himself to death. And while Mama was smart, outgoing and charming when she was healthy, the move to the nursing home accelerated a downward trend towards darkness and despair.
Mama's anger at me and Russell in particular was surprising. Perhaps it was dementia, perhaps the collection of high level drugs with powerful side effects, or maybe the ghosts from her past and her inability to hold them back any longer. When we visited, her skills at hitting below the belt and sinking in her nails were remarkable. It felt like we were the remaining enemies she had to attack in order to save herself. I would have never imagined her that way.
Yet, as she declined, I began to understand that something in our relationship had always been unsettling. The world in which she was rooted nourished behaviors and attitudes that, when exposed from a arbitrary misstep, corroded something inside me. I'd experienced it periodically throughout my childhood and into old age. Now misstepping into that world was all she had left and the pain it caused was more than disturbing. At Dr. Goldstein's request, I limited my visits to once a week accompanied by Russell or a supportive friend. Her last words to us were "Leave me now, I'm going to sleep." She died just before her 99th birthday. The relief was overwhelming.
To be continued ...