Sunday, February 12, 2012

Worst Advice

The worst advice I ever received was from a priest. He meant well, and I suppose I meant well in going to him for advice, but it was the worst advice I could have gotten and the consequences are something I hate myself for almost every day.
I went to him because his mother had suffered from Alzheimer's, and I thought he might have some advice on how to deal with a parent who appeared to be disappearing before your very eyes. His advice was to realize that they were no longer the person that they once were, that in order to deal with them every day, you had to separate yourself from your memories of them and how they were, who they were. That the best way to deal with all of it was to think of her as a different person. I was drowning in everything associated with watching my mom seem to fade away, it seemed like sound advice, and I followed it, and it was the worst advice ever.

Because it wasn't true. My mom was still my mom. She was the person who sang me to sleep by singing "White Christmas", who read to me every night when I was little, who left the window open in winter so that Peter Pan could still get in, who hugged me, and supported me, and was my best friend, who I spoke to every day, several times a day, who made me who I am today. As she got sick, part of her frustration was that she couldn't do the things she was used to doing: drive, be independent, do anything for herself. She seemed to be trapped in her own body. But that's just it- she was still her in there. Somewhere, with all the mood swings, the spells, the altered states, my mom was still in there somewhere.

And by following that advice, I ignored that. I disavowed the fact that my mom was there and needed me, perhaps more than she ever did before. And I will always regret that. I have to live with the fact that perhaps when she needed me most, I wasn't there. She was scared, and felt alone, and instead of her daughter being there, her daughter treated her differently, held her at arm's length.
Friends have told me to let it go, that I did everything I could. That I was under an incredible amount of stress and did the best I could. But the simple fact is, I didn't. My best would have been to ask her more what she needed, what she needed. To get her out of the house, to take her shopping, to play in the yard with her and Nehi more. To invite her down to watch movies. To make absolutely sure that she knew every day that I loved her, was there for her and always would be.
I guess that's the thing with long term illness, you get lulled into a false sense of security. You come to terms with the fact that they're sick. And then you assume that it will just be like that. That they'll be sick, but they'll be there. We thought Mom would get worse, we all saw it, but we thought she'd be here. And we took that for granted.
I took it for granted. Losing my temper, or not doing all I could every day didn't seem like that big a thing, because I always figured that there would be a day to make it up. We could hang out next week. We could play tomorrow. We could talk later.

Father's advice seemed to exacerbate all of that. It was a coping mechanism for the long term. It was a way to disassociate yourself. It seemed like a solid answer in seven years of nothing but questions.
The problem with all of that, is that it ran counter to everything that defined my relationship with my mother. She had always been my best friend. She had always been the one I was closest to. She was the one I told everything to, who I counted on to see me through. It's almost a year later, and I still don't know how to get through my life without her. I don't have anyone to talk to, to ask what I should do, to share my life with.
I should not have listened. I should have known in my heart that my mom was in there, somewhere, trapped more on some days than on others. I should have done more, worked harder. And there is not a day that goes by that the guilt of that doesn't eat me from the inside out. The nights that I can do nothing but say "I'm sorry, Mommy" to thin air. To nothing, because there's nothing there. She is not here for me to make it up to her. She is not here for me to make it better. There is nothing I can do to make this right.
This is the last picture I have of her. 26 December 2011. We'd had snow over the Christmas holiday, which Mom and Nehi both loved being out in. It's a statement of how distant I'd become that she features in so few of the pictures I took in those last months. Like everything else, you think you'll have more time. The person I loved most in the world, I let down in the end, and I don't know how anyone lives with that.