This one has been a hard one to approach. It hits very close to home and to a lot of the problems that I am battling at the moment. It hits close to home because my mother is living in my home. In my spare room, right now. I am her carer.
While my Dad was in the hospital, my mother announced that it looked like she would be moving in with me. This was not my first choice. Mother and I had not been close for a long time. The thought of her living in my house was not one I wanted to entertain and, without being mean, I told her so. After my father died, she announced that she wanted me to stay with her at least one night a week, every week. I was pregnant, with an active eighteen month old to run around after. It wasn’t going to be possible. I told her so again. It was after that that she started having falls. Lots of falls. Within weeks she went from being an independent human being to someone in need of care. I knew that she had some nerve damage in her hands due to alcohol abuse but suddenly it seemed she could do nothing, she would stand drunkenly on the doorstep, in her nightie, and flag down the neighbours to help her.
We moved her into warden lead accommodation and got carers and home help to come in. She started refusing to wash or to get out of bed. She told her carers that her drinking had only been a problem since my father had passed. Her carers often treated me like an uncaring child.
One day, when they asked me to talk to her, I decided that I’d had enough. Rushing across town each time she fell, living with constant anxiety and responsibility, and simultaneously being vilified was not something that I was prepared to accept any longer. I told them the truth. The long story of my parents drinking and all of a sudden everything changed. Suddenly I was all compassion for caring so much in spite of all, they knew people who’d cut parents off for less. It’s good to know that I’m not an uncaring, unfeeling child but it doesn’t help.
Unlike my father, who could be accidentally, drunkenly cruel to my mother and I, but was generally highly regarded by everyone else, my mother was often supportive of my father and I and casually cruel to the wider world. My mother has strongly narcissistic tendencies, she likes to have things to show off about and my father and I fit the bill. If we didn’t, she’d just exaggerate, or make it up. Oddly, I found that quite hurtful. Why could I not be good enough as I was?
It wasn’t, however, her treatment of me, that really destroyed our relationship. It was her treatment of other people. My mother always thought of herself as a cut above and felt no need whatsoever to hide her negative opinion of others. She slowly but surely destroyed relations with my fathers extended family. It started with one of my cousins, who didn’t speak to any of us for years, she and I had been close until my Mum was mean and then I lost her, just like that. It was years before I learned what had been said and, when I heard it, I felt sick to my stomach. I was horrified.
Things didn’t get better, she alienated friends and family alike. By the time my Dad died, no one wanted anything to do with my mother apart from her own cousin, who lives in Devon and checks in from time to time. It was all left to me, the only child, to do everything. To take care of the funeral, to take care of the will, to take care of mother. Without my husband and his family, I would have fallen apart. Every medic I spoke to was terrified I would develop post natal depression and I think that maybe I did. Maybe I still am depressed and fighting every day to find a way to feel in control of my own life again. To feel like there is space for me at the table.
After a few months in warden lead accommodation, mother made it clear that she didn’t want to continue to live there any longer and she started to work on my husband. Within eighteen months she had moved into a bungalow ten minutes walk away from us, but she didn’t like it there either and she continued to pressure my husband on the subject of moving in. Everyone, apart from them, thought it would be a terrible idea. I felt like I was going mad.
It was in the middle of lockdown that the final coup d’etat took place. She had a massive fall and broke her shoulder. She had to move in, and she has never left. I feed and water her, do her laundry, brush her hair, cut her nails and shower her. She is capable of showering herself, but she doesn’t like water, so we have to frog march her in every so often for everyone’s sake. In some ways life is calmer now, I know that she’s safe, there will be no more emergencies, and now that she is under my roof, she is dry. Still, this is not the life that I anticipated, my freedom is limited and my marriage is suffering.
I know that Mum’s crimes were and are as a result of alcohol and that she, almost certainly, doesn’t remember what she has done, or if she does, doesn’t comprehend the awfulness of it because her narcissism and addiction effect her empathy. I know that I, at least, need to model empathy and compassion for the sake of my children. I have, for the most part, stopped being angry. I used to shout unforgivably. It is very hard not be sad though.
When my first child was born, I remember saying to one of my cousins that, after nagging me for years, to procreate, my mother was not in any way maternal with my daughter. ‘Yeah well, she was never really that maternal with you either, was she?’. Isn’t that a sorry thing to hear? So, while I berate myself for not being a warmer carer, for being very functional in my approach. I, equally, must ask if I can be expected to repress all that I feel. Is it wrong to feel sad that my mother doesn’t love her granddaughter? (She’s significantly more fond of the boy but maybe we should dissect that another time.) Is it wrong to feel sad that she wasn’t much of a mother to me? Is it wrong to look at other women my mother’s age, who are out and about and vital, while my mother languishes in my spare room, body destroyed by her own bad decisions, and wish that it wasn’t so? Is it wrong to mourn the mother I wish I had had? It is wrong to feel bereft of the support network that I could have? It is wrong to feel very much alone in all of this? Is it?
I leave this blog to go and fix her breakfast, and sort out the bathroom for her wash. I will continue to put one foot in front of the other and to do what needs to be done. I will do the best that I can but I cannot help but wish that I didn’t have to do it.
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