Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Tragedy of the Ninth Ninth

I have said before that my Third Third is my mother’s Ninth Ninth, and this visit goes right to the heart of those problems.

When I visit my mother, I sleep on the couch in her living room. In the middle of the night – several times in the middle of the night – my mother turns on the television with the volume set at 35 (or thereabouts). I wake up frantically, race into her room, and try to lower the volume. She is not happy about that. I have a hard time falling back to sleep, but if I do … the TV roars again. By morning, I’m hallucinating.
This last time, my mother was furious and announced at 6 a.m. that I had no business showing up and interfering with the way she lives. I told her that I had to get some sleep. She said she was an old woman who had her way of doing things.

Sleep deprived, I told her she’d be a lonely old woman because I couldn’t stay there and not be able to sleep. “I just finished your laundry, getting out the stains that bothered you; I handled your paperwork, I bought you your supplies, took you to the bank, to the doctor. I can’t do any of that without sleep so I’m leaving.” Huff, huff, huff. I called a taxi and was on a train back to my apartment by 7 a.m.
Yes, I seem to be missing the caregiver gene. I know this about myself. My mother and I have had a … prickly … relationship. It’s gotten better recently (these events to the contrary) because, as I say, with dementia my mother has forgotten that she hasn’t liked me so much.

I spent this morning trying to track down her hospital records from a visit in January. Her regular doctor had asked, “What visit?” so I’m trying to figure out when, what happened, who should have sent records. My mother says, “I was in the hospital??”

I just spoke to my mother on the phone. I told her I’d be out there Sunday for lunch. She asked, “Staying over?” and I said, “No, you turn on the TV too loud and I get no sleep.” “Oh,” she said, “I didn’t know. Just tell me and I’ll turn it down.”

You see? She is incredibly sweet and completely oblivious. I am not as good a person as I imagine other people would be in this situation. As my sisters are. My sister Allison emailed, “It’s frustrating, it’s more than sad, it’s tragic because it is not going to change, ever.” At least this trip, I have the opportunity to visit my Mom for a meal or an outing and then return to my place.

Allison wrote that what we got from our mother “was her ‘ear,’ even if she didn’t understand all of what we told her, she was always eager to hear it. And now we don’t even have her ear.” I sit with her and tell her our stories and we laugh and laugh, but for her the story is of some other family, some other road trip, some other funny thing that could have been a TV sitcom. She has no memory of it. Ten seconds later, I could tell the same story again – brand new.

The mother I knew is already gone. In her place is some sweet old lady who’s trying to negotiate a world that makes very little sense to her while her demanding offspring insists on turning her TV down. Sigh. I’ll see her Sunday. For lunch.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I could have written almost the same things about my mother. You are being a good, kind daughter, even if it doesn't always feel like it.

  3. Our parents' final gift to us, their children, is death. I couldn't have said that even five years ago; but with time's healing, I know it's true.

    Your mother is still with you. It's what you need her to be that's gone. For me, as any time someone speaks of a living parent, a part of me relives my moment of loss, of the time my mother died.

    And sometimes, just some times, I remember it was her life, not mine, that mattered most at that moment.

    Now go live and see a play!

  4. Thank you all for your thoughts. Much appreciated. I'm still processing....

  5. I never had to deal with the dementia, but definitely with the loud TV and no sleep. We managed to get earphones for my dad and that solved the problem. May not be a solution for you with the added complication of dementia.

    It may feel like your mother is gone, but she's really part of you, just as your sister says. She'll never really leave. Of course, there's good and bad about that, but ultimately you can pick and choose the parts to remember, take out and use.

    1. When my father died, I said that since matter could not be created or destroyed, just converted into energy, that's where my father was now -- the energy inside me. This is just so different because my mother is "still" here.


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