Assisted Loving by Amy Ferris
My mother died on May 4th, 2009.
The year I was born. 1954. Coincidence?
Trust me, when it came to my mother, there was absolutely no gray area. It was either “love you” or “screw you,” and honest to God, with her it really depended on the day.
But still, I always – always – ask for those two numbers, along with three other numbers that have meaning and significance, when buying a LOTTO ticket. I can’t and won’t share the three other numbers in case those five come in.
I’m good, but not that good.
My brother and I no longer speak. The relationship had always been strained, difficult. He was an only child for ten years, and then, boom, I came along, and all the attention, rightfully so, came my way. I was the brand new Princess. He wanted me dead. He did. He even went so far as to put our manic Pug, Buttons, in the crib with me and demanded – DEMANDED – that the dog eat me. I believe this set the tone for our relationship. He wanted me dead; I defied the odds.
We continued down that path our entire lives.
At the end of my mother’s life, we had not spoken in months and months. He felt I was a very bad daughter, a lying, horrible sister, and I’m sure I can add to the mix with great flourish: a selfish aunt, and a greedy, unappreciative sister-in-law.
And the thing is, that’s his side of the story. His side is always going to be different. Look different. Sound different. My side of the story also looks and feels and sounds different. It’s why we don’t speak. And maybe there’s a similar version out there somewhere. Maybe. But that would take hard-core drugs and hypnosis.
For the past year, I have weighed the good and bad, the ups and downs, the sorrow-filled and the moments of joy, the cruel and nasty, the kind and sweet, the generous and greedy that I have shared with my only sibling for the past 56 years. And I have to say for the record, the nasty and cruel and absolute, irrefutable disregard for my life far outweighs – frickin’ tips the scales of – any act of kindness.
But here’s the clincher, the truth, the stuff you sift through so you can find that diamond, that gold, the gem:
If I had had a relationship with my brother and his family, I would have never understood or fallen in love with my mom at the end of her life. I would have never stayed with her at the assisted living facility. I would have stayed with him and his family at their home and spent maybe an hour here, an hour there visiting with her. Short and sweet. Not life-changing. Staying with her, day in and day out, gave me clarity. The kind of clarity that can only come from spending an inordinate amount of time with someone. I always believed – somewhere in my soul – that she didn’t really love me. I mean, yeah, she loved me, but she didn’t love me the way I needed to be loved. The way a child needed to be loved: nurtured, taken care of, attended to. She was far too self-absorbed to love like that. But at the end of her life, when all was said and done, I was able to see how much my mother wanted and needed to be loved. She was incapable of reciprocating. Everything she did was to be loved, liked, seen. It was a gigantic, massive Aha! moment, and when I realized it, I found peace with her. I was able to understand that for a good portion of my life I mistook her fear and anger and need to be in control for strength and power. Good god, I thought she was almighty powerful.
But she wasn’t powerful — she was scared. And she thought and believed that fear and self-doubt and sadness were weaknesses. She never understood the strength and beauty of sharing those feelings. So she hid them, covered them up. But all of that resurfaced at the end of her life.
Dementia is very cruel and very nasty. It robs you of the filter that you’ve worn all your life so others can’t see the truth. But at the end, I saw it in her eyes. The sadness, the pain, the deep regret. And in those last days that I spent with her, I fell in love with her. Because I understood her. I understood who she wanted to be. I connected the dots. And I forgave her. And I have closure. Well, that’s not 100% true. On most days I have closure. On most days I feel like I did enough, said enough, visited enough, understood enough, loved her enough. On most days.
And, on occasion, like this past Mother’s Day, I so deeply wish I could have her one more day, look her in the eyes and thank her for all the ‘life-gifts’ she gave me.
Had I not spent those last days with her, 24/7, I most definitely would not be longing for her now. I would not be missing her.
Had I been close to my brother, or closer, I would have never known that. I would have never, in a million years, seen her through grown-up eyes.
That’s the perfect gem.