The Absence of Presence – Part Three

Continued from:
Part One
Part Two

Sunday’s visit was “better,” all things being relative. She was more alert and I’m fairly certain she did recognize me at times. Dad wondered if taking in photos of me when I was younger might stir some recognition, so I went through and found a few representative pictures, including one of the two of us together when I was eight or nine.

When I arrived, she was sitting in her Jerry chair in the community room. There were perhaps eight or so other patients in there, sitting alone or around a table, and Mom was off to the side, staring off into whatever her mind was trying to show her. I pulled up a chair and sat next to her.

I laid the photos on her tray. She clutched at them, almost reflexively, but did not hold them up herself. I held them up, one by one, explaining the photos were of me, of her and me together, and I think she might have had a second or two of recognition there.

Due to background noises, my bad hearing, and her quiet volume, I could not hear or understand most of what she said. Once home, I imported the video I took into Adobe Premiere Pro and amplified the volume. I think she said at one time, “hug me… if you can…” but I did not hug her because I couldn’t hear what she was saying. Heart-breaking. Of course I would have, had I heard. Once, she said fairly clearly, “help me.” Oh, my, I wish I could.

To be completely honest, there were a few moments when I thought I should end it all for her by gently, ever-so-gently, holding a pillow over her face until she quietly suffocated to death. It would not take much, or long. However, I realized that forensic science (should that be called upon,) would quickly discover the cause of her death, and I certainly did not want to spend any time in prison, even for such a crime of compassion. I thought about suggesting to the nurses they give her “a little extra PRN” (as-needed morphine doses,) and very quickly realized that was just a terrible idea.  This was Mom’s path to walk alone; no one else could legally help her along.

One thing she asks often is “why…?” At times, it seems like a full question unto itself, at others it seems like she has something more to add but then trails off after the first word. I don’t know whether she’s asking why in general, or why about something specific, but there is no answer I can give her. There’s no good reason for any of it, other than pure human frailty being a motherfucker sometimes.

She manages to communicate snippets, incomplete thoughts. Not long after I arrived, she mumbled something about “my sisters,” but I don’t know what she was saying or asking about them. She has two younger twin sisters, only one of whom has she seen in recent times.

“I want you to stay…” she later said, I think to me, but wasn’t sure.

She is typically very agreeable – when someone makes a suggestion or asks her a question, her response is often a weak, simple, “okay,” with an lift at the end, like a small child. Unless she really doesn’t want the thing being suggested, and then there will be a “no…” with varying degrees of intensity.

I wonder where she is in her head, what she sees, what she believes to be true.

I settled in for this last visit, and, like millions of children before me, I reversed our roles and wiped my mother’s nose; I helped get her fed and changed and bathed; I soothed her to sleep with my voice as I stroked her hair. I thought of singing her a song my parents made up for me when I was a toddler, but didn’t think I could bear it myself.

Perhaps the most important thing about this visit was Forgiveness, and I thought long and hard before saying anything about that to her. I weighed out the pros and cons of lying versus actually being able to forgive versus not saying anything at all. I don’t know that I can forgive her – I don’t even know all the things I need to forgive her for, there’s so much. Then again, this person in front of me was not the same person who committed all those acts of maternal treason years and years ago.

Yet how do I forgive a person who cannot remember the things that she’s done to me? How could I not? I know that forgiveness is as much for me as it is for the person receiving it, but my own benefit has never really been a good motivator for me. If it were a lie, it would be for her, and how could I begrudge her that?

I don’t even know that it was a true thing when I said I loved her. It’s been so long since I’ve thought of her with any shred of positive emotion that I no longer actively feel the love for her as my mother. What I felt was compassion and kindness and despair for a fellow human being who was suffering and who should be let go. I felt a generic sort of love for a now-gentle and helpless person. Subconsciously, of course, I’m sure all sorts of havoc was being wreaked.

I cried or struggled not to cry a lot on Sunday. I’m sure some of the tears were related to the painful past we shared, and, to some degree, acknowledging that my mother was in fact dying no matter how estranged we might be. The first time I really felt certain she recognized me was … profound, I suppose. It wasn’t long after I arrived Sunday, when we were still sitting in the community room. Our eyes locked, and hers seemed clearer for a moment. She clutched at my hands, reached out on her own and touched my face. Not long after, I cried a full-fledged cry, surrounded by strangers in various degrees of suffering, in various degrees of awareness and lucidity. One of the nurses kindly and silently brought me a box of tissues when she saw me, and her compassion renewed my tears.

I thought to apologize to her, but I realized that crying in situations like this is normal and natural and healthy. Nothing to be ashamed of, although I am always ashamed when I cry in front of other people. My traditional “Stuff all the feelings down just like this casserole” Midwestern upbringing forbids ugly crying in public or in front of … well, in front of anyone, really.

Here, however, it would probably be more peculiar if I did not cry. In the face of this kind of suffering in any living being, how could anyone not be moved to tears? What kind of monster would not cry upon seeing her own mother in such a state?

In the end, everything is stripped away, everything but the most basic needs, the most basic thoughts, the most basic feelings, wants, desires. The need for human contact, the need for physical comfort, the need to be cared for and reassured. There’s nothing left of any residual badness or evil or unkindness from the past; all of that has been cleaved away leaving this empty husk, a bare shell of a woman who seems very sweet, very gentle… and full of needless suffering. So much pain.

Her former business partner and close friend wrote some kind words about Mom to my aunt, and I realized once again how the outside world knows a very different Lynn than I did. No one else experienced her as a mother, and most people from her public persona would never believe the things she said or did. How could such a kind, generous, sweet, compassionate woman be so cruel? Because untreated Borderline Personality Disorder, that’s how. She was both personae, now she is neither… though she is closer to her public persona than her private. This is a good thing for her and for everyone around her.

She’s obviously suffering so much. She is in constant discomfort, even while she’s sleeping, and she is obviously distressed in her thoughts as well as in her physical sensations.

My mantra while there – “no one deserves this.”

Coming Soon: Part Four

 

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