I’ve left this topic alone for a number of years. It’s not that I pretend it’s not there, but what can one do when they are on the outside of a disturbed mind looking on? The answer is, not much. Particularly if they are already estranged. But something changed this week and I am not being honest with myself if I don’t put words to its effect on me.
Sometimes… actually, scrap that and start again…. often when I am preparing food for the LGBB or explaining something to her or helping her sound out a word she stumbles on in a book, I have flashbacks of my mother doing the same for me. It’s like a sliding-doors type moment. This morning, for instance, Lolly was reading her reader at breakfast (give us a break, she started it last night, but the thing had five chapters!) and she said something I couldn’t hear. When I asked her to repeat the sentence, she said it again in a tone that was very adolescently “D’uh! I told you already!”
“Okay, you don’t have to answer like that,” I explained, “I didn’t hear what you said and that is why I asked you to say it again.” All civilized and perfectly reasonable. She carried on with her reading and we moved on.
In my head, I was taken to a time as a youngster (they are countless, they happened so often) when the same thing happened between me and my mother. Except when she replied to me and my tone of voice – I didn’t use it very much, it simply wasn’t worth the tirade and the abuse that inevitably followed – it was typically painted out to be the worst thing I could ever have done, choosing any one (or all) of these reactions: flail about the kitchen and, depending on her mood, would take aim with whatever was close by; shriek at me that she was the mother (and go on to use words to belittle me in my “role” as weak child); not speak to me, sometimes for days (but still serve my meals in silence), and so forth. The emotional abuse did not let up but actually increased, right into adulthood when eventually, aged twenty-five, I calmly and regrettably drew a line and said, “No more hurt, Mum.” I didn’t look back because I couldn’t.
This was not reserved for me alone. In actual fact, I have on a number of occasions been labelled by my siblings as “her favourite”. That gives you some idea what the others might have had to endure if they were deemed “the challenging child”….
I made an outfit for the LGBB on the weekend. It was easy to run up, I’m no stranger to a sewing machine. I have my mother to thank for that. Countless hours were spent watching her deftly run up dresses for me, clothes for my teddy. Some of the most comforting snapshots of my childhood stored in the back of my conscious memory are of lying under the kitchen table watching her slippered foot go up and down on the machine pedal, of being allowed to turn the wheel to make the needle lift up out of the fabric, of being fascinated by the threading of the machine. As I sewed the LGBB’s coat together on Sunday, I gave silent thanks that my mother had been so generous in showing me these things.
As I grew older, I moved through the anger and indignation that she was always doing this and then adding a, “See? Isn’t your mother clever?” to a place where I no longer resented her for stealing away all of my achievements as well. In school, any accolade I received became, “Wonderful, Kirrily! See? Aren’t I clever for making you?” It took years (and may still not have been overcome completely) for me to claim achievements as my own.
Last night, I received some family news that has made me sit up and pay attention to my mother like never before over these past twelve years. I feel like I am being pulled to attention – energetically speaking – because I sense (fear) something is about to change with her situation. I had the opportunity to hear her voice, and it was barely recognisable as the one who used to sing me to sleep, teach me songs and harmonise with me, laugh heartily at things that amused her, read Enid Blyton books to me. In fact, it was barely understandable at all. But there was a pleading in it I have not heard before. This is new. This was not emotional blackmail pleading. It was something almost primal. Like a last-ditch effort to survive.
I feel dreadfully for her. I feel sad for myself, for her mental prison has increasingly closed her off from rational thought processes for so long and I lost my mother to that prison decades ago. But she is no longer reachable. At all. She should be in a care facility but will not go. I know I am far from the first (or last) person in the world who has to confront this with an aged parent. When we add brain dysfunction, self-medication (a terrifying thing to see in action, with pills being mixed and possibly accidentally self-administered in doses not appropriate to be used in conjunction with other medication), estrangement (I have not had a ‘relationship’ in any meaningful context with my mother since the year 2000) and her inability to admit her mental health is in any way compromised, you have a bit of a time-bomb with a trigger-happy finger on the detonator.
And I wonder again, what happens to these members of society who, for whatever reason, do not have anyone looking out for them? How do we help if they don’t see that they need it? Who even alerts the proper authorities to step in? And anyway….. then what?? For this very reason, I applaud and admire the tireless efforts of parents these days who advocate for change on behalf of their children with special needs. Any way to create change is surely a good thing. It may be too late for people like my mother, but until you’re confronted with such a circumstance, it’s hard to understand just how much families are left with hands tied and few or inadequate alternatives and resources.
So I do the only thing I can do. I hunker down, self-protect and wait. For what will come next, nobody knows.