Wednesday, June 27, 2012

My Heart, Her Heart

No one ever tells you how hard it's going to be, this caring for an elderly beloved, as you enter the endgame, the last few months, maybe years; this reversal of roles so deep I've really completely forgotten what it was like to have a mother who was my parent and not my child.

She breaks my heart every time I see her and yet it breaks her heart every time I say goodbye and leave. She clings to me like a toddler whose mother is off to work. "Varda, please, don't go!" And then she apologizes because she knows I have other, pressing responsibilities I must rush back to (my "real" children chief among them).

And that hurts even worse, when she quietly sobs out: "You are so good to me, I don't know what I would do without you." Because I know that even my best is not nearly enough. She needs a companion, someone by her side, with her night and day as she was for my father as he went through his rough patches and then those awful, final three months of active dying.

But he's gone now and it's just me. And my heart and time are divided, parceled out to others, too. Not fair, but what it is.

We don't have much time left. She knows that, senses it even though no one has said anything to her directly. It's her memory. She keeps forgetting she has a progressive, terminal heart condition.

Whenever a new doctor listens to her heart and out pops some version of "Wow that's noisy!" (as critical aortic stenosis is wont to be) she explains: "Oh, yes that's my heart murmur, I've had it since I was a little girl."

But it's not, it's this new thing - or relatively new at any rate - on top of that old thing (her sizable mitral valve prolapse) but why tell her again what she's going to forget again in five minutes time? Sometimes the doctor discretely says nothing, but I can always see it on their face.

When I went to see her on Monday she searched my eyes for confirmation as she took my hand and said: "Varda, I'm not doing well, I don't think I have much time left."

I was stuck, pinned to the wall.

I didn't want to lie to her, nor hurt her with the truth, so I evaded, "However much time you have left, Mom, let's enjoy it, and each other." (Lame, lame, lame, but all I could come up with on short notice.)

And I kissed her white curls yet again and hugged her shoulders in that not quite satisfying way that is the only possible hug when someone is in a wheelchair.

I come bringing puzzle books, grandchildren, seltzer, chocolate and my loving presence.  I wish I could clone myself, so I could leave me behind like all the else. But that's just science fiction, a pleasant fantasy.

I come and then I go.

On Monday I left her in the dining room, playing bingo, one old lady in a wheelchair among a small sea of others. I would say "her peers" but she is peerless, my mother.

No one ever tells you.

Just Write


  1. I can't even imagine. You and your mother are truly gifts to each other.

  2. Stay positive!

    Stopping by from Shell's PYHO!

  3. Love to you, Varda. It's awfully hard.

  4. Oh, I cannot even imagine. I'm so sorry for what you're going through, and sending you both lots and lots of hugs.

  5. It's so hard when you want and need to be two or three places at one time. Knowing that you are doing your very best is probably small comfort, but it's worth reminding yourself on a regular basis.

    You ARE a good daughter...and your mom would be the first to say so.


  6. My goodness, look at that photo! Look at the love and gratitude and understanding in that face! It may not ever feel like you are doing enough, but you are doing so very much, and it is clear she knows. Such a Mitzvah. Cherish that understanding. It may
    fade as time passes, and that will be even harder. You are doing so well!

  7. Not a lame response at all- I think your words were perfect. xo

  8. My heart hurts for you, Varda. You are doing everything you can. She knows that. xo.

  9. I read every post about you and your mother knowing that this will be me one day. Your insight is invaluable.

  10. My mom slipped away over years and then months, days, hours. My sister is my heroine - she took such good care of her. You are a heroine too.

  11. How could anyone ever find the words?

    My grandmother was my mother and when I lost her, I remember this only thought: "This. THIS is what a broken heart feels like. Not all the boyfriends of the past, but THIS."

    Ever since, any love lost ballad I hear on the radio is with my grandmother's face in mind, never an old flame's.

  12. She looks so sweet! I'm sorry. I can't imagine how hard it must be to watch her suffer.

  13. No-one else can write about this like you Varda xx

  14. Ah, but you ARE. You are telling us. Me. You are telling us what it may be like someday. And, like childbirth, I can only assume that it is nothing like I am imagining, even though you describe it so well. But at least I have an idea of what might come. My husband's grandmother has been in a state of rapid decline for many, many years. Every year we make sure to celebrate every single holiday, just in case it's her last. And we know that one day, it will be the last. It's difficult to be so limited in what we can do for her...

  15. It's hard when our parents get frail and we know we have less and less time with them.
    My thoughts of the days and months before both my parents died are peppered with good and bad memories. Bad that i knew soon they would no longer be with us, bad that my brother and sister accused me of not doing enough - like running around, chasing my tail and fitting everybody else's need wasn't enough. But the good memories are mostly of my dad and how good he was with my kids and how much they all loved each other, and the confidence i now have to turn round to people - like brother and sister and say "NO MORE".
    Enjoy what time you have together.
    Be gentle on yourself - you are MUM, not superwoman - if someone hits you, you hurt. SO don't let anyone pull you down.
    Love and hugs from me

  16. I hear you so clearly. It is nearly 2 years since I lost my mother at age 91. She was my best friend, my support, my most wonderful mother, the best of all mothers to me.

    I miss her with every fibre of my being.

    We were in a different situation. She lived in her own home until that last hospital admission. She had community care support, but still most of the important things fell to me. Companionship, conversation, caring, and so much more.

    We were lucky. The home we built her was only 3 blocks from us, I could be there in 2 minutes flat. But having an elderly mother, and two young boys - one on the autism spectrum - meant I was torn in two. Constantly.

    I miss her. And in my heart I know I did everything I possibly could, and that never did she blame or not love me right back.

    But that constant responsibility, that desire to be in at least two if not three or more places at once, that feeling of not doing, being enough. I do not miss that.

    Know you are not alone.

  17. (Lame, lame, lame, but all I could come up with on short notice.)

    No,not lame at all. Your mother will know if you are lying. And anyway, no one ever knows exactly how much is left. You give her a precious gift when you reassure her that you are present for her. You are a loving and loved daughter. We cannot be everywhere at once. You are where you need to be when you need to be...

    Thinking of you.

  18. I have no words for the heartbreak and sadness you must be feeling. I'm so sorry it has to be this way.

  19. No now ever tells you. So very true.

  20. What a dear, heartfelt post. Blessings to you and your mother.

  21. I send you love, every day. Every day, my own little heart is with you.

  22. Heartbreaking. I can't begin to understand what this feels like. You are doing your best. Stay strong.

  23. It's the constant responsibility that never leaves you, they are there in your thoughts and worries every second of the day and night. It's an exhausting task but you're doing brilliantly and your mother is so appreciative. Take your advice and enjoy the time you have together. But also make the time for your children and also you. You need breathing and thinking time. Stay strong. :)

  24. Your post brought tears to my eyes... I remembered my grand- mother when she was at the hospital... I miss her very much. I'm gonna pick up the phone now and call my mum and tell her how much I love her. Sending you positive energy.

  25. Beautiful. Heartbreaking. Raw.

    I love love love this post. <3

  26. The language of the heart is not contained in mere words, but in the look in the eyes, the touch, the breath. I am sure that your mother knows what you can't say.


I am so sorry to have to turn word verification back on, but the spam-bots have found me - yikes!