Wednesday, September 28, 2011

I know, I said I'd be right back

I probably said I'd be positive too. I don't have it in me, sorry. But I do have some honest reflections of a trip I took a day ago.
Yesterday I took my mother to Maine and New Hampshire to visit places she has loved for most of her life. Places that hold memories, places I simultaneously hoped and feared would trigger something in her emotionally. They did not. I am further reminded of what her mental health diagnosis really means. She has what we in the biz call "flat affect" lately. No expression of emotion, positive or negative.

For me there was a lot of protective sarcasm laced through the day. I expected to be sad, and was almost surprised that I was not. But, like a good daughter of "a borderline", I took my emotional cues from the woman who gave birth to me and reared me, and saved the juicy crying and stomping parts for when I got home. I quipped to Gene via text about "the day in food" - excellent for the diabetic body - beginning with a large Strawberry Coolatta (with whip!) in Keene, then oysters, clams and fries, fish chowder, three tubs of tartar sauce, crackers, and a Diet Coke (of course!) from Bob's Clam Hut, and ending with a large Orange Julius bought at The Mall of New Hampshire.

In general the ocean was a place where my mother could be counted on to be mostly relaxed and at peace - rare in that she was for the most part emotionally consistent when we were there. As a result, I have only positive memories of time spent at the beaches of New Hampshire and southern Maine. Other places in my life are more conflicted. I think this makes my feelings about her decision to end her life more complicated as well.
Although I worked in long term care and spent a lot of time caring for people who were dying, and helping their families to come to terms with the terminal changes that were occurring in their loved ones state of being, when it is a close relative the balance shifts. I knew this, and expected it, but knowing and experiencing are two very different things. You find yourself feeling and thinking all of the things you've allowed and encouraged others to express to you in the past. You try to give yourself the same permission you gave resident's family members to be angry, hurt, scared, etc. Some days this is more effective than others.
Because there was technically "nothing wrong with her" when she stopped taking her meds and started refusing treatment this is a slightly more perilous and painful journey for her family and friends than it might otherwise have been. Knowing that it is a choice - and now, with the dramatic changes in her medical status as a result of those refusals it seems a slightly more logical one - makes it difficult to comprehend. Her sisters struggle with it, one admitting that she just cannot deal with the concept, and the other an expert in belligerent denial. My kids struggle too in their own very separate ways - ironically much like their great aunts; one denies, the other grumbles. My father, my mother's nieces and close friends; everyone is confused, hurt, angry, sad - some or all of the above.
Some of us know the whole truth and understand how much of what she has said to us has been manipulative or attention seeking. Others don't, and for them I think it may be easier in a way. You can deflect the anger onto others if you don't understand who and what she is at her core. You can say "How sad that she is all alone and abandoned!" when the truth is so far from that sad little world she has created.
I, most of the time so far anyway, am sad. But there are stages to this process, and I will hit them all in the end. Thank God. It means I am healthy and normal.
The rest of her chosen path is before her. She moves toward an ending, or what she hopes will be an ending. I could analyze the spiritual side of suicide, passive or otherwise, based on her religious beliefs, but that hurts my head too much. I move toward something unknown and undesired - a future in which I live with the knowledge that my mother killed herself.

In a while - months, years, who knows when death will take her - I will retrace the path I followed yesterday. It is not likely to be soon. Her body has proven to be much stronger than anyone could have anticipated. I will, I hope, be accompanied by people I love and who love me. We will stop along the way and I will plunge my hands deep into a box of ashes and spread them as I have been asked to at all of these places she says she loved so much. I expect it will be painful but cathartic. I pray that it heals some wounds of mine and of others around me and around her. I pray that she has peace in the end; a peace she has struggled to find in her life but has never quite been able to achieve. I pray that in her eventual death there is meaning, some kind of meaning, for the people she leaves behind. Mostly I pray that when the time comes, it is quick and without pain. For her. I know it won't be for the rest of us.