I sat at the dining table in the mini-suite at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Naples, Florida overlooking the Gulf of Mexico on the 6th floor. Paradise? In normal times perhaps. This trip however was a reminder of the hell that is and has always been my mother.
How is it possible to write such things about one’s mother? She is 102 and a half confined to a wheel chair, half blind and hearing impaired; yet, her mind is still relatively sharp and her anger and hatefulness are more defined than ever.
I hadn’t seen her in two years. I had hoped at her 100th birthday it would be the last time that I would have had to do so. Guilt, however, made this trip possible but it will never dictate my thoughts again after this trip.
She lives in one of the most expensive assisted care facilities in the country. Her money is running out – all the power-tripping she did with my brother and me growing up regarding our inheritance which at one point was in the millions has dwindled to about two years left of resources.
I took her to the dining room one evening – the Grill Room – where men don’t need to wear a jacket or tie. It’s an old school relic tradition in the main dining room where men such attire or they cannot eat there. The Grill room is less formal. She wanted a martini and I remembered Tim had said at that age why shouldn’t people be allowed to do whatever they want as long as they don’t hurt themselves. I asked the waiter to water it down. She wasn’t walking and I figured with her lovely Haitian aide nearby and confined to her wheel chair she couldn’t fall and hurt herself. Falling was the least of it however as the alcohol triggered the pent-up resentments and anger.
The room was busy making the waiters and waitresses busy. I decided since it was a buffet that I would accommodate her and myself and get her some shrimp. She screamed that the waiters were there for that. One very nice young man, Josue, came running when he heard her start. She kept building from there. She literally screamed at me that she was calling her lawyer, I would be cut out of her Will, I was ungrateful, the worst daughter ever, I only thought about myself and had no compassion. There was a collective gasp in the room. I don’t believe anyone exhaled until we finished. We didn’t just leave however. She was going to walk out of the dining room. She could do it if she had the wheel chair to hold onto. I enlisted her aide’s help but again she created a scene demanding that nobody touch her and that the tram be called to take her back to her apartment. Leaving the Grill Room there is a short dip to the sidewalk. She insisted that she was fine until the wheel chair pulled her downslope. “I don’t think I can manage this” she said, but she did. We got her back to her apartment and she continued her rant and I left her with her aide.
My brother thinks she has some dementia. She certainly is forgetful sometimes but I don’t see it that way. “We die the way we live our lives!” Her weakening physical abilities strengthen her anger. Her narcissism looks into the pool of her life and the reflection is no longer beautiful. The delusional mask is breaking apart revealing the brittleness, the vengefulness, the spitefulness and hatred that she could control and parse out passive aggressively when stronger.
But her fragility and helplessness uncover a different dynamic as well and one I never anticipated. My anger subsided somewhat and I began to see beyond her impact on me and the rest of the family and began to see the sorrow and trauma from some childhood wounding that I will never know but only suspect. What I suspect isn’t important but the result is. The result for her is a lifetime of denial that needs the release on external targets. What better targets than one’s family or people in close proximity as her assisted living companions.
My final day I had to go with her to the emergency room. She had twisted her legs in the covers on her bed on Thursday night and wrenched her good knee. She was in pain when I arrived on Friday but she has a high tolerance for pain and she wanted to see me so she ignored it. By Sunday morning, however, the pain was too great and when I got there she was still in her nightgown and the aide told me her knee was extremely swollen and she was in a great deal of pain. The staff that pretends they are competent (another story of medical scam that I learned on this trip) looked at it and called her “concierge” doctor who came and ordered the immediate x-Ray on a Sunday. In true mother fashion, we had to have lunch first.
I went to the ER to make sure she wouldn’t be alone as the staff of clowns informs me that though we pay exorbitant amounts of money to them, they had no one on staff that could go with her at 102 ½ nor did they have any means to bring her back from the ER. I was appalled and not very polite at that point. I found a medical limo service that would pick her up and return her to scam city.
The three days I spent in assisted-living hell transformed me. I thought I had forgiven my mother for all the years of insults and power-tripping and nastiness. However, this trip and particularly her behavior in the Grill Room propelled me beyond my anger into a more peaceful forgiveness. How do I know? I know because I went through a grieving process for three days. I cried for what I never had, I cried for her and what her denials coverup and I cried because compassion was the only way out and through to forgiveness – and I felt both.