A few years ago, a friend of mine that I met through our small group prayed for me. I don’t remember her exact words but the essence of her prayer was that I would experience the role of mothering in my life despite us not having our own children. I remember that prayer touching me and providing me with renewed hope that yes, there could be unconventional opportunities in my life for me to care for, provide for or extend my maternal instincts …and it would be those opportunities I would seek and embrace….oh the mysteriousness of life, God and prayer….the last thing I ever expected was the way in which this prayer comes full circle now. The last thing I expected was becoming a mother to my mother.
My mom was diagnosed with Alzheimers a couple of years ago. Deep breath. There, I’ve said it. Our ‘dirty little secret’. Culturally, outside of my own friends and family, we don’t ever share the not so pretty part of our lives. We don’t talk about our illnesses or our weaknesses. Instead we pretend, despite seeing people diminish around us, that everyone is coping and managing just fine. It’s a ruse….like the new generation complaint that social media is just the highlight reel of people’s lives….maybe malayalees were the original creators of the ‘highlight reel’ notion….hiding realities behind veiled excuses like “oh she’s not feeling well” or “he’s still sleeping”. It’s okay for us to swap stories of back aches or knee replacements but heaven forbid we share the burden of real painful experiences like living through mental health issues, diminished capacity or depression. But I truly believe the things we suppress or repress only make us sicker. Maybe there is healing in pulling off the bandaid and letting these experiences breathe.
What did her diagnosis mean for us? Well, outside of creating a lot of fear around the unknown future, admittedly, it finally characterized some of her behaviours in a more understandable and digestible way…the label finally gave a name, a connecting of the dots like oooooohhhhhh THAT’S why she was saying that or doing this. But the downside to labelling? Well it’s like any label really, like divorce or death…once we call a fish a fish, we stop believing it will fly.
This season of life is terrifying, is exhausting, is humbling and challenging. The irony is the rollercoaster isn’t always about my Mom. It has been blindsiding to experience the different ways each of us process her changes and transitions, and the way our different responses and personalities collide into each other and combust. But sure, we each have our own mental and physical capacities to see these changes, accept them, impact them and move forward with them. Although it would make life so much easier if we could all walk at the same pace; that’s just not the reality of this experience. So I guess, it is what it is, and the most we can do, is just what we’re able to. Outwardly, “the most we can do” will look so different from one to another so I guess the leap of faith is not relying on appearances and trusting each other’s insides instead.
In many ways it’s an honour to care for my Mom reminiscently in ways she cared for me as a child. I was deeply touched to see her finally trust me with her vulnerabilities and come to rely on me to fill in her gaps of capacity. But in other ways it’s crumbling to witness and participate in this role reversal. Alzeimers feels like quick sand; like the more I want to artificially create and manage life for her, the deeper she sinks into losing her own motivation or will to thrive….and the soul battle is seeking meaning in this meaningless toil. But the trick to survival seems like doing more and feeling less, because the “feeling” or analyzing might be another deep pit of quicksand I can’t afford to get stuck in. But of course there is a danger in doing too much and feeling too less because the things we suppress or repress only make us sicker….another full circle…so I guess what I will try to keep doing, is pulling off the bandaids, and letting these experiences breathe as I move through them. <3