Saturday, March 24, 2012

Lying To Mom

I must have had the one-thousand yard stare that late November night. I was sitting in my dad's chair -- a blue recliner where he had spent the last years of his life whittling away the days after a massive stroke -- when my mother asked me, "What’s wrong, David?"

Cable news blared in the background as she sat on the couch across from me. I raised my voice so she’d hear me above the noise, not to mention her hearing loss.

"Nothing, Mom." I answered, monotone. That wasn't true. You see, my mom's in the middle-to-late stage of dementia, and the bad days had outweighed the good, and there seemed to be little to look forward to. But that night, I detected a moment of clarity about her, a moment of lucidity in a brain that had been experiencing too many clouds. My “mission,” for the family, was a tough one but I saw my opportunity.

"Is it work?" she asked.

“No. I'm not working, Mom. I’m outta work."

She pointed to the manuscript in my lap -- BEAT to a PULP: Round Two with my trusty red pen in hand. "Isn't that work?"

"This is a new book I’m working on. But I'm talking about the day job -- the one that pays the bills."

"Oh, the one where you travel."

"Yeah, that one."

"Then why are you here and not at work if you have bills to pay?"

"To take care of you, Mom. You can't live alone anymore. We've talked about this many times."

That last line opened up an explosive can of worms. She looked perplexed and I explained she has severe memory loss. She couldn't accept it and wanted examples which I gave to her in excruciating detail for the umpteenth time. We talked in circles for close to an hour. Normally she'd get defensive and rebel, but that night she seemed to understand something's wrong with her. I sensed the Good Lord was shining a light and I plunged head-first into the mire to carry out my mission. I had taken time off from work to keep her safe from herself, all the while trying to get her to go either into a nursing home or to live with her daughter who’s a retired nurse. I couldn't screw up this opportunity. I couldn’t be out of work forever. I had a 6-month-old baby girl to raise. Too much is on the table, old son.

"I don't want to go in a home," she said defiantly.

"I know, Mom. I know. Then I have to stay here with you."

After a time, she said with a tremble, "I never wanted to hurt you, David. I never wanted to cause you any pain."

I wanted to breakdown with that heartfelt comment -- it will be burned into my conscience forever.

But I held myself together, and I asked her if she'd be willing to go to my sister’s several states away for the winter. She said she'd do it for me, so I didn’t waste a second. I jumped up to grab the phone.

She stopped me. "David, I will be able to come back home after winter is over, right?"

I knew what I had to do to protect my mom. I had to get her out of her home by any means necessary. I lied to my mother -- the one who taught me to always tell the truth. I fucking hated it. But I couldn't be honest or she'd never leave. "Yes, Mom. You will be able to come back."

She nodded, and I placed the call.

Now, three months later, every time the phone rings, I cringe. Because when it's Mom, she wants to know when I'm coming to get her. Before all this, I used to call her every day, but now the calls are maybe once a week, and our conversations usually end in frustration for her and deep sadness on my part. I try to remind myself that I did the right thing. This disease doesn’t stop for anyone. Sometimes she can almost fool me on the phone that everything is alright, but then she forgets my dad ... "I never heard that name before," she’ll tell me. Then a few moments later, she’ll ask again when she's coming home. She hasn't forgotten that promise. A cruel twist of fate has her remembering my promise. The one time I lied to her. But if she remembers my promise, then she remembers me.

Maybe that's not such a bad thing.


Vidster said...

Dear David,

We had a similar situation and it eats at you, I know. However, we do have to protect ourselves.

Knowing you did the right thing does not make the pain any less. But, knowing you did not make the situation any worse by NOT taking care of yourself, your family and your finances, will later give some solace.

Here if you need me,

Defrosting Cold Cases

Naomi Johnson said...

My heart breaks for you both. The right thing to do is almost always the hardest thing to do, or so it seems to me.

Leah J. Utas said...

I've seen through friends how tough this is, David.

You do what you have to do. That's all you can do, and take some solace in knowing it was right for all concerned.

Randy Johnson said...

I feel for you, David. Not gone through that yet, but my sister and brother-in-law have gone through that with his sister, then after her passing, his mentally challenged nephew.

I've seen how hard it can be and worry about my own mother, who's eighty-two, and not the active person she once was.

Your family and you will be in our thoughts.

David Cranmer said...

You're so right, Vidster. Not doing anything could have resulted in her falling down the stairs, wandering away from the home, etc. It does give a bit of solace. (And thanks for an ear if needed.)

Very true, Naomi. Life seems to be nothing but a series of complicated decisions.

Leah, I realize early on (as did my siblings) that we had to do what was best for her whether she liked it or not.

Randy, If you haven't seen any serious mental issues with your mother yet, you're probably safe from this dreaded disease. We first noticed issues with my mom almost seven years ago. What a heart wrenching ordeal that must have been for your sister and brother-in-law!

Em said...

It's a cruel illness. My grandfather couldn't remember his late wife, the daughter he lost through cancer, or almost anything else important from the last 20 years but somehow held on to the fact that when he left his home to go into hospital (and then on to a dementia care home) we told him he would be going back home soon. I don't know who we were fooling more, but I know who suffered more from it. Some things have to be said and done though, to enable other, better things to happen.

Rick said...

I'll keep you and your mom in my prayers, David. Hang tough.

Keith Snyder said...

That got me.

I wish your family strength and peace.

G. B. Miller said...

It's incredibly tough dealing with a parent that's slowly riding off in the sunset.

If you're looking for confirmation that you made the right call, you got it from this neck of the woods.

You did the absolute best that you could, and no one can fault you for that.

David Cranmer said...

"Some things have to be said and done though, to enable other, better things to happen." Amen, Em. That's about the best way I've heard it described yet. And thank you for sharing your family's story.

Thank you, Rick.

I appreciate that, Keith.

Not so much confirmation, G. I guess I'm putting it out there because maybe I can help someone else in a similar condition. And I do appreciate the kind words, amigo. Nice to know I have so many friends who take the time to leave a comment.

Chris said...

Heavy stuff, Dave. Have a parent of my own fading away in many ways, that I can't always be 100% honest with. It's tough. But we do what we have to do, sometimes.

Court Merrigan said...

Stay well and strong, David.

Chudney Thomas said...

Hi David,
If you ever need anything just let me know. I can't imagine what it's like, but I know it's incredibly hard.


Gina Rossi said...

My mum - 93 - suffers from dementia but is well cared for in a home in Cape Town. She no longer remembers me or my siblings which is sad - and has no recollection of grandchildren etc. On the other hand she firmly believes my Dad is living in the room next door (he died 20 years ago)and looks forward immensely to her weekly lunches with the Pope (never went to church in her life). It's hard for us 'kids',and I know it sounds crazy, but she seems to be in a really happy, comfortable place for which we are all grateful. For anyone out there caring for a parent with dementia, I wish you great strength.

Dave King said...

Dreadful. Frightening. I'm now at that time of life where I see the possibility / likelihood of something similar occurring to me / my wife? Who knows?

Beautifully written and heart-rending.

David Cranmer said...

That we do, Chris. And it probably will be done to/for us. Full-circle of life and all.

I appreciate that, Court. Thanks, amigo.

Thank you, Chudney.

Gina, Thanks for sharing your mother's story. She has her husband next door and meets with one of the most powerful men on Earth once a week. From her point of view that's probably a very good spot to be in. And I get that "comfortable place." Right now my mom at peace where she is living would be a much needed change of pace for us.

Dave, It seems like the golden years should be just that--golden. To spend the final decade battling this frightening disease is a horrible thought.

Chad Eagleton said...

Hang in there, man. Your family is in our thoughts.

Ron Scheer said...

Two things are important, not losing your love for someone who's failing, and being truthful to yourself. Both take courage, David, and I believe you've go it.

eleanor lang said...

1. You did the right thing, many times over. You gave up a piece of your own life to take care of your mom; you made she she was in a safe and pleasant environment; you took care of your own family.


2. You told a difficult and painful story well. Kudos.

David Cranmer said...

Thanks, Chad. That means a lot.

Ron, Our love for our mom is unfaltering and I know the woman that raised me would be shocked at her behavior these days.

Thank you, Eleanor. I was worried about misstepping with this post.

Charles Gramlich said...

As my mother aged, my brother who still lived near her went through the bulk of this kind of thing. I felt so bad for him to have to deal with it, because there are no easy answers, and sometimes it seems no right answers. We do what we have to do for all of us to survive. I wasn't there as much for my mother at the end as I would have liked, and as I felt I should have been. I do believe she understands.

NancyOfUtah said...

Our hearts go out to you regarding your mom. You didn't lie to her, you gave her hope; and you actually reminded her of her eternal home for which she longs. You are so lucky to have your wife and sweet baby to help balance you during this hard time.
You have a mom who is all alone,
and there are times when she may not know you.

Then during a bright spark, though only short term, she remembers her loved ones, especially you.

She is so fortunate to have you in her life; you are fortunate to be near her during lingering days.

When the time comes for her to depart, she'll hold her hand out to you, remembering you, her son.

You are her precious gift, a son who cares; for in these dark days, that love is rare.

God bless you both,


Thomas Pluck said...

Remain strong, David. You're suffering the consequences of making the right, tough decision. I know that doesn't make it any easier.

You and your family are in my thoughts.

David Cranmer said...

I'm sure she does understand, Charles. And I've been on both ends of caring for my mother. Up close and personal and now long distance and it's very hard in both cases with different levels of stress.

I'm short on words here, Nancy. I had tears in my eyes as I read your beautiful comment and poem. Deeply appreciated.

Many thanks, Thomas.

Sarah Laurence said...

Oh, David, my heart aches for both of you, but if your mom remembers that promise then she also remembers that you are a good son, one she can count on. Honesty is important, but keeping her safe is even more important. You make the choices you have to make even if they aren't easy ones.

AC said...

I am not a religious man, I don't pray, but I will quietly ask the universe to make some sort of attempt to help you through these tough times.

Icy Sedgwick said...

We went through something similar with my grandmother so my heart really does go out to you.

David Cranmer said...

Thank you for the kind words, Sarah. The one thing about this disease is the constant change. You go from hero to zero in her world every five minutes. But, yes, I know deep down she loves her kids and what we are doing for her.

I appreciate that, Alec.

Thanks, Icy. More folks are being hit by dementia because of our longer lifespans. For every comment here I have another e-mail from folks mentioning a family member afflicted with dementia or Alzheimer's.

Mates said...

no misstep here David. You were under a lot of pressure and you stepped up and did what no one else was able/or wanted to. You have always been my hero.
Your pain is my pain.You brought such joy to her life.
I love you so much, my brother, my friend, my confidant!

pattinase (abbott) said...

Almost everyone I know, although they are all older than you, has been there. Some of their parents, most of them in fact, settle into their new life with relief. My parents did once they made the final move.
But in several cases, their children have had to hold onto the house left behind, because of promises they could return.
This is so heart-breaking. The people I feel sorriest for are the ones where they have had two parents with Alzheimer's. And in one case, two parents and an older brother.

Richard Prosch said...

You did the right thing. You're continuing to do the right thing, no matter how hard emotionally. Believe it, man. I've seen it go both ways. She's safe. She's cared for. She's loved. Good thoughts your way.

David Cranmer said...

I'm deeply touched by your words, Mates. You probably had it the hardest for the longest period of time. And the mother we had growing up would appreciate the sacrifice we've all given for her. I love you, sister.

Patti, I couldn't even imagine dealing with two parents with Alzheimer's. I'm glad to hear your parents were able to accept it a little bit better. My mom, bless her heart, is fighting the whole way.

Thanks, Rich. I really wasn't expecting such an outpouring of support. The writing community is the best.

Oscar Case said...

Sounds similar to my wife's situation with her mother, but she finally got her into a home where she could be taken care of and that's the important thing. Well said and well done, David.

Reb said...

David, my heart breaks for you and your family. For what it is worth, I think that you have done the best thing you could have done.

Nigel Bird said...

I guess that this will be the longest winter on record. Please don't beat yourself up - you have a big heart, but sometimes even that isn't enough.


David Cranmer said...

Glad to hear your wife's mom is getting the care she needs, Oscar. And thank you, sir.

Gracias, Reb.

Nigel, Ha. Yes, it will be a very long season. Many thanks, amigo.

Olya Thompson said...

See my blogpost, "The Ladle."
You are indeed kind and strong and brave.