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Me as my Mom's Mom 
Started by claudia c
30 Mar 2012, 12:20 AM

Me as my Mom’s Mom

This is a story from before Mom’s death while she was in the retirement home where she had lived for nine years.  I wanted to respond especially to what VHcath wrote about self-care and just remind us all how easily and lovingly we do get trapped by our care giving role.


"Sometimes Mom calls me her Mom.  Sometimes this causes quite a scene at the retirement home.  Not so long ago I was late for my regular Wednesday morning visit, and there was a new care giver.


Mom asks her, where’s my Mom?  She’s late.  She’s never late.


The caregiver doesn’t quite know how to respond, but very gently and kindly, she says, I think perhaps you are mistaken. Your mother has passed on long ago.


No.  No, that cannot be.  She begins to cry inconsolably. 


I arrive just at that moment.  Mom smiles at me and all is well again.


I explain to the caregiver who is now very upset, Mom sometimes calls me ‘Mom’.  It’s okay now."



I’ve been Mom’s caregiver, Mom’s ‘Mom’, for a long time.  She has been sick a lot in her life, physically and mentally, and she has had to bear an enormous burden of sadness.  Too much sadness. 


I remember being six years old.  I come home from school, running through the house looking for her.  Calling out, Mom where are you?  She is always in the kitchen waiting for me.  I find her upstairs, sitting on the edge of her bed, crying and crying.  Mom.  Mom.  What’s wrong? 


I am so frightened.  I have never seen her cry before.  I don’t know what to do.  She holds  out a black edged card.  Her hands are shaking.  I can’t read the words.  The letters are heavy in a strange looking script. I don’t understand.


My father has died, she says.  I was not there to receive his blessing, to say goodbye.  I was not there to comfort my mother.  How can this be?


I sit down on the floor beside her and cry and cry with her until Dad comes home.


As soon as Mom could make the arrangements to travel to Europe she went to visit her mother and her father’s grave. Then her mother died too.  She was very sad for a long time after that.  I tried to look after her and make her feel happy that she still had us, Dad, my brother, and me.


Mom’s three brothers were killed in World War Two.  Before the war Mom had married a Dutchman and moved to Holland.  He was killed too.  Her first baby, a son, was still born.


But then Mom met Dad in Holland after the war. Dad was a Cameron Highlander, part of the Canadian Forces that liberated Holland.  They married and Mom came over as a war bride to start a new life here.


When I was eleven the doctor told Mom she had breast cancer.  I remember thinking, now I have to do everything my mother does.  I have to make the meals for my father and my brother, and I have to keep the house tidy.  She might die.  Mom might die. I was scared. But I also I felt strangely grown up.  I would have to look after everyone now.


Shortly after that her doctor told her she had cancer of the bladder for which she received chemotherapy.


Close to my sixteenth birthday, Mom was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, manic depression they called it then.  At first Dad wouldn’t let me go to visit her in the psychiatric hospital, the loony bin as the kids at school called it teasing me. 


But I insisted.  Dad, I’ve sat by her bed for hours sometimes when you are at work.  She cries and cries.  She won’t get up.  I can’t get her dressed.  She won’t eat.  I know how she is.  I must see her. Dad finally agreed to take me after school


When did Mom begin to recover from the bipolar disorder?   Did she ever really heal completely?  Did she have bouts of manic depression that I didn’t know about?  Chose not to remember?  She was eventually prescribed lithium pills which stabilized her for periods of time.  But she continued to struggle with violent mood swings.  She spent time in the psychiatric hospital to have her drugs monitored or changed, and after Dad died she suffered severe bouts of loneliness.


Dad died seventeen years ago.  One day three years after Dad’s passing, I phoned and her voice sounded strange, sort of slurred and muffled.  I drove as fast as I could to her place.  I found her lying on the floor.  I managed to get her into the car.  She was like a rag doll, barely able to stand up.  We sat for ages in the emergency waiting room.  I was so anxious.  She slumped down more and more in her chair.  She seemed to be slipping away. Finally she got a bed and the doctors began to assess what was wrong.  Her kidneys were shutting down. Lithium toxicity.  She hadn’t been monitoring her intake of the drug, the drug that had seemed such a miracle solution for stabilizing her moods.  Dad had been the one to remind her.  Now it would be me.


This was a pattern that continued for the next nineteen years until Mom died.  I think when we care so intensely for our loved one that when they pass away we mourn not just the loss of our mother, but the child she became.  So we lose doubly -  our mother and our child.

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Reply by Cath1
30 Mar 2012, 1:11 AM

Dear Claudia C:

You cannot possibly understand how moving is your story about your Mom and family and yourself! You write with such sensitivity and colour! You possess extraordinary depth and insight - I love it! My tears are flowing as I read, and my heart is overflowing with gratitude for you!

I am only half way through reading your magnificent and authentic tribute to your Mom, and though I am certain you don't realize the scope of your talent, your writing is a tribute to you!

If I am able I will write more tonight when I have finished reading and then re-reading and savouring the soul of your post. I am moved emotionally by your presence here, so I cannot promise I will be able to write more tonight, but you can be sure I will be doing whatever I can to keep the lines of communication open with you and to nurture our growing connection.

Thank you Claudia!


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Reply by claudia c
30 Mar 2012, 1:25 AM

Hugs to you!  I sense we share a lot of life experiences! The whole gamut!
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Reply by Cath1
31 Mar 2012, 4:20 PM

Good morning, Claudia C: WARNING - my message is mega long:)

I know well the experience you write so honestly about when describing your Mom's mental illness and the dependency that such an illness creates between mothers and daughters. I am sure there are sons who experience this enmeshment too, but it didn't happen in my family with my Mom and brothers, it happened between me and my Mom. I know exactly what you mean when you say you feel that you were your Mom’s Mom as this is often how I describe how it was with my mother and me, and yet she was always still my mother, the one I depended upon. Our dependency is complex and mutually entwined.

I shared my intense feelings with the amazingly compassionate, wise and sensitive palliative doctor when my Mom was dying, as the enmeshment we experienced caused me to feel as if I too was dying when my Mom was passing away. Our close bond, I do realize and have always realized, was not the most healthy nor was it ideal, but for us it was the reality and the only way each of knew how to express ourselves and cope with the unforgiving circumstances we were in.

My Mom too was diagnosed as bi-polar - yes, manic depression as it was commonly described back in the 70's. Her own family - mother and sisters and brothers did not understand how my mother suffered not only from the illness, but from the stigma associated with it, the loss of confidence, and the lack of control over her emotions and thoughts and actions. They tried to help her of course because they loved her, but they too resented not only the illness but her as well, because they could never truly understand the illness or distinguish her from it. I could and did. Her extended family couldn't grasp that she did not have control over the symptoms of her illness or her responses to them.

I recall the terror I felt as a child whenever I witnessed my Mom in the throes of a depressive episode. It caused me to feel very helpless and insecure in the midst of such instability and I often felt confused and frightened for her future, and mine and my brothers. Even though I was so young and innocent, I had the capacity at a very early age to empathize with my Mom and my instincts guided me to protect her. She would, as did your Mom, cry for days on end. She would isolate herself, enshrouded in darkness, literally and figuratively, she hid under cover until an uncle would intervene and take her to the hospital.

At age 14 I assumed this responsibility because my Mom trusted me and I could always find a way to appeal to her and get her to cooperate and allow me to accompany her to the hospital. In those days it was Whitby Psychiatric which was notorious for its old-fashioned asylum environment. I hated taking my Mom there and felt worse about myself disloyal and heartless, whenever I had to leave her behind in such a cold and terrifying place where those suffering were kept hidden and locked up under the weight of oppression and despair. I recall how heavy my heart felt as the solid metal doors slammed shut behind me as I left the institution, and yet I hoped my mother would be restored and that she return to me as the mother I could once again recognize, the mother I adored even when mental illness held hostage her truest self.

Due to my Mom’s lack of insight and acceptance of her illness, which is a part of being bi-polar for many, she could not welcome any intervention in her own best interest and therefore, even after she recovered from an episode, the deep resentments she harboured in her heart towards those who "interfered" were never fully resolved. Except those feelings of betrayal did not touch me for long as she was my mother in every sense of the word, and she understood on a deep level my motivations. I was exempt from her displeasure yet she burdened me with her feelings of resentment towards others which put me in the middle of many difficult situations. I could never make her face a reality that her illness prevented her from seeing or embracing.

My Mom never understood nor did I ever express to her directly how hurtful the experience of her mental illness was for me. I learned at a young age to sift through her language and expressions on her face and those hidden behind the suspicion in her eyes to become an expert at interpreting meaning as nothing was ever in our lives as it seemed. My sense of reality was altered by what my Mom experienced and it caused me to become very analytical as I had to constantly figure out for myself which reality was valid, her or mine. I learned to question everything and one would have to get up pretty early in the morning to deceive me. In the end both of our realities were valid, but it was always difficult to accept, understand and reconcile. Lingering anxiety haunts me in my life to this day. It was heartbreaking to watch my mother suffer the torments of the mind and spirit.

Given that my Mom chose me to depend upon when I was still only a child, I think it is natural that I felt such extraordinary responsibility for her and her happiness. I never was able to fully separate her needs from my own and nor was I able to forgive myself when I could not relieve her of her suffering. I know that these feelings are not logical, and my rational mind knows that I need no forgiveness for failing her, but I still struggle with emotions and feelings of failure. Feelings cannot always be rationalized away.

The lack of control I felt in my childhood in terms of having a mother whose illness consumed much of life, colours the memories I claim and causes many other memories to escape me entirely to this day, and it left scars on my soul that have healed but as scars do, they remind us of what we have suffered. As you know from experience, mental illness does not afflict only the person diagnosed with it, but it causes all those whom love the suffering person to share it in every sense imaginable.

While no doubt about it, mental illness causes those affected to experience bitter Pain is experienced differently by different people and can be influenced by many factors, including fatigue, worry, anxiety, depression or sadness. ">pain and heartbreak, it ironically is also responsible in my opinion for creating immense compassion for others, understanding of the deeper and darker aspects of life and of people, and it gifts those whom have endured it themselves with an uncommon depth and resilience. I am ever grateful for the insight I have attained directly because of my Mom's sad and shattering sojourns into the hell of uncertainty, mixed with moments of extremes, earth-shaking fear and euphoric flights of fantasy. I know intimately the complexities and colours of my mother and her life and how her experience became vicariously mine. I embrace the lessons we learned, the deep and abiding love we shared and each memory of my Mom's and my every unkind experience where we discovered our truest nature and purpose through the mysteries of mental illness.

I will write more about my Mom and me and mental illness another day. Thank you, Claudia for writing your memories of your Mom. The questions remain. It is up to us to interpret our own answers now that our mothers have died. I wonder if others can ever know what it is like to suffer with mental illness or how it feels to love those who do if they have not had such experience and the kind of close connection we each had with our Moms. I hope through telling our stories, more people will better understand how deeply mental illness affects us all, individually, as families, and as a society. There is still so much to explore, so much to learn, but most importantly, even in our imperfect world, we must try to reduce the stigma and shame associated with mental illness. There is among the darkness, brilliant rays of light to behold.

ps I had originally posted this message in the wrong thread so I am reposting it here. Perhaps Colleen can delete it from the "Mourning Mom" thread for me. Thank you!
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Reply by Cath1
31 Mar 2012, 5:11 PM

Hi Colleen:

I have noticed that the system seems to insert definitions to certain key words in some posts which I find interferes with the fluency of the post. See paragraph three above where I used the term "manic depression" where the system inserted the definition. In my Mom's case, she was never suicidal or distracted by thoughts of death when she was ill, so this definition of "depression" doesn't apply to her.  

Can you please delete the definition from the post above and can you advise us on how to avoid having these definitions inserted?   

Thanks Colleen and have a wonderful weekend!:)
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Reply by Cath1
31 Mar 2012, 5:17 PM

Hi Colleen:

I just noticed paragraph seven also needs an edit to delete "pain, shortness of breath, or tension headaches). "> that follows the word anxiety.

The sentence should read as follows:  Lingering anxiety haunts me in my life to this day.

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Reply by moderator | modératrice
02 Apr 2012, 3:57 PM

Hi Cath1, 

I have removed the erroneously inserted definitions. I have also asked our tech team to remove the automatically generated definitions from the forums in general. We have a glossary of terms that automatically includes a definition of certain words. These definitions should only appear as a pop up box when the reader hovers their mouse over the word underlined with a dotted line. It should never insert the definition as it did in your post. 

Thank you for alerting me to this problem.

I hesitate in removing your duplicate post in "Mourning Mom" since it has generated discussion there too. Good writing bears repeating doesn't it? Smile

Thank you for your ongoing contibutions to the forums and supporting the community. I appreciate not only your writing, but helping us work out the kinks in these early days.
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