My mother calls me and is unhappy. It is her habit to call me when she is depressed. Then something is missing, mostly her happy feeling is missing. She feels alone. She feels stuck. No matter her situation, she has plenty to complain about: if just…then…
It’s not that she is helpless, it’s because no one is around to complain to, so she calls me. In fact, I wonder whether she complains to anyone else? Like my brother or my sister-in-law? I hear that she doesn’t like to ask for favors and she needs favors, because she cannot drive anymore. She lives with my brother outside of town and cannot get around on her own.
If just I lived near the ocean I could walk along it every day, she says. If just I lived downtown I could shop on my own, she says. Your brother is busy and so is his wife, she says. Often I don’t know when I will see them and I don’t know whether there is food in the fridge, she says. I’m so alone, she complains.
She was living in a senior assisted living complex but she missed the ocean and she missed her old area, where she knows people and where she knows the shops. She used to drive around. Now she lives with my brother a few miles from the ocean and the shops and cannot get there.
I know her brain is not working properly. She lives in the immediate present and gauges her feelings right now. She can’t get around and feels stuck and is unhappy and calls me. At the senior place she was stuck, too, but with many other people, so she was never alone. Not in a physical sense but emotionally, she felt alone there, too.
My theory is she feels abandoned because she never had to survive on her own two feet. She was a young virgin bride, innocent and naïve, following my father for fifty years until he died. Imagine the shock to be on your own at the age of 69. It’s been eleven years and her five children and children-in-law have helped her out, to become independent, to rely on herself, but still, she does not know how. From having her needs automatically met to asking for help is a jump she never has made. The way she deals with this is to complain.
I am left with a feeling of guilt. That I’m not where she is; that I cannot fix her problems; and that I’ve spent so many years trying to make her happy. I tell her I have a cold and that I’m gallery sitting. She doesn’t hear. She keeps talking about her complaints. If only…blah, blah, blah, then she would be fine, absolutely fine. There is nothing wrong with her. She can take care of herself, if only…
I know she pictures herself being very capable and that she thinks she is a victim of circumstances. Somehow, what she remembers of the time she lived alone after my father died, is a life of independence. But it’s not true. My sister-in-law showed her how to write checks and to keep a checking account. My brother checked up on her constantly. I visited her often. She was surrounded by support. She didn’t know. She is still surrounded by support but she doesn’t know and she doesn’t know to ask for help. She says herself: ‘I don’t want to ask because I don’t want to be a bother to anyone!’
Basically, she is stuck in her mind but projects that onto her situation. It is sad and impossible to change. They call it dementia and/or Alzheimer’s but I call it shutting down.