“It’s All a Process”

Beach

A wonderful benefit of blogging under the WordPress umbrella is that you get to read the efforts of some very talented writers.  When a case of writer’s block comes my way, lately an unfortunate weekly occurrence, I am heartened when I can read something by someone else that inspires me.  Or it makes me a terrible, plagiarizing copycat — I’m not sure which.

Today I am impressed by a very moving post from one such talented blogger.  She offers a continuing narrative from an earlier effort of hers about the lingering feelings still resonating since the death of her mother.  Her words strike a chord for me because I too find myself having unresolved sentiments about my own.  My sisters would probably say those sentiments are actually  issues.  “Issues” is one of those over-used words bandied about by people when they want to make snap psychological judgments.  I should know– I’ve used it myself in the same vein for years.  But phooey on them, I say. Siblings are probably your hardest audience anyway.

My mother died about five years ago, and my dad seven.  The two deaths couldn’t have been more different.  Dad died in the way we all hope for ourselves: peacefully and in his sleep. He was 89 years old.  Mom on the other hand, hung on seemingly forever.  She had an incredibly slow physical and mental decline, taxing all of her children emotionally and financially.  She was 92.

I had always been closer to my mother as a child.  My dad had a very difficult upbringing with a mother who never really showed him much love, saving it instead for his younger brother.  That Dad never held it against my uncle showed great clarity and compassion on his part for understanding the dynamic.  But sadly, there had been a certain amount of emotional damage inflicted on him by my grandmother.  He wasn’t able to truly express his love and affection to his children.  The love was there, but it was hidden under an incredibly dry sense of humor and an unfortunate bad temper.  My siblings and I all endured his occasional bursts of anger and verbal bombasts that were accompanied by a testosterone-driven display of facial expressions, name-calling, and the occasional item thrown to the ground.  He thankfully never resorted to physical abuse, but you were never confident of that at the time.

Because we were never exactly sure of my father’s moods, it was easier to be closer to Mom.  She’s the one who doled out the praise for good work or accomplishments, offered the physical comforts of a hug or kiss, and looked out for our well beings much more closely than my dad.  If you had a problem, you went to her first.  When I eventually went to college and then moved to a different state after graduation, my phone conversations were primarily with her only.

Visits home when I was in my twenties and thirties became challenging.  With my parents now retired, they were spending more and more time together with very little individual outlets or interests.  For some reason, my mother stopped driving altogether and Dad took her everywhere.  When my dad and I would go out together on these visits, he would let loose a long litany of complaints about Mom — how impossible she could be, her contrariness, her questioning of his knowledge or abilities, etc.  He seemed to store up all of his complaints about her for my visits home, which I tried to do about four times a year.

I tried to counsel him.  I suggested that he offer more patience, look the other way, etc.     But he really wasn’t interested in listening to me.  He wanted to talk.  He wanted someone to whom he could unload all of the aggravation he had about my mother.  He chose me because I was safe — he knew I wouldn’t share with her anything he told me.

When Dad died, my mother suddenly regressed into this infantile, spoiled brat child.  Very little made her happy.  Where she was once the kind, loving, and supporting parent, she was now surely and demanding with only the occasional good moment.   My oldest sister became her primary caretaker, and she reported back to us the gory details of all the emotional and physical transgressions that she was witnessing and experiencing.  Thanks for sharing, Sis!

I was put in charge of the finances, and one of the first things that had to be done was to move my mother into a less expensive place because she was quickly running out of money.  My efforts were greeted by her as if I was Snidely Whiplash himself.  I quickly became the devil incarnate for my efforts at austerity.

It soon became apparent at least to me that we were all witnessing exactly what my dad had experienced on a daily basis for many years running.  While my sisters pointed to the increasing onset of dementia, I couldn’t stop reflecting on all of the covering up we all did for many years about my mother’s deficiencies.  My dad was much more than simply a caricature of Morgan Freeman driving Miss Daisy.  He was supporting Mom emotionally, and certainly helping her though the daily rituals of tackling life’s daily struggles.  To his credit, he gave away very little about the true extent of her full personality in those years.

In due course, my mother eventually ran out of money.  When my oldest sister had to undergo surgery for breast cancer, we all thought it would be better to move Mom out to California where another sister had found a wonderful assisted living facility for her.   All of us siblings had to pony up on a monthly basis to keep her there, plus help out with the many healthcare costs.  It was a strain on all of us.  I visited once a month, trying to give my sister at least the occasional weekend break.  Some visits were nice, many were awful.

Eventually her health began to decline, but it was one of those very slow, painful periods where she would get very bad and then somehow rally.  She went in and out of hospice care at least three times.  There was a bit of gallows humor amongst all of us reminiscent of the old Saturday Night Live news gag, “Francisco Franco is still dead!”

It is Jewish tradition that a year after a death the gravestone is finally placed on a grave. Because Mom was buried in California but half the family still lived in Michigan, we had to carefully negotiate the date of the gravestone unveiling.  As the appointed date was about to arrive, a large Pacific storm took hold of a good portion of the state making travel difficult for even me who lived five hours to the north.   We had to postpone the event for a few weeks later.  I made a joke that Mom was continuing to bedevil us all even from the grave.  One of my sisters objected.  The time for gallows humor had apparently passed.

But it hadn’t passed for me.  My joke was surface only.  I had not yet come to terms about how I felt about her, how she treated my dad for so many years, and how difficult she made our lives as we all sacrificed so greatly on her behalf.   My sisters made the transition fairly easily — they were back to good thoughts about her in relative short order. I, however, continued to struggle.

The blogger’s post about her own mother resonates deeply for me.  I do think often of my mom’s many good qualities on a regular basis, and I also reflect on how she too sacrificed on the behalf of all of her children.  I am not a parent, but I do understand that being one is probably the hardest and most thankless job in the world.  You only have one shot at it, and no doubt mistakes are bound to be made.  My mother tried her best given the limitations that she had.  In the end, I can’t really ask for much more than that.

My post-divorce therapist liked to say “it’s all a process” about so many of the transitions I was making, Mom’s death being one of them.  Those words keep coming back to me.  I haven’t yet come to any great conclusions about my mother, but ultimately I know that I loved her and that I need to look beyond all that still bothers me about her.  In spite of my dad’s frustrations, I know this is what he did.

It’s all a process.

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34 thoughts on ““It’s All a Process”

  1. What did Bette Davis say? “Growing old isn’t for sissies.”

    One thing is sure: people physically leave us, but their impact on our lives continues on.

    This was a moving, honest reflection of the feelings you and your siblings experienced as you watched your mother live out her last years. You came to a better understanding of your father as a result.

    ***

    Have you ever read Pat Conroy’s book, ‘The Great Santini’? It’s his complicated love song to his abusive father wrapped in fiction. Your father wasn’t abusive in the way that Conroy’s father was; still, you might enjoy the book. I did.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. This was a really interesting and thoughtful post. It reminded me of something I used to say to my son when he was bedeviling me: You’re my son and I love you, but right now I don’t LIKE you. Seems that sums up your feeling about your mother. My Mom lived to 95, died about six years ago, and I miss her every day. Luckily, we did not have dementia to deal with. Your honestly shines through your words, and I hope in time you find peace with this.

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    • Your son will tell that to his child someday! Thank you so much for your very kind words. Yes, dementia is a cruel affliction. My mother was awfully wily, though. She had *many* lucid days and took advantage of things when she could. Ah, well, onward. Tks again!

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  3. Reminded me of my ex’s parents. When we visited, they seemed perfectly wonderful, at least until his father could get us aside and complain about his wife’s behavior. We gave him sympathy but on the ride home would roll our eyes. Then he died suddenly and the 3 siblings found she couldn’t be left alone and something was indeed wrong. She could get agitated and swear (she would never swear when she was healthy) and she got lost more than once in her own neighborhood. It was so painful and sad. Unfortunately she lasted about 5 years in an assisted living home for dementia patients. She often cried to go home. The good news (if there is any) is that her money ran out when her life did so she wasn’t a financial burden but the psychological burden and guilt was enormous.

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    • Yeah… sigh. So many have such similar stories. Really, nothing I wrote is all that different from what so many others have experienced. Hopefully we become stronger and wiser from that we have endured. That’s the thought anyway.

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      • Sometimes it’s nice to know that we aren’t alone, that someone else has gone through the same experiences. For my own mother, she was only ill for about 2 months. She was always thoughtful that way. In the last few weeks she was having some level of dementia and I remember how upsetting it was to see someone who was a leadership icon in your whole life slip away. Your post made us reflect.

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  4. Family matters are always complicated; there is no pre-determined “deal with it” amount of time necessary to come to terms with loss of parents. I think some of us never really get to the point where we can let them go. My mama left this Earth in 2004 my daddy in 2005; I’m still “dealing with it” myself. It is better, it is a process that effects each sibling in different ways. I have few regrets concerning my parents; they were both gentle loving people. I feel that I’m rambling now–don’t know that I have any “words of wisdom” for you but felt compelled to comment for some reason. Know that you are not alone. Even though I know nothing about you, your life, etc. this struck a chord in my heart. You will be in my thoughts and prayers dear one. May you find some measure of comfort and peace knowing other people are thinking of you

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  5. Thanks for this beautifully written post. I have my 98-year-old mother in hospice care right now. She has always been a very challenging element in my life but I am in “the process” of trying to summon up only the good times we shared,as those are the moments I want to remember when she is gone. What would be the point of re-hashing all the ugly stuff, I ask myself… but it’s hard… and I certainly empathize with your struggle!

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    • Thanks very much for your kind words. Yes, yes, it can be so difficult. I can’t imagine how hard it must with your mother at 98! You have inspired me to someday write something more positive about my own — thanks for the making me think about that, and good luck on that yourself. I love your photography, btw!

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  6. This is either the second or third time I’ve come back to this post. It really hit home, and even though I’m still not at a place where I think I can properly articulate what I wanted to say in response, I still feel compelled to at least try. There is no doubt that “It’s All A Process” has been my saving grace on more than one occasion. The thought that maybe today is difficult, but perhaps tomorrow might be a little bit better, has pulled me through some truly challenging times.

    In my case, it was a bit of a reverse process from what it sounds like you might be experiencing. I spent the first two thirds of my life either terrified, angry, or disappointed with how my parents ended up parenting me (lots of abuse of all sorts that was rather extensive in nature). For years I was trapped under their neglect and abuse, and then, even after finally making it out on my own, I spent twenty years or more still trapped in the psychological and emotional aftermath of having grown up in that way. Some years were spent afraid of them, some years were about venting my anger in red hot flashes of rejection and painful words, and some years were spent in an incredibly sorrowful state of mind that threatened to end my life. Lots of flashbacks and PTSD to contend with, and all sorts of other psychological clutter that kept me from being able to get out from under the remnants of my abusive past. I kept working towards healing, but some days it seemed it was just never going to be possible.

    My father died in 2008, and my mom died in 2009. I made some sort of peace with both of them before their deaths, in different ways, with that journey being much more successful with my mom than with my father, but in both cases, I was relieved to have worked at making peace, and can rest easily knowing that I gave it my best effort.

    I ended up as my mother’s primary caretaker during the last six years of her declining health, (Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, diabetes), and understand about the financial burdens that can be associated with that process, as it helped to wipe out all of my savings. I moved her into my home towards the end of her life so that she could die peacefully at home, but doing so came at a great cost, both financially and emotionally. I took her death very hard, and spent years consumed by guilt because I felt I should have either (a) had the courage to help her end her life rather than watch her excruciating decline over several years, or (b) should have moved her into my home sooner, or (c) should have spent even more hours with her than I already did.

    It’s only been in this last year that I’ve finally begun to feel some peace about both of them. For all those years, all I could remember were the worst memories, as they seemed to blot out any recollection of anything other than the terror and pain. Now I’m finally at a place where my horrific memories are fading, and there is finally beginning to be some room for some of the more soft and everyday memories … like the picnics in the park, or the time we went on a exploring adventure in the mountains. When I think of them now, it doesn’t immediately stab my heart with pain as it did for many years. Sometimes, even though I find it hard to believe because I never truly thought it would be possible, I find myself lost in nostalgia or even catch myself smiling.

    I guess what I’m trying to say, (and having a hard time getting there), is that I’m hoping that all of us that struggle with whatever variety of painful memories are attached to our parents, will someday reach that point where the pain recedes, or the anger diminishes, or the disappointment fades, and what we find remaining in that space will fill our hearts up with something fresh and new … something that defies all logic, and something that seems impossible as we are moving through The Process of healing, or as we adjust to whatever phase of life we are moving through at the time. I couldn’t have predicted that I might one day find any sort of peace in regards to my relationship with my parents, as it seemed too damaged to ever be anything but a ragged and open festering wound, but today I know differently. Today I know that time really does help us heal, and that the passage of time helps us gain a different perspective.

    People sometimes criticize me because I’m willing to say that I love those people that hurt me so terribly, and they want my words of love or affection to negate the truth of how I was abused, but I’ve earned the right to speak my truth. I love and miss my parents, and I’m also sometimes still very hurt or disappointed or angry about how things played out. All of it is true, and it’s okay to be conflicted, because I trust that time will continue to help me sort it out in a way that brings me continuing levels of peace. So, even though our circumstances may not have been the same in regards to our relationship with our parents, I have ultimate trust that you, too, will find peace.

    As you said yourself, “It’s All A Process”.

    Sending you encouragement and positive thoughts through the blogosphere. We are all on one sort of journey or another, and it really helps when people are willing to speak their truth so that we all feel a little bit less alone, and we can compare notes along the way. Thanks for sharing part of your story, and for allowing me to hijack your comments with such a ridiculously long response. It’s a complicated subject. I’m pretty sure I could go on for paragraph after paragraph, but I suppose the essence is that I wanted to say that I heard you, and my heart was touched by your willingness to share some part of your own story, so that we might all benefit from reflecting on how it applies to our own complicated situation. Your generosity is appreciated. We will all eventually find our own way through. I’m sure of it.

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  7. What an interesting and thought provoking piece ❤

    The relationships that we have with family are so often complicated and misunderstandings often take place because, even though we may have lived a significant portion of our lives with these people, we never truly understand what motivates them to act, think, or behave in a certain way.

    One thing I know for sure, I will NEVER be able to understand my father, though I have tried many times and made numerous concessions toward him. He does not have a troubled childhood of his own on which he can hang his parental failings.

    My mother on the other hand, she can, at times, be hard to understand in her actions and behaviours but I have never once doubted that she loved me and treasured me as a daughter. My relationship with my sister veers from very good to 'barely talking' at times. Most of that is due to our shared experiences as children and our differing ways of viewing those experiences.

    I will always work hard to maintain my relationships with my mother and sister as I know that, despite the odd disagreement or argument, we all love and care for each other.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much for your comments. It’s always helpful to see that others experience similar dynamics. I grew to eventually become much closer to my father, but since I try to stay in the 1000-word or under ranger, I didn’t really my relationship with him in this post. 😉 Perhaps in another one someday.

      Your comments about your sister make me think of my own, with whom I also have on/off/not-speaking relations at times.

      Families are complicated.

      I appreciate your taking the time to read my post, and sharing your thoughts.

      Liked by 1 person

      • My father aside, families are complicated but it is definitely worth working hard at maintaining those relationships. Despite the fact that sometimes we clash, I wouldn’t be without my sister for the world.

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  8. I am the sister of Linda Workman Smith who commented above. Her thoughts sum up my feelings perfectly. She and I were lucky in that we had kind, gentle parents who remained that way until they left this earth. Our father passed relatively quickly, but our mother lingered for some months. At times, she didn’t know who we were, but never a harsh or unkind word passed her lips. I have delt with their loss better than Linda, but we all handle things differently. I will keep you in my thoughts, and hope in time, you will heal. Bless you.

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  9. Being a parent certainly helps us understand transgressions of our parents but in all fairness it doesn’t negate them.

    I left home at age 19 as a means of escape! Mother and I couldn’t live under the same roof – – as is much the case with 2 queen bees sharing the same hive.

    Her transgressions were many and left deep emotional scars. I tried to discuss them with her once and she called me ungrateful and assumed I hated her so I never brought them up again.

    We get along great by phone and we check in at least once per week but in person there’s a power struggle.

    Dad was passive and very uninvolved aka auxiliary parent. He never showed much emotion but was very funny. So my good memories of him involve laughter… The other memories make me angry so I rather not think about them. He’s been gone 2 yrs now.

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  10. Thank you so much for your comments, but mostly for reading my posting. You toss these thoughts out there, and it’s amazing how sometimes they resonate. Yes, as I think I also said above, probably more than once!, it is indeed a journey and, yes, a process. Thanks for your encouragement, and I wish the same for you too. Keep writing!

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  11. Thank you so much for sharing your experience and the fact that you are still “processing.” I think I’m having the reverse experience. My biological dad died many years ago (in that kind of death that everyone hopes to have–he died in his sleep). My stepdad died a few years ago after being ill for a very long time. Everyone (including me) credit my mother with enabling him to die peacefully at home surrounded by family. Right now, I can honestly say that I will miss my mom after she dies (she’s 91 and still going strong). But I didn’t always feel that way. My father was mentally ill and I often felt that she exacerbated his illness with her cruel tongue. She didn’t spare the rest of us either, least of all me, the youngest. For a while after she remarried, she seemed relaxed and easier to get along with. But my stepdad had a slue of health problems that started up a few years into their marriage. Eventually, she rarely had anything nice to say about him too. Not too long ago I came across a journal I kept about 10 years ago. In one entry, I described visiting my mother while she cleaned out the trailer she and my stepdad had been wintering in for 20 years. The trailer park was being sold. My stepdad stayed in New York while my mom came down to take care of business. At the end of that visit, I wrote in my journal that I would surely not miss my mother once she was gone. I wouldn’t miss hearing her criticize me, my stepdad, or my sister. I wouldn’t miss the almost bullying nature of her interactions with me. Fast forward to now. My stepdad is gone and my mother somehow has turned into the mother I will miss. I understand now that being a caretaker all her life took a toll on her. She practically raised 4 kids by herself and never really had a break of any great length until after my stepdad died. Now she only has to do for herself, and it seems to have freed her to be more loving and caring than I’ve ever seen her. I’ve started letting go of my own anger over things long past, and am just trying to appreciate what I have now with her. So your mom so much a nice person, but apparently you did have some good times with her. Those had to be real and are worth remembering. Whatever gives you peace. Take care, Marie

    Liked by 1 person

    • Marie,

      Thank you so taking the time to read my post, and also share a bit of your own story. Indeed, you have come to a reverse of my own experience. That you understand your mother was living under this burden of responsibility, no matter how awful her actions or words were then, must give you such a feeling of lightness and clarity. I think it’s wonderful that you’ve gotten to this place.

      Hopefully we can all reach a similar place in our own lives, and I’m no exception to that. It makes the journey that much more enlightening and interesting.

      Thanks again for coming to my blog. It’s very meaningful to me that you did.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Thank you. Your post immediately brought up so many similar memories from the death of both my parents. I don’t believe we have to understand, or even like our parents. They are family and so we love and accept them despite everything. This is the only way we can move on from all the unresolved issues that will always be unresolved.

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  13. I am finally getting around to reading this as I sit in the Land of OH (No!) visiting family shortly before the second anniversary of my mother’s death. Thank you for writing it. While my experience is different in many ways, there are some common aspects and echoes of what you have experienced. I have had a couple of visits with a counselor to speak about my “aimlessness” since I no longer take care of my mom. Those “issues” are more pervasive and deep rooted than her death and have really only been made a focus by her death.

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  14. I do completely understand the aimlessness. I think the loss of a parent, especially one for whom you’ve given care or at least supported financially, can leave you in a kind of deserted place as you collect all those thoughts and try to make sense of them. Where before your aims were easily broken down by cost or care, after the loss it becomes more a matter of finding meaning. It’s admittedly a tough road in which to traverse. Thanks so much for reading and sharing!

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