Sunday, December 21, 2008

My Aged P: the next installment of my spiritual journey

(with apologies for the length of this post)

I have heard that there are two blunders one makes when writing of one's mother. The writing is either angry and unforgiving, or unforgivably saccharine. Such is the influence a mother has on her children. Either way, this part of my journey is a difficult one for me to articulate.

I remember some fun things Mom and I did together when I was small. I have a clear picture of making cookies at Christmas, and being allowed to make the fork criss-cross on the peanut butter cookies. I remember sitting in church waiting for her to finish playing the piano. She then sat by me, making me be still, but allowing me to doodle on paper. When I fell in the one-room schoolhouse next door and split my chin, I remember her anger because I had been running and she had warned me against it. (Mom was frantic; we had one car, and my dad was out somewhere in it. We had a telephone, but she could not find him.)

Usually, though, it was difficult connecting with Mom, and I always felt it was my fault. It may have been the trauma of being taken away from my hitherto primary care provider (my grandmother) at such an early age, but it always seemed to me that she held me (and my younger siblings) at arms length. There were times when I thought we were beginning to connect, but she pulled away. I never stopped trying to please her, but I never felt that I had succeeded, and what pleased her changed frequently. And we were seldom allowed to forget our misdeeds.

I did not see the loving God near at hand around my mother as I did with my grandmother. Inevitably this affected my view of God. He was a faraway god who must be pleased at all costs. His anger and wrath could not be appeased, nor could my mistakes be forgotten even if forgiven. God's grace was sufficient for salvation, but it ended there. He had rules! This god continued to haunt me for much of my life. I tried various ways of appeasing his anger, and strove to measure up to...I'm not even sure what. We always attended the rigid fundamentalist type of churches which, naturally, exacerbated my frenetic struggles.

In 1994, my husband and I invited my parents to move into our home in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. It was probably the worst mistake we ever made as a couple, one which nearly tore our family apart. Mom had not mellowed over the years. She was ever discontent herself, and often took offense at nothing. She pitted family members against one another, and manipulated situations. Being unsuccessful in getting what she wanted, within months she was agitating my dad about moving out into a place of their own. Shortly after they moved out in late 1997, I suffered a severe emotional blow-out. I alternated between trying to ignore God altogether, and yelling at Him a lot in between some serious acting out.

We soon realized that we needed a new beginning as a family, so we sold out, packed up, and moved from Lancaster, to Florida in 1999. I freely admitted to people that we needed some space between us and my mother. We did end up in one more rigid fundamentalist church, all the same God provided some emotional healing over a period of time.

After my dad passed away in 2001, Mom had gone to live with my brother. She was not happy, and at the end of a year she moved out into subsidized housing nearby. My brother, who long ago had given up trying to please parents or God, was completely devastated. Mom did not do well living alone, and went into a deep depression. In December, she ended up in the hospital with bilateral pneumonia. None of my siblings were for various reasons, able to get involved and help. As I prayed for her, I became sure that the Lord wanted me to do the impossible and unthinkable: go get her and bring her to Florida.

We found a place for her to live about a mile from our home, and she was fine for awhile. But, she really had not changed. We had some interesting interchanges over time, and before long, she was again unhappy and wanted to go back north--which was not possible. That didn't stop her from calling all her friends and begging them to come rescue her. I realized that I had not yet forgiven her completely for what happened in Lancaster, so I spent some dark days. She was angry because I would not do what she wanted (move her back north).

In December, 2004, she was diagnosed with probable Alzheimer Disease, and by the end of 2005, I was looking for an assisted living situation for her since we knew we could not bring her to live with us. Early on January 1, 2006, I found her on her bathroom floor with no recollection of how, or when she fell there. I called 911, and we went to the hospital. The doctor sent her right into the nursing home when she left three days later due to her hallucinating and inability to function on her own.

For a time afterward I continued resentful about all of the details of taking care of her, her finances, her Medicaid, and all the odds and ends that always come up. The church we were attending was not helpful in our spiritual needs at that time, and only made me feel condemned because I was struggling.

In December of 2006, we began our occasional involvement in an Episcopal church. In January, one of their Wednesday night classes was for caregivers, and Harry and I attended. It was a revelation that someone understood what I was going through, and that there was help, and support. I probably cried through the first four weeks of the class, and somewhere in there God began a work of healing, restoration, and strengthening which continues to this day.

Mom now attends church with us at Christ the King Anglican most Sunday mornings where we receive much encouragement and support. In spite of being raised in rigid fundamental Baptist churches, Mom absolutely loves the services, and participates in her own ways. She really hasn't changed much, but through the affirmation, and understanding of my faith community, God has taught me that I don't have to take on the responsibility for making Mom happy. I just need to do what He wants--and His burden is light. We will never have the relationship I always hoped for with my mother, but we do have a peaceful relationship. We have found some ways to connect, and sometimes we even have fun together. She even tells me she loves me.

--Susan Price


Paul Corrigan said...

Susan, Thank you for this installment of your story. I am blessed by your honest appreciation of your situation with your mother; you are neither "angry" nor "saccharine." Though, frankly, I am a little angry reading it, as my mother-in-law comes to mind who also manipulates situations while maintaining a fundamentalist religious self-righteousness. I would be very mad at God if she had to live with us. And at this point, it would be "the worst choice for our marriage." This is hypothetical because there is no reason right now that she would, but the process of imagining it, and of imagining, feeling for, and empathizing with you, I think, is revealing a place in my false self that needs healing. Your story, I believe, is helpful for me in that. (See how meaningful our community is. This is serious work happening, I think.) I am glad that your mother is enjoying the services and I am sorry that she has not changed. My wife and I will pray for you for continued peace this evening. --Paul

RC said...

Susan and Paul, thank you both for sharing in this way (Susan's post and Paul's comment). It is very impacting--and very helpful to us all, I believe. This kind of community sharing is very powerful for me. Again, thank you! RC

Daniel said...

Susan, I believe we can all learn from the wisdom and grace God has given you in your circumstances. To me, this is authentic: a long term investment with mixed results, but an overall "peaceful relationship" characterized by "ways to connect." I appreciate your honesty, which I think is especially helpful for some of us who are beginners on the journey.

Blog Archive