Mother to daughter and daughter to mother
I’d been thinking about this article for some time and, as I heard my daughter cleaning (something she does not enjoy), I finally decided to write it.
The sound of the vacuum sent me back many years to a small senior apartment in West Virginia where I was vacuuming my parents’ apartment. I’m vacuuming their apartment because my mother, at 69, is dying of lymphoma and I’ve taken time off from my job to stay with my parents to take care of my mother, like a good daughter-nurse.
During this time I was caring for both of my parents. My father, who throughout my childhood seemed to be the head of everything. However, it dawned on me back then that my mother was. My father had never even written a check for the bills; my mother had done it all. Cooking was also not his forte. I not only gave my mother basic care but I became the head of the household while the real head of the household, my mother, rested in bed.
I’d become “the mother” and my mother was “the daughter.” I had to bathe her and almost had to lift her onto the bedside commode. I made her meals and brought them to her in bed. Sometimes she was strong enough I was able to walk her out to their small living room so she could sit and talk to Pop or visit with a friend who stopped by. One night she asked me to help her to the window so she could see the full moon, the last one she would ever see.
This entire role change has become even clearer to me since my stroke six months ago. At 71 I’d already begun to realize there were things I could no longer do — jars I couldn’t open, mattresses I couldn’t pick up, long trips I couldn’t drive. Although my physical changes after the stroke were not devastating, they were enough to change me in other ways.
I had no energy. Reading made me tired. Bending over made me dizzy and I feared finding my face in the litter box one day while cleaning it. Even after six months of physical therapy and recuperation, I still have issues that started with the stroke but are compounded by my age. So while we look for a cleaning person, my daughter has taken over that duty. She’d already taken the role of grocery shopper and cook (she loves both) and I happily allowed it. She now contacts any tradespeople we may need and keeps a phone list for the electrician, the plumper, the “tree-guy.” I maintain my responsibility over her stepfather’s medical appointments. We’ve divided up the household chores, except this morning she took the vacuuming upon herself — and I let her.
Daughter becomes the Mother. Mother becomes the Daughter.
It’s difficult for me, the retired nurse, the in-charge person, difficult for me to give up even a small part of that role. It’s not that I loved cleaning, the opposite. It’s just I see a small part of my life, my identity changing, slipping away.
Back in West Virginia, after I’d helped my mother from the bed to walk slowly to the window to see the full moon; I even had a dream where I could feel my daughter’s strong arms around me, helping me. The dream had come true a few weeks ago as she’d helped me up from a tumble on a curb — her strong arms around me as she helped me to stand up.
Accepting the change is difficult. I keep remembering what the charge nurse on the stroke unit said, “Mitzi, you’re still Mitzi but things have changed.”
One thing that doesn’t change is the Mother and daughter connection, no matter what role we’re playing.