Processing 16 Years

Over coffee on Saturday morning, a friend asked me, “How are you processing?” She was asking about moving forward from my mother’s passing in February.

A number of friends have asked this question in various formats, with concern in how I’m handling a new chapter of life.

It’s a question that’s contemplative in response, at times difficult and at times easy to put into words, but I will try to answer. This is more than about mom, it’s a journey of responsibility that began 16 years ago.

I don’t remember the exact date when dad sold his car, but mom and I were both relieved. Dad had been driving past the date of when he should have been driving with macular degeneration. Mom was his constant companion in the car because she did not yet suffer from the same affliction and would let him know when it was safe to cross an intersection or change lanes. I kid you not. When insurance came due, mom put her foot down and that was the end of dad’s driving.

Enter Mary and the sometimes painful all-day Saturday shopping trips. I say “painful” because it was not a time to have long conversations over adult refreshment while sitting on the patio. Mom and dad lived on a budget and would shop to save nickels and dimes, probably the result of living with either a very large family or a single mom who must have also watched their pennies. Our shopping trips consisted of, “We have to go to Wal-Mart for bakery, then to Fleet Farm for a box of batteries. Your mother needs a loaf of rye bread, so the day-old bakery shop is next, then to the other side of town to Piggly Wiggly because they have pork chops on sale. We’ll stop for lunch, then stop at Penney’s so I can buy aΒ  pair of pants.”

It was like this almost every Saturday for about six years, with long lists and varying shopping locations. At one point, we went down to shopping every other Saturday because at the time, I was married, and the long days were getting in the way of weekend getaways and being able to stay home on a cold winter day. It never seemed to bother mom and dad, but it made me very tired.

This was just the beginning of Mary turning into the driver, the caretaker, the Power of Attorney daughter, the errand runner, the paper pusher, the appointment maker, the whatever-they-needed-me-to-be adult, and sometimes the parent trying to drive sense into two elderly people.

Around 2004, mom and dad sold their house and moved into an apartment, where they lived for about five years. By the summer of 2009, dad was using a scooter to get around, scraping walls with it due to his poor eyesight. Mom had since developed macular degeneration and was unsteady on her feet, and between the two of them, it was no longer safe for them to be home alone. They made the decision to move into assisted living without me having to beg and plead.

From the fall of 2009 to my dad’s passing in May of 2012, there was an excruciating amount of paperwork, from the assisted living admittance forms, to the Veteran’s pension application for dad, to placing mom on Family Care and Medical Assistance. Early on, I was also going through a divorce and there were many days that I’d thrown myself on the floor and sob the sob of an exquisite pity party after opening the mail and discovering an envelope with more damn paperwork to complete. Days I do not remember fondly or with any amount of grace.

Once mom and dad entered assisted living, the Saturday shopping stopped, although I was still able to take them out for lunch on occasion. I continued to buy clothing and toiletry items for them, but didn’t have to spend the entire day running here and there. Most often, I bought everything for them at Wal-Mart or searched online for flannel pajamas when dad requested them in summer.

Mom lived in assisted living for a total of nine years, five months. After dad passed, the paperwork lessened, but the health issues for mom increased. We went from weekly visits to the restaurant and dad’s grave to my Sunday visits at dinner to help her eat. Instead of talking loudly to mom on the phone, I was talking to doctors, nurses, social workers, aides and hospice staff. Shopping for adult refreshment was replaced with watching mom drink thickened coffee.

My responsibility the last few years was to ensure that mom was well-cared for and that Family Care and Medical Assistance continued to help pay the bills. I was having minimal self pity parties by this time, grateful instead for every day mom breathed life.

This writing is not about me patting myself on the back. Friends and family have said I was the good daughter, but, in reality, there were many times when I felt burdened, when I wanted to quit the role, when I wondered why I had to be solely responsible because my brother lived too far away to help. So many days I felt completely overwhelmed and sorry for myself. Poor me, why does it have to be me?

Like a good soldier, I carried on, but some days were so very hard…

After the coffee date, Natasha and I also had a conversation about the loss of mom, the end of 16 years of parental responsibility, and the guilt. It’s the guilt of feeling freedom and peace from a long-held responsibility. Natasha said it was okay to feel that a “burden” had lifted, while still remembering and loving the sweet lady that went to Jesus over a month ago. I miss holding her hand and waiting for her to say something funny because that was never a burden, only a reminder that all of the paperwork and running and responsibility brought us closer together in her final years.

Today I feel peace and the gift of time. It’s Sunday afternoon and I have nowhere to go. I might run out to the store or to the storage shed to get a few things. Maybe I’ll call up my cousin and see if he’s home. I don’t feel guilty at all. I feel as though God had led me on this path with mom and dad for so many important reasons and now He’s given me new life to fly in my own direction.

It’s a new chapter to just be Mary and plan a fall bike trip.

That’s how I’m processing.

38 responses to Processing 16 Years

  1. marianallen says:

    It’s been over a year now since my mom passed, and I still have that feeling of nagging guilt over being away for a day or more when “Mom might need me.” I know what you mean about the pity parties, but also about what a priceless treasure it was, to care for her tenderly when she needed it.

    • bikerchick57 says:

      You understand, Marian. It feels a bit weird today that I didn’t run down to Oshkosh to see mom. I’ll get used to it, but will always miss mom and dad and the many years I spent time with them…except for the shopping. πŸ˜‰

      • marianallen says:

        That’s the kind of “shopping” Mom used to do. I’d get in the car with my little grocery list and we’d get on the road and she’d say, “While we’re out….” And there would go the day. lol!

  2. loisajay says:

    Mary, this is so beautifully written. No other words….just so very beautifully written. And, for what it’s worth, I think you were a great daughter.

  3. Mary, I’m very sorry to hear about your mom. I guess many of us on your list have likely gone through that, or, if not, will be going through it, as well. It’s all part of life that we have to accept because there’s simply no alternative, and we just have to do it as best we can. It sounds as though you did much better than many out there who simply abandon their parents and go off into their own lives as though no one had ever raised and cared for them. A lot of people in elder assisted living would give everything they had just for knowing they had a son or daughter who would visit them once a week or even once a month.

    For right now, you have springtime, and more time for yourself than you’ve had for a while. Don’t wait until fall to get on that bike: the weather is nice and you don’t need a whole special “trip” to enjoy it.

    – Michael

    • bikerchick57 says:

      Thank you, Michael, for your kind words. As I sat with mom on many Sundays and saw that other residents were eating alone, I hoped that they still had family that came to see them. I could never have abandoned my parents, even through the pity parties.

      Not to worry, the bike is raring to go and I’ll be on it as soon as all of the snow melts from the trails. πŸ™‚

    • bikerchick57 says:

      Thanks for the hugs, Ritu. It may be difficult to imagine, but it’s what was needed to provide help and housing and care for the both of them. I’d do it again.

      • Ritu says:

        As Pops and Mum are thinking about downsizing, I know that inevitable thought is running through their minds… I’d be there for them like a flash… Xx

  4. Dan Antion says:

    I felt guilt that my brother was in your role. He was there with mom, I visited once of twice a year. He would understand this much better than I do, but I understand that you were the good daughter. I also understand the mix of emotions. I hope you can continue to process, and to continue to plan bike rides and quiet weekends for Mary. You took what life gave you, and you did well.

    • bikerchick57 says:

      Thanks Dan. I’m sure your brother and I would have relatable stories to tell and there would knowing head nods back and forth. I’m also sure that you would have done the same had your mom been living in CT. Not to worry, I see a plentiful bike-riding summer in my future. πŸ™‚

  5. There are a lot of stories like yours to varying degrees. You did good! Now, enjoy your time and be guilt free because you really did do all one individual can. I am positive your parents appreciated all your efforts and were very glad they had a daughter that took such good care of them. Parents take care of children and then children take care of parents. The journey of life.

    • bikerchick57 says:

      Judy, thank you for the kind and encouraging words. Yes, I believe mom and dad were very appreciative of my help. They didn’t always show it or say it, but I knew it in my heart. I will take your advice and enjoy whatever opportunities come my way.

  6. dweezer19 says:

    I really o understand and empathize with your contradictory emotions, Mary. My circumstances with my own mother were vastly different though the end result and emotions are similar. She was ill for a long time, emotionally and mentally, with ghost illnesss that pagued her and dragged her to deep depression. I was the β€˜lady’ of the house at the age of 16 and helped my Dad with meals, chores and caring for her. When she passed away there were so many emotions including the pain of post hope that she would get well, joy that she no longer suffered, loneliness for the only person I felt loved me unconditionally and relief that there would be no more emotional outbursts and guilt that I was not doing enough to make it better. You were there for them, they will be missd, and this is your time to enjoy life for yourself. They would want that for you. They do. Hugs.

    • bikerchick57 says:

      Cheryl, I’m so sorry you had to experience so much with your mom before she died, but I’m glad that she left you with the gift of a forever unconditional love. Hugs back to you. I shall enjoy life now and always!

  7. Joanne Sisco says:

    The one phrase ‘days I do not remember fondly or with any amount of grace’ spoke volumes for me and I’m sure many others. We’ve all had more than a few of those days … with the resulting guilt that it generates.

    You’ve carried a heavy burden for a long time – a burden borne out of love and a keen sense of responsibility. But mostly love.
    The processing will go on for a long time while you redefine yourself. Planning a cycling trip is a great start πŸ’•

    • bikerchick57 says:

      Between the stress of a divorce and moving mom and dad into assisted living, I was a hot mess for a while. It’s been a journey, Joanne, but I’ve always been grateful that the insane times turned into somewhat more peaceful times.
      Ohmigosh, I can hardly wait for the biking days…

      • Joanne Sisco says:

        When you look back like that, isn’t it amazing what we have weathered? … and somehow come out the other end, usually a better person.

        oh yes, biking weather can’t come soon enough!!

  8. Judy Brekke says:

    I understand completely, Mary. Having experienced similar emotions with both Mom and Dad. Stephen was the one that was most difficult to assimilate. Stephen was the third one that I did paperwork for, took to appointments, met with doctors, nurses, hospice, etc. I would do it again for all three but admit it was exhausting, frustrating, and sometimes I even felt like a failure. Stephen was too young to leave me – I still find myself wanting to discuss something or receive a phone call from him or be surprised with flowers on his birthday. Is this selfish of me? I do not know but I do know that we do this for those we love most. I have questioned whether it was enough but never regret being there for all of them. Mary, I want to thank you again for being there for me when I needed it most. You kept me grounded and I love you for that and the wonderful individual that you are!

    • bikerchick57 says:

      The question of “Am I doing enough?” went through my mind more times than I could count, dear friend. You are not selfish for wanting Stephen to be there. He was your love and that wanting will probably never go away. Try not to be sad, but rejoice in the loving relationship you both had for so long. Sending hugs and love.

  9. Norm 2.0 says:

    Sounds like you did everything exactly the way you wanted to with few to no regrets. Few to no regrets is a very good place to be.
    I’m sure that wherever you end up going, you’re gonna love the upcoming cycling trip and you certainly deserve to πŸ™‚

    • bikerchick57 says:

      Thanks Norm! My only regret is that I wish I would have kept a journal of mom and dad stuff over the years as I’m positive there would have been a few more stories that I’m forgetting. Otherwise, very few regrets. πŸ™‚

  10. Sounds to me like you’re processing just fine. You did the hard yards, always did the best that you could do at the time and it’s okay to feel the weight of that loving burden lifted and breathe a little easier. Looking forward to the bike trip tales. 😊

  11. joey says:

    I cannot know, because I haven’t, but I can imagine. My mother’s mother lived 20 minutes north of the city and I typically drove her to do her things. For years, I would drive my grandmother to the post office, the pharmacy, the grocery, to Marge’s, to Opal’s, to wherever, then sometimes to lunch, or we’d have 3-generation brekkie before, but the point was it ate large chunks of time. I did resent it, I did. I had my own chores and errands to do. Like you, my mother was the only one close and I was the young driving person. I loved my grandmother, loved spending time with her, she was a fun lady and we had a good time, but it was not how I wanted to spend entire days. Following her death, I saw that time as a gift. What a pain in the ass, except what a gift. So that, I suppose, is a glimmer to what you felt/feel.
    Strangely, children feel like that as they approach the leaving time. It’s like they’re free enough to come and go independently, so there’s more time without them, but you’re still burdened by having to be present because of their schedules or their emotional needs. Once they leave the nest, it’s a freakin honor to be considered, included even, in their schedules and emotional needs. Weird, but true.You can’t know that, but I bet you can imagine.
    Ages and stages, they are all unique and specific, but there’s commonality, too.

    • bikerchick57 says:

      I was talking with my cousin and his wife yesterday, telling them about the shopping experience and we all chuckled. But I also had to say that I wish I had used that time together a little better, asking more about family, their growing up, their experiences, etc. I loved them both dearly, but at the time I didn’t converse as much because I was stressed out over a marriage, then a divorce, and, of course, the paperwork. I really wish I would have asked more questions.

      Enjoy the ages and stages of your kids and the fabulous marriage you have with the Mister. No matter your needs or theirs, you have each other to get through the very rough times.

  12. JoAnna says:

    I appreciate your honesty about guilt and freedom. My dad took care of my mom til she died, then he was stubbornly independent and refused to move the hour to my city so he lived alone for the next 9 years. it was a relief for him finally to go be with mom which is where he wanted to be. But I wish I could have spent more time with him. Some memories are treasures.

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