No, Mom hasn't yet passed away. In fact, she's probably a long way from physically expiring. Yet, with my caregiver insights being continually honed, I see that I've lost the mommy who has long been my inner anchor.
There's an image that has been coming up lately, suddenly and unbidden. I see myself as a small child, alone in a large field...no house, no people, just little me.
The orphan archetype is usually seen in the form of a small child, not as an adult, and certainly not as one who is past middle-age. We older people are supposed to be prepared to lose our parents, right? Well, that is where real life parts company from expectations.
First thing in the morning, I'm always relieved to hear stirrings from Mom's room, including the soft coughing she does. On mornings I don't have to leave for early appointments, I'll let her sleep for awhile. I start getting nervous, though, when I don't hear anything, and go in at that point to check on her, not being sure what to expect. My eyes scan for signs of her breathing. Relief sets in, yet again, when Mom peeks out from her covers, and says, "Hi."
Her memory is now on a slow but steady decline, and I find myself providing her with light but substantive library books, small mending tasks for my clothes, and asking for her assistance with my Sunday crossword puzzles. All the while, I realize that my efforts are not simply for Mom, but for also for me, rooted in a desperate wish to not lose my grip on her. The image here is that of little Valarie, fingers clinging to the hand of her mommy, not wanting to let go. Don't leave me, Mommy. Don't go...
Losing the mother I once leaned on is also forcing me to come to terms with the dramatic shift in our relationship, and how I'm coming to view myself. I've always known, intellectually, that this time would come, but, at the core of my being, I've been caught off guard. The expressions about "becoming the parent to your parent" become so real each time my mom looks at me with a quizzical expression, asking me, "What do you want me to do?", whether it's about what she should eat for lunch, or taking tentative steps out of her bedroom.
And then there are the small tantrums, and Mom telling me to "shut up," arising from her fears and momentarily recollections of how she once was. Then there are her profuse apologies, and my awareness that this isn't the Mom I once knew. I just take a few breaths, marshal my emotional resources, and go on.
So life goes on for Mom and me. Difficult though it is, there are lots of small, cherished moments to be had. Lunchtimes watching classic television shows...talking about our cat...having Mom recount stories from her younger days... And when the orphan archetype finally becomes a real role for me, hopefully there will be no regrets.