Saturday, August 31, 2013

My mother's death-part one

This blog post is in honor of my mother. She died on August 11th 2013. She was in a declining dementia process for 8 years. As her dementia progressed I lost my mother a little at a time. She was in and out. Sometimes there were days when she seemed like her old self- loving and very opinionated. She was easy to talk to about anything. When I was growing up I would come to her to talk about boys or my ideas or my disatisfactions. By the time I was a teenager, I learned that she was supportive if I agreed with her. The rest was a challenge. She could be critical and invalidating if she disapproved. I shared less and less with her about what was important to me.
Still we were in regular contact. I had learned to look to her for validation and to doubt myself. When I left for college I rebelled against her and did the opposite of what I thought she would approve of. When my parents came to visit me at college in Vermont my mother said, "your brother is smoking cigarettes. " I turned to her and said, "you should see what I'm smoking!"
She helped me apply to Cornell to transfer in my Junior year and to go to Israel  that summer. When she agreed with something I wanted to do she would put all of her energy behind it. She had a lot of energy and could be very encouraging and helpful.  I learned to be small about navigating the physical plane because she was so good at it and wanted to be in charge. In the midst of my rebellion my Mom's approval was still important to me.  I thought it was my job to make her happy. If she was unhappy I usually thought it was my fault and tried to fix things. She also thought it was my job to make her happy and let me know how disappointing some of my choices were to her. I often felt guilty. I cancelled my wedding and decided to move to Colorado with my boyfriend and live with him instead because I didn't know if I wanted to marry him.  My boyfriend and I and my parents met with a counselor at Cornell to try and work it out. The counselor told me after the session that my mother cared more about what other people thought than she did about me and I better get used to it. My mother disowned me and at the same time continued to plan the wedding. My father, as usual, went along with her.
I moved to Colorado and actually came home at the end of that summer with my boyfriend to get married. I feel so much compassion for that 21 year old me that convinced myself that I wanted what she wanted and went along with her wishes. I remember pushing my fears and doubts under the rug as I walked down the aisle at the synagogue. My mother was supportive during my divorce.
My parents moved from Syracuse, NY. to Colorado Springs in 1978. They sold their home and quit their jobs and moved here. It was very courageous of them. They were both avid skiers. 
My mother was very active and exercised every day. She had many friends and did a lot of volunteer work as well as teaching full time until she was almost 70.  My father died when she was 70 and he was 75. I got to be with him when he died and I felt closer to him after he died than I had when he was alive. In his last years although he was in a physical decline he began to stand up to my mother and their relationship seemed to get better.
My Mom went into a three year long grief period that turned into what's called complicated grief. That means the person never comes out of it. She began to lose her mind rather than to face my fathers death and her feelings about it. I was still trying to make her happy and at the end of three years I told her I couldn't listen anymore. Gradually our roles began to shift. As her decline progressed she was less and less of the mother I had known all my life. Eventually she became sweeter and more loving and her angry edge seemed to dissolve. As the years progressed I began to surrender my lifelong pattern of craving her approval. I learned to honor my inner divinity more and more and to trust myself more and more.
My mother rarely spoke at the end. She had very expressive eyes and people loved her. I am so grateful for the time I had with her in Boulder and then in Denver for the last two years. I learned to care for her whole heartedly. This blog was supposed to be about the miracle of her dying process and I will do another installment. I honor my mother for what I learned from her. Working with her legacy has helped me to be the compassionate person I am today.