Bitter End(less)

Mom complainsA lot.  To keep my head from exploding listen more effectively, i’ve recently started playing a little game while on the phone with her – making marks on a sheet of paper under the headings “nice” / “not nice” regarding her running commentary.  The ratio of “not nice” to “nice” is pretty high – last time i did it, it ran 18/1 during a half hour conversation.  And the one “nice” thing?  Her favorite restaurant has the chicken salad and fruit back on the menu for summer…

On Saturday, i went down to The Park to take Mom out for a belated Easter dinner.  She had spent the previous week on the road, with my niece DQ and her family, in the Florida sun.  For the better part of my time with her, i was barraged with a litany of what went wrong, how tired she was after the drive back home, how she didn’t get to do anything on Easter Sunday, and – in general – just how miserable she was…

When the offer to take a sunny vacation was presented to her, Mom initially declined – with a long list of reasons why she couldn’t go.  My niece was taking her family to the Orlando area to visit with her father, and invited Mom to come along.  Rather than enjoy family time, DQ generously extended the invitation to Mom.  And she did feel a little guilty leaving Mom for a week.

DQ does a good job of getting Mom out almost daily – to run errands, go to the grocery, go to doctor’s appointments, etc. – but it never seems to be enough.  Before the trip, both DQ and i spent some time encouraging Mom to hit the road and get some sunshine, and she eventually agreed.  But it was only after she started whining about being left alone for the week* – which was probably what tripped the decision.

During our dinner together Saturday, she bitched non-stop about sleeping in a different bed, riding in the car for long stretches of time, worrying about bed bugs getting in her suitcase at the motel they stopped at on the way down…. blah, blah, blah…  Every attempt i made to steer the conversation toward better things – “Wasn’t the weather lovely?  Did you enjoy the day at the ocean?  Was it fun to see the little critter playing at Disney?” – was met with a verbal concoction of vinegar, bile and carbolic acid.

Every suggestion i put forward to increase her external connectivity was met with more venom.  She’d like to go to church, and wants DQ to take her.  DQ does not attend church.  i reminded her that there are plenty of her church friends who have offered give her a ride – but she doesn’t want to bother them.  She’d like to get out more, but says she’s dependent on when DQ is available to go.  i mentioned the ‘transportation’ program at church, as well as the county-wide free senior transportation service.  “Oh, they make you work around their schedules…”.

i’d finally had about enough.  “Mom, you know, sometimes you make your own weather.  When you wake up in the morning, you can decide how you’re going to approach the day.  If you choose ‘miserable and bitter’, then i guarantee that’s what you’ll get.”  Emphasizing all of the things she has to look forward to – including a 3 day visit at my place in a couple weeks, with guaranteed silliness as the kids and i host a ‘poker night’ and a small graduation party for The Girl. 

Her response:  You don’t have cable tv in that bedroom for me.  I’m not sure I’ll be able to sleep.  And i can’t sleep on my left side…  Which way does the bed face?

[the sound of a towel being thrown in]

i'll blast the fucking smile right of yer face, buddy...

i'll blast the fucking smile right of yer face, buddy...

*My sister S and i were both willing to pick up the slack while DQ was gone.

“Bitter The Apple”

Mom picked that title – “Bitter The Apple”.  From my earliest recollection, she always said that if she wrote the book of her life, that’s what she’d call it.

Even as a young child, i found it depressing.  I couldn’t figure out why her life was so awful?  We lived in a working-class suburb – owned our own house.  There was a gigantic farm field behind it, suitable for endless games of “capture the flag”.  And woods – where we used stolen construction supplies to build amazing tree forts.  The neighborhood was full of kids – we were never lonely and there were adventures to be had!

The family was quirky, mealtimes were loud, six of us were crammed into a smallish house, but we were all healthy and shared lots of laughs.  Dad had a good job – we didn’t see him much during the week, but he was always around on the weekends, working on projects, leading discussions on philosophy, music and life, or teaching us to throw a variety of balls at each other.  We went camping every summer – where bathing was entirely optional for a week!

Why was Mom so bitter?

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I’ve yet to write much about my Dad – not sure i’m ready.  He died in 2002.  Rather than tackle that, here’s an indirect look, providing another glimpse of life in The Park.

Dad was diagnosed with late stage colon cancer in 1998.  The prognosis was grim, with somewhere between 6-12 months expected.  Mom, a retired psych nurse, proved to be a rather remarkable caregiver, devoting incredible energy to keeping him alive.  He lived until 2002, and of the last years, there were some good moments and her efforts gave us more time.

Genetically, we are not a family of ‘wasting away’ people – even after over 3 years of chemo, he was still around 260 lbs when he died.  After a fall in his room, it became obvious that we might need to rearrange the clutter in the house to allow better access for the emergency squad if necessary.

I suggested to Mom that we temporarily move a bookcase full of old record albums to the garage to clear a path down the hallway.   This was reinforced by my brother-in-law, a paramedic. 

Her response:  “We’ll just go out the window with him…”

Before i could censor myself: “Did you just say that a bookcase full of dusty old records is more important to you than my dying father’s dignity?”

Defensively – “that’s not what i said…”

“Well that’s what i heard”.

My brother-in-law and i quietly moved the bookcase to the garage that weekend.  And after Dad died, i moved it back without fanfare. 

Every time i visit, i see it sitting there, amidst the overwhelming clutter.  Unused.  Covered with dust. Still pissing me off…

Things before people. 

Not a conscious thing…hardwired into her.  Growing up during the depression did that to some people.  But it’s always there – and i’m still trying to let it go.

“I’m bitter and i can’t get up…”

Mom is 79 and still lives alone, although my 35 year old niece, DQ – the true Queen of the Park – lives next door.  For Christmas this year, rather than buy Mom more clutter for her house, i bought her a Life Alert system.

I arranged for installation Tuesday, and made sure that the installation was coordinated with DQ.  Although she’s sometimes a human disaster area, she can be very functional – especially when her future inheritance may be at stake.

After a long and painful day at work, i called Mom to see how things went.  She barked at me for 20 minutes…

“Well, they didn’t show up on time…”, and “the paperwork was all messed up…” and “it had to be put 4′ away from the phone…”.

You get the idea.

I’d been up since 4am, was emotionally exhausted from work, and was driving home in heavy traffic during a rainstorm (yes, i know i shouldn’t use the cell phone when driving…).  I didn’t know what to say, other than “Mom, i’m really sorry i got this for you.  I can come down tomorrow and take it out…”

She went on for another 10 minutes about what pain i’d caused her…

I explained “you made it clear to us that you want to stay at home, rather than go into assisted living.  we need to provide a strong safety net for you.  this may not be the right solution, so we can keep looking at other options”.

Another bark-fest.

I gave up.  “Mom, I’m really sorry i got this for you for Christmas.”

And then the icing on the cake from her…

You make me sound so ungrateful”.

oh.  i’m sorry.  what an awful person i am for implying that a half-hour bitchfest without a ‘thank you’ regarding a gift that is intended to keep you safe is an ungrateful response. 


no.  i didn’t say that.  asked her to sleep on it and checked back with her on Wednesday and she’d adjusted to the idea.  i know that it’s the loss of her independence she is mourning, and i need to be very patient.  or very medicated…