August 31, 2021
My mother is a very tender-hearted woman.
Now she’s my mother, so we’ve got that whole mother daughter thing. On top of that, we are two incredibly strong, incredibly opinionated women. And right now, I’m fighting a sadness so big it engulfs me in pain accompanied by tears I feel may never cease. All of that makes for a tinder box of emotion. It can get ugly with me and mom, and it can get ugly fast.
I’m not always so profoundly sad. I get glimpses of incredible light. Yesterday, a hummingbird hovered outside my window. It was an incredible moment of respite. I was reminded there is a world outside the black it feels as if owns me. There is a God. I will feel better. Soon. This is not interminable, this death black that descends upon me. From my estimate, there should be a reprieve coming up here soon. I pray.
So. Let’s get back to mom.
My mother is a very tender-hearted woman. She often donates to worthy causes. She has some particular favorites. The Veterans, and St. Jude Hospital.
These organizations send her hundreds of address labels, in appreciation, and to target her for additional donations. It works! Address labels have value, they have worth, and she is getting them for free! So, she donates again out of a thankful heart for the “gift” she received.
Last night, she told she wanted to return the labels along with a letter of explanation, which she asked me to write. She does not want these charitable organizations to waste their money creating labels for her any longer. She feels guilty for getting them and for having them and for not being able to use them up. While she made this request, she held up a bundle of address labels, bound by a rubber band, that was at least four inches thick. Thousands of labels.
The labels have guilted her for years, decades. I’ve always just tuned her out when she complained. Or I’ve said, “Mom, it’s junk mail. Throw it away.” That never worked, made it worse, actually. So, I got into the habit of simply looking at her, smiling wanly, and saying nothing at all.
But asking me to write a letter to include with the thousands of labels she was planning return, spending who knows how much on postage to return then, well, that was just a bit too much. I lost it.
“Mom! You do not understand how this works! These are mammoth organizations that outsource to mammoth marketing corporations that outsource to mammoth printing organizations that outsource to mammoth mailing organizations! Those labels cost them nothing compared to what they bring in from people who feel guilty about getting them like you do! There are millions of people getting labels! No one cares that you don’t want them, that you feel guilty getting them! No one cares! And if you donate because you get labels, you’re going to get even more labels!”
As soon as I was out with that tirade, I realized I should not have used the word “mammoth”. It is unlikely she knows the meaning of that word. Already I’d failed to get my point across. I was not only furious with her, but with myself.
She got very angry with me. That is not how it’s supposed to work. In her world, in her concept of how the business world runs, what I’ve just said simply cannot not be true.
She closed her eyes, began to cry, and screamed I didn’t understand, and she didn’t want to talk about it any longer. She’s deaf, so when she closes her eyes, it’s the same as if she were putting her hands over her ears. She effectively cuts off any communication coming in. It’s exasperating as hell. I lost my shit. Big time lost my shit.
I texted my brother, and it was a long one, too. He HATES those! I use talk to text, and man oh man can I dictate fast and long. I pleaded with him to talk to her, explained she’d stopped talking to me altogether. I told him I refused to write letters to every charitable organization and that she should be stopped from spending a great deal on postage to return labels that are unusable because they already have her name and address on them!
Funny, now that I write all that out, I realize I should have just nodded in agreement, taken the bundle of labels from her, and told her I’d handle it. I could have simply said I was going to go online and request she be removed for their mailing lists, and then just thrown the labels away. If she pushed me about returning the labels, I could have told her I would take care of that next time I went to pick up her prescriptions, the post office is right on the way. She would have asked me how much money I needed to mail them back, and I might have said "$20 is enough." And she would have given me $40, just in case, and said "keep the change for coffee". Which I would have kept and used for coffee. Such simple solutions. But when I’m clinging to life from within the darkest of darks, simple solutions don’t show up.
My brother turned up unexpectedly and came in hot. He yelled at us both. Both of us sat sobbing loudly. My mother sobbed out of frustration. She believes she’s trying to do the right and honorable and good thing, and no one understands her heart, and no one cares. I was just thinking about why I was sobbing so I could write something really eloquent here, but I was sobbing for the exact same reasons.
My mother, my tender-hearted mother, has this Big Thing About Jesus. She often admonishes me to give it all to Jesus, and my troubles will evaporate. Just like hers have! If I had more faith, Jesus would heal me. Well, I have this Big Thing About Jesus, too. My big thing is when I hear her talk about Jesus, I don’t recognize her Jesus as my Jesus, and it makes me angry. Furious, actually. My Jesus walks with me, but he doesn’t take away my pain. He’s always here, but he’s not here to heal, he’s here to sustain me so I can walk it through. My Jesus is real. Her Jesus is a fairy tale.
Back to my brother.
“I can’t believe you would let something like this cause you not to get along!” my brother said, holding up the bundle of labels and shaking it vigorously. “If Jesus was standing right here, would he want something like this to get in the way of your relationship with your daughter?”
“Well, no,” she said.
As my brother stood looking at us in disgust, we were quiet for a bit, pondering on all of this. It took maybe a full minute, then I started laughing, then she saw me laughing, then she started laughing. I’ve got to hand it to my brother. He speaks her language. But he also has the luxury of having enough distance on the situation his perspective is far more accurate.
We can't throw the labels away, though, mom has to shred them. They have her name and address on them, after all. Someone might get a hold of that information! And do what with it? She's not sure, but it doesn't matter. She needs to shred the labels. That's what her mother taught her to do, that's what she's always done, that's simply the way it is. And now, she'll get to spend a fair amount of time shredding, something she finds very satisfying.
So, there you go. A day in the life of a bipolar caregiver, in the thick of her sick, and her 83-year-old deaf mother suffering the early stages of dementia.
I Persevere. And life goes on.