The Other Mother

Growing up my mom was in charge. The household was her domain and she had it under total control. My dad was the breadwinner and, I’m sure, was grateful to hand over the paycheques to mom who squared it away. She did it all on a lean budget and with three kids close in age. Once we were all at school full time she also added a career into the mix. Home cooked meals. Hand made clothes. Piano lessons. Hockey. Ballet. School lunches. Field trips. It boggles the mind how she juggled and struggled and coped.

Now she’s in her 80’s and the flurry days are long gone. Her days are now spent with my dad in their smallish apartment going through a familiar routine. But it’s mostly my dad who’s the juggler now. My mom is a different person.

I don’t know when it all changed. Or if it just morphed over time. All of the things my mom valued and relied on were slowly eroded never to return. First the kids flew the coop; no more frenzy and scheduling to master. Then retirement; no more productive satisfaction from a days work (even though we often teased that government workers don’t really work) and no more socializing with coworkers. Then arthritis and weak bones; no more yoga or biking or other joyful activities. Then macular degeneration; no more reading or bookkeeping or shopping. Then mini strokes; fuzzy memory and inability to articulate. The more I think about it the more I realize that I don’t really know this new person. It’s the other mother.

From time to time there’s glimpses of the old (former) mom. But more often than not the imposter is the one I talk to. She’s the one who’s afraid and angry and frustrated and lonely and worried. How can I help this stranger in familiar skin? It’s the eternal question of aging and the aged.

Last week I took mom to the Alzheimer’s Society. I was hoping that they had some activities that she could attend to meet others who are feeling a bit lost like her. Misery loves company? We met with a very nice young lady , Haley, who was the intake social worker. She had a glossy folder filled with firms and pamphlets and hand outs. She spoke in jargon and I could see mom tuning out. I tried to veer the conversation to where it should be (about mom) but I realized it was our first visit and there was a format to follow. She drones on about the various programs they offered and I tried to pick and choose the ones that would fit. She talked about grants and wait lists and counselling but never got to the punch line. Action. Next steps. Engagement.

In the end, after a hour, we were a tiny step ahead. Haley realized that her glossy materials were a bit lame (given moms diminished eyesight and dads cataracts) but she promised to follow up in a week’s time. What I wanted to do was tell her what I really thought (not usually a good idea): why go through the cookie cutter motions of assessment and present a cookie cutter info package without ascertaining the clients goals. Most of the programs offered were not a good fit.

But we’ve been around “the system” enough to know that you can’t ruffle feathers or expect anything better. It is what it is. My old mom would have been a lot more demanding in advocating for her family. Navigating the labyrinth of services is a full time job. My 2 hour plus drive home is filled with thoughts and emotions about how the tables have turned. My mom was my champion my whole life. Now that she’s the other mother she needs a champion. I can’t let her down.

(PS photo credit to my sissy … who understands)

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