By: Sheana Ochoa
As I accompany my mother to her doctor’s visit, I hear her telling the nurse that I have become the mother and she the daughter. Everyone laughs as if this is funny. It is what happens. The kids have to take care of their parents when they get older. I get it, but I’m not ready to stop being the daughter. It’s far too soon. I need her as a mother a little longer, especially since we planned and executed my getting pregnant with “our” miracle boy, Noah. I wouldn’t have been able to have a child on my own without my mother’s support. The woman who came home to a pouting teenager lying on her bed disappointed that her best friend reneged on going backpacking in Europe and suggested, “Why can’t you go by yourself?” was the same woman who, upon hearing I wanted to plan a baby on my own, whipped out a piece of paper and started writing down the pros and cons. That’s my mom: a no nonsense go-getter. She does what she says she’s going to do. And I’ve inherited that from her.
Growing up it wasn’t always easy having such a supermom. She was actually a workaholic and will admit today that she wished she hadn’t put so much time and energy into work at the expense of losing it with her kids, but there’s no point in regretting the past. My father wasn’t financially reliable so it fell on her to raise five kids. She worked and promoted until she became head of the institution where she had started out as a lowly service worker. At home she was just as ambitious. The house was spotless. Not just for company. All the time. We used to say you could eat off my mom’s floors. You can imagine then, how frightening it is to see a woman with boundless energy gradually become ill to the point where both her mind and her physical stamina are failing her.
I know what it is like to be in her shoes because I have Fibromyalgia and was once as exuberant and energetic as she. But I’ve had over a decade to come to accept my limitations. I think my mom is still in the denial stage, although recently she has been more willing to look at the evidence. Ergo, the doctor’s visit I mentioned at the beginning.
I thought it was just a routine visit, but by the time we came out of there we had referrals to four separate departments from psychiatry to audiology. During the visit the doctor asked for my mother’s medical “directive.” I didn’t know what they were talking about until the doctor said she would need to know many things such as would my mother, “god forbid,” want to be kept on a ventilator and my mother said she would not want to be kept alive on a ventilator. Unbidden tears surfaced to my eyes although I knew the “directive” was practical and necessary. Intellectually, I agree that one’s wishes should be known, a will should be made, death is a natural part of life, but sitting in a doctor’s office with my mom complaining of symptoms for which the doctor says there are medications to “slow down” early Alzheimer’s, I just couldn’t manage to tamp down my tears. Was she diagnosing her? Later I realized I should have clarified that. My mom’s concentration is poor, but I think it has more to do with lack of proper nutrition and exercise than anything else.
For reasons I alluded to above, my mother didn’t have that much time to be a “mother,” but when I turned 30, our relationship changed. She was getting closer to retirement and I had become an adult, and we had a heart to heart and our relationship suddenly became more important to both of us. Since having my own son, we’ve become even closer. He is only three and I’m recently married and I need a mother more than ever. I don’t know what I’m doing. I make a lot of mistakes as a wife and a mother and I need her to confess to and to tell me to what to do. So, my instinct is to fight this head on like I have with my own disease.
I’ve ordered her a juicer because I recently started juicing and it’s improving my fatigue. A few months back, being the A-types we are, we made a list of all the things we can do to improve our health. We decided we’d be accountable to each other to do these things: drink more water, take walks, eat three meals a day, meditate, pray. Since then I started yoga and she got off diet soda. Progress, not perfection.
I’m angry and sad. I want to fix my mom and so we make lists; I show her how to make vegetarian lasagna and give her yoga poses that don’t require using your hands because hers are riddled with arthritis. But actually, my higher intuition is telling me I really can’t do that much about her failing health. She has to. This is unbelievably frustrating for me. I don’t know how to process the idea of not being able to fix her because I’ve been spending so many years trying to fix myself from one cure to another and though I haven’t cured myself, I’ve kept my hope alive by moving on to the next possibility of a cure. I want to end this post saying that I just have to accept what is happening to my mother, but I cannot. I’m not even close.