Keeping Guilt Company
During this visit much has happened. And nothing has happened. During this visit I
- I vacuumed her living room floor. Or part of the floor. The visible part.
- I cleared out a bathroom that hasn’t been used in two decades. In it is a working walk-in shower where she could more safely and more thoroughly conduct personal hygiene.
- I cleared off two counters.
- I filled three bags of garbage.
- I filled two containers of paper recycling.
- I dumped the dregs of some very old wine.
- I relieved her refrigerator of a carton of eggs the expiration date of which was four months ago.
- I hacked and filed her toenails, but I did not paint them colors as my 17-year-old daughter suggested.
- I tried to explain to her why we have involved a judge and a court system in helping to run (or to her mind, ruin) her life.
- I bought three cartons of cigarettes and three 24-can cartons of Diet Pepsi. We should have a bet about how long those will last. This is something that as a young child, teenager, young adult, and middle-aged adult swore I would never do.
- I bought other groceries, but they are less important than the immediately described staples in my mother’s diet.
- I investigated whether her homeowner’s insurance is paid up, which it is (thank god).
- I took care of some important financial tasks that I should not mention in detail here in case there are identity thieves or just regular thieves reading this.
- I cleaned her toilet, and will refrain from a description of what was found there.
- I bought her clothes that fit her new body, which has lost, and I’m guessing here, over fifty pounds.
- I met with the elder care lawyer who is leading the petition for conservatorship and guardianship.
- We met with the head of a program for seniors that found my mother eligible for four hours of free help each week, but my mother declined the services because – thank you very much — she does not need it at this time.
- I walked the high-strung, loveable but overwhelming and intimidating dog a total of seven times.
- I spoke to neighbors who have expressed concern about her and offered their help to us.
- I found my father’s discharge papers from the army, his death certificate, their marriage certificate, and numerous bills.
I wonder why I have had to write out this list? It is long and impressive and might not even be complete. Am I fishing for compliments and praise? Appreciation? Acknowledgement? Though I have an ego, and I don’t mind recognition for hard work done, I think there’s something else at play here.
There is such a bottomless pit of need with my mother. There is so much helplessness there. There is so much more I could have done, should have done, wished I been able to do. I feel relief at being able to leave, to get away from the squalor and the need, but it is a tarnished relief. If I allow my thoughts to settle on my mother, I am felled with longing and felled by her loneliness and nudged by the guilt at not staying.
Of course, the inclination is to convince me how irrational such guilt is. But if you start down that road, I won’t join you. And I’ll resent you for taking that path. Your need to talk me out of my guilt is about your own helplessness – probably not helplessness about my mother, but about whatever source of it you have in your own life – and I’ve got enough of my own. Just let me have it. It’s not hurting me. It’s not causing me too much discomfort or shame. I think it’s there, but I know enough to know it’s not me, and I can keep it company as much as it can keep me company.