Did I do everything right?
My mom left yesterday in the company of my sister and aunt, and as always, there was a deep and immediate dive in my spirits: The house is too quiet. It’s too big for just two people. One of the dogs refused to eat. Did she miss them, too?
It’s not just my mother’s absence that contributes to the way I feel. The other big factor is that I immediately begin the second-guessing: Did I do everything right by my mom this time around? As the long-distance caregiver, I think about this often. I’ll have a longer visit with Mom in the fall; I’ll bring her to North Texas for a month or so to give sis a real break, and I’ll go through this again.
The thing is that I’m a perfectionist and a control freak; I have a vision of how I expect things to go. When my mother-in-law lived with us I pictured coming home from work, the caregiver gone, and when my husband finally arrived, enjoying a family dinner together. I did not count on being confronted with my mother-in-law’s hallucinations and anger the moment I came in the door: “I’m worried about one of your dogs. She climbed in the dryer and it was going around and around and around.” Or, “There were men working in your yard by your bedroom window all day long.” Or, “Someone came in the house, sat on the couch and ate all my potato chips.” Or, the hardest one to deal with: “I want to go home!”
The evenings with her rarely went as I expected. More often than not the idea of those rosy dinners got tangled in the chaos of dealing with her dementia as soon as I got home. Frequently, we ended up sitting on the couch watching Seinfeld re-runs because she still found them funny, and the sound of our mingled laughter brought me a tremendous relief. It was better than anger, than bitterness and confusion. Sometimes I cooked, but mostly, she wanted her Lean Cuisines and mocha almond fudge ice cream. A few times, when John was going to be home late — yes, I confess to this — I even played on my mother-in-law’s love of sour cream chicken enchiladas and frozen margaritas: “You know, let’s go out to dinner. I could use a margarita, and I’m sure you could, too.” Doctors had said the occasional drink was fine for her to have, and God knows at the time I certainly felt the need. As difficult as those months were, these evenings out at a restaurant were sometimes balm for our frayed nerves and relationship.
My mother has a calmer personality. She is older; she self-comforts with her prayer books and rosary. Plus, I am her daughter, not daughter-in-law. Still, none of our visits are ever close to perfect. Mostly, I think it’s me. I’m not a patient person and I need to remind myself to think before I speak or act.
As far as our visits go, last week was a good one. But I long for perfection, hence the Monday morning quarterbacking: Was my voice too sharp when I told Mom to get her hand out of the trash can? Did I deal with the pool incident in the best way possible? Was I affectionate enough with her? Did I feed her balanced meals? And on, and on, and on …
The truth is that I can probably do better; who can’t? I will always second-guess myself because that’s how I am. Hell, that’s human nature. I do the best I can, and sometimes that best is barely good enough. My intentions are always good, but I’m human. The thing I fear most — the thing that keeps me second-guessing — is regret. I don’t want to wake up to find my mother gone, and realize that on balance, I argued too much and was too impatient, while leaving good things left unsaid and kindnesses left undone. My biggest hope is that the good I’ve done by my mother will make up for the ways in which I’ve failed her.