A Care Bear’s Treasures
By Doreen Cox, author of Adventures in Mother-Sitting
It seems as if there had always been invisible threads of connection between my mother and me, beyond our roles as mother and daughter. I lived out of state for a number of years and was the daughter who wrote Mother many letters. My three sisters had chosen lives of marriage and children. My spirit, however, had called me into different adventures, ones focused on career and sports activities.
I was working as a group therapist at an alternative school for expelled students when my mother began a downward spiral of physical, mental and developmentally regressed abilities. My next call to adventure had arrived and it turned my inner world upside-down.
The experience as my mother’s full-time Care Bear set into motion a breakdown of psyche defenses that left me facing strong feelings of outrage towards death, towards the fact that our lives do end. “Not me!” cried out my denial, the sentinel in grief’s arsenal of defenses. It was me to whom others talked about grief and loss. I DID accept the fact that I and the people I love will die, or so I had thought. It was time for me to face a deep-down fear: my mother would soon disappear as would I, someday. Since I needed to keep my mother safe, the only way through scary fires of anger, tiredness, sadness and despair was to breathe through those emotional meltdowns. It brought surprising treasures.
Grief dropped me to my humble knees when my mother’s memory faded and she no longer recognized me as her daughter. It was the intermixing of sweet instances of joyful connections with my mother-child that gave me fresh air. Our most difficult moments always ended in laughter. My training and experience had taught me that psychological defenses stay in place until a person’s psyche is ready to face a deeper level of readiness to look with honest eyes at issues relating to life and death. Dancing with my mother down her path of dementia became the key that opened that door of honesty for me.
Some people go through life without needing to think about such matters. I’m one of those other persons. It takes all of our personalities to make up a vivid, interesting world. We all tend to walk side-by-side in our colorful human costumes as we learn to face the tragedies that come our way. We are the rich and the poor and the people of differing shades of color. We are those with different religious beliefs, agnostic or atheistic. We are males and females, heterosexuals or expressing as someone with different sexual orientations. Our beliefs about morals, laws, governments, taxes, housing, the environment, agriculture, religious prophecy, language, birth, life and death are as varied as are the cultures and subcultures that populate our earth.
Yet one major aspect that we all have in common as humans is emotion. My emotions are as deserving of expression as are the emotions of the billions on our planet. As humans, we are tasked with learning the skills to manage our emotions in ways that do not harm ourselves or others. There are personal, social and criminal consequences if one does not develop such skills. In any given situation, I may show a more peaceful, managed reaction than others yet our feelings will usually run through a similar course of emotion.
The 3-year period as my mother’s full-time Care Bear opened a deeper awareness in me as to how similar we are to one another. Coping with my meltdowns, my emotional reactions towards the downward spiral of my mother’s dementia, has been the catalyst for me to become a more honest, more sincere human being, especially towards myself. This does not mean that I want to jump up and run out into the world yelling out my story in an attempt to get others to do the same. It means that when I look into a mirror, I now genuinely like this person who is staring back at me. I no longer despise myself for having reactions towards those ugly, human emotions that surfaced while caring for my beloved mother.
When walking in the mall, in the grocery store or driving in traffic, I feel more honestly connected to the persons whom I pass or accidentally bump up against. I see people who are angry, irritated, fearful, impatient or sad. I also see others who are happy, kind, helpful and peaceful. In any given moment, I, too, am feeling any one of those same emotions, coping as best I can in the moment.
I was a helper to my mother yet I was also a person who was emotionally ready to receive some help. My spirit deemed me ready to have a more genuine experience of peace with those unwanted, ugly human emotions. Breathing through those meltdowns served to bring me a treasure, a deeper sense of peace.
We were joined, my mother and I, first, as mother and daughter. Later, we became friends and even roommates for a while. Then I became my mother’s Care Bear and we initially remained in our roles as mother/daughter. It was dementia that afforded us both our final roles together as I became a mommy to my mother who stepped into the role of child. For me now, fear, anger, frustration or tiredness is simply a signal that says, “Time to breathe; let in some fresh air.”