Mom vs Alaska

Mom wearing my straw hat at The Park

It’s been a packed 5 days in extraordinarily humid & hot Chicago. I’m really glad for the lousy weather, because it reminds me why I no longer live here. Other visits in the past duped me with great weather, and enticed me to move back. Not a chance, this time.

Something else is enticing me back, though, and that’s my mom. She is starting chemo again this week for brain cancer, and her Parkinson’s plus arthritis make it difficult for her to get around, brush her teeth, sit up & get out of bed; all the small things that we all take for granted every day, are very difficult and time-consuming for her.

My uncle summed it up best: she is waiting to die. Her illnesses are getting worse, her memory and cognition are slipping further, and her mobility deteriorates every day.

My mom won’t further decorate the room in her assisted living place because she is convinced she will only be there a few months. “Why go through the hassle of putting up photos?”, she half-whispers, her throat muscles slightly atrophied from the Parkinson’s.

My mom is conscious. She is fully aware that her brain is losing its ability to concentrate, spell, listen, and communicate. She is fully aware that parts of her body shake uncontrollably, and other parts won’t move when her brain commands them to.

My mom, every day, can hear the tip of the grim reaper’s scythe scrape against her front door. She is terrified, she is angry, she is frustrated, she feels alone.

As a result, she lashes out at people, and tries to control every little small & insignificant thing she can, because she feels her life spiralling towards death, out of control. It has been a long & difficult week, with even small actions like paying her rent taking hours of negotiation. My patience has been pushed to the limit, as I struggle to listen to my mother’s mumbling whispers, her desperation to catch a complete thought before it disintegrates in her damaged mind.

Meanwhile, she is grieving my brother Mickey, her loss of function, her independence among other things. My mother’s entire situation is just horribly complex.

Meanwhile, my 100 year old grandfather still lives on his farm, and walked up the steep flight of stairs to his room on his own power this evening. Go figure, on that injustice.

This same grandfather read me the riot act about leaving to go on my journey. He said I didn’t care about my mom, that I was not fulfilling true family values, and that I was foolish. He said the project was not going to amount to anything, and that no one would care. Sure, it sounds harsh, but he is 100 years old, so I didn’t take it personally. He says this sort of stuff to everyone. When I’m 100, I probably will too…

What can I do? Unless someone else like my cousin or aunt is in the room, it’s nothing but toxic waste dumped on me. I can’t stop my mother from dying. I can’t take away her pain. I’m trying to deal with my own grief about my brother. And soon, I will likely grieve my mother, too.

My patience isn’t what I wanted it to be. My compassion barely surfaced during the last days. It was hard to separate myself from the toxic waste, to understand this woman is not the mother of my memories, the fun lady who took me traveling around the world, taught me blackjack on the Amtrak train using gum wrappers as money to bet. This is not the same woman who skied the bumps with me in Breckenridge, and who always cuddled with me in her turquoise wide-collared merino wool sweater, soft as silk.

It has been quite difficult to hold the memories of her goodness, her kindness, and her love for me in the forefront of my heart, while snarling, anger, and frustration get directed at me as I try to tidy her space, sort her bills, and chat with her. But, I can’t change the frail woman glaring back at me from over-sized down pillows on the bed, who claims to be my mother. All I can do is accept that she is who my mother has become.

Friday & today bore much fruit for making connections in Alaska. Tonight my mother joked about me kidnapping her & taking her to Alaska with me. I saw what she was driving at, and directly but kindly asked her if what she was trying to say was she’ll miss me. She said yes.

I know she doesn’t want me to go, she worries about me, and she’s scared for me. The alternative is to move back to Chicago, get a job I don’t like, deal with foul weather I don’t like, maybe have sort of a life, when I’m not caring for my mother, and be unhappy. The guilt will be gone, but I’ll be unhappy.

I can’t do it. I simply can’t put myself back into a situation where misery is my best friend. I can’t go back to ignoring my needs, putting others before myself, and snuffing out the flame of my dreams, flames I worked so hard to light during the darkest days of grief around my brother.

If I don’t fly to Alaska, facing my own death will be just as fearful, just as filled with regret, just as terrible as it is for my mom. I can’t do that to myself.

And, it’s people just like my mom that need this project. People who can use a touchpad device like iPad, or a kindle, can read, listen, or view these interviews when the project is completed. People who struggle to get around, can access others’ inspiring stories to lift their spirits. Someone like my mom, ironically, is the perfect candidate for this project.

Maybe I’m justifying this to assuage my own guilt. Maybe I’m just making up excuses. It would be pretty easy for me to slide back into Chicago life. I could be closer to my nieces, too.

About 3% of me doubts getting on the plane to Seattle tomorrow. 3% of me wonders if it’s the right thing to do. 3% of my heart is not buying what my mind is selling.

I can always drive my pickup back here, if the 3% turns the tide back in WA. Meanwhile, my cousin will pick me up tomorrow at 8:30AM. I will get in her car, go to the airport, & get on the plane. It will happen. What happens after that, is anyone’s guess…

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6 Responses to Mom vs Alaska

  1. zak says:

    my thoughts are with you

  2. wendyEllen says:

    Such a tough and heart wrenching decision…I am sure your well Mom would love for you to follow your dreams…I hope you interviewed her !!!! Safe journey! Latcho Drom! Bien viaje! Boa Viagem!

    • marissa says:

      Thanks, WendyEllen! Yes, she does. And she understands the impact the project has had on others. But, still, she wishes I was with her & by her side every day. Somehow, though, making this choice for myself has been quite powerful. It was significant on a much deeper level than I understand. Right now, I feel great. Motivated, inspired, and working hard to move the project forward. Thanks for your support through all this! Angels are walking on the ground, watching over me, and you are one of them!! xoxoxo

  3. Irma says:

    Your Mom knows you best and knows that this is something you needed to do.. she’s there with you every step of the way…

    • marissa says:

      Aw, thanks, Irma! I sure hope so. It was bittersweet. Certainly I got some grief from her, but in the end we both accepted it. Right now she’s focussed on her own health, so it doesn’t bother me that she is not thinking of me or what I’m doing. She needs to save her energy for herself, and not focus on my journey. That’s how it ought to be… Hugs to you down under!

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