My Mother’s Body

My mother is in a nursing home, out-of-state. I’m trying to move her to me or move to her. With insurance and health concerns, it has been a daunting task.

But for the holidays, I am spending precious moments with her. Doing, doing. Getting the promised occupational and physical therapy going. Requesting barber services. Checking on meds. And on and on, the work of it.

Today when I went to visit, the nursing staff was in a bit of an uproar. “She’s refusing to let us bathe or change her. She says that you’re going to do it.” 

I was appalled. For $x,000 a month, you can’t take care of this? And I’m definitely a Virgo so I’m a little squeamish and shy. I hadn’t seen my mother naked since I was a girl, by design and consistent effort.

But my mother balked and, as usual, I gave in.

She whispered that the CNAs are sometimes rough. I saw that in one of the two aides who initially helped me — they soon left me on my own. 

So I washed her body, so thin and frail. Stinky from lack of movement and tube feeding. I thought of the vibrant woman who took a month to get certified as a Yoga instructor, but was never able to teach consistently because of the ravages of bipolar disorder that was quickly followed by a brain tumor, Parkinson’s syndrome, diabetes.

I understood why Jesus washed the disciples’ feet. There is something about being willing to touch the most intimate, ignoble parts of someone else that creates an intense connection.

To look at my mother’s body naked, a mirror of what my own will become was like falling through a looking-glass. Pain and pride, sorrow and triumph. I’m not sure how yet, but this washing transformed me.

When I was done, she whispered that I had been washed her with tenderness.

It is only now that her violence and rage have subsided that I’m able to have the relationship with my mother that I always wanted. Needed. Recreated with others: affectionate, joyous. But as welcome as the subsiding of the bipolar disorder has been, and frightening it has been to see her deteriorate, in small measure because I pulled away for a time to save myself, it is still hard to see that she is not all there. That some part of her has been irreducibly diminished.

So I was glad when she turned cantankerous today and wouldn’t eat. “The mashed potatoes are too salty. The applesauce will affect my diabetes.” Because that means some important part of her core survives.

I still have so much to learn. I can hold a grudge and nurse a hurt like a (^*)!!@#+%#. For years. I’m ashamed of the hard pridefullness and self-righteous that were its accompaniments. I thought that withdrawal wasn’t inflicting pain on others. I was wrong about that. So I will stop the madness. That’s my goal for today going forward. It’s not a New Year’s resolution; it’s a life hack. Even if there were more time, the loss of the heart is too great.

Strangely enough, all this started before the washing. I said hello to my aunt who I hadn’t seen since my father died several years ago. I reconnected with Mrs. G, a neighbor, who loved me through the years, even the awkward, unlovable ones. I’d refused to see her and kept her at bay with cards and letters. I surprised her at mass today. She didn’t say a word about my selfish, hard-hearted self. Only that I was her Christmas present and that she hoped I would stay with them.

I have some work to do.

Happy New Year.


About liftingasweclimb

Mildred Lewis writes and directs for theater, television, film and the web. She's also a full time professor, Christian, activist and troublemaker with a passion to save as much of the world as she can.
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8 Responses to My Mother’s Body

  1. GrimalkinRN says:

    This was incredibly beautiful and I am so sorry your mother experienced “rough” care. I really hope you are able to find a solution that works for both of you.

    • liftingasweclimb says:

      Many thanks. It was a hard, very intimate post to write, harder still to live.

      But “rough” care is hard to say. My mom, at least in the past, has exaggerated things sometimes. No doubt that the workers are overworked and, therefore, a little cursory, perhaps a little cold. But I saw no evidence of meanness, only a bit neglectful.

      • GrimalkinRN says:

        One of the reasons I went into nursing was because my grandmother was mistreated during her final weeks. People need gentle, caring touch, especially when they are ill or nearing the end of their life. If there is any advice I can give or anything I can do to help, please let me know.

      • liftingasweclimb says:

        Thank you so much. What you say is too true! My mom was an RN as well. Hard to see her like this, but things are going better. I’ve secured therapy and other needed things.

      • GrimalkinRN says:

        I’m so glad for you. It is so hard to see the strong women we love become weaker with age. I am glad she has you to look out for her.

  2. hafong says:

    Hi Mildred, I find myself at a similiar space that you are in. Took me awhile to get here but I finally realized that I can choose how to be. Happy new year!

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