Sunday, January 26, 2014

Sometimes the Lamp Breaks

Yesterday was my mother’s 94th birthday.

Robert and I drove up to see her.  Because she has dementia, it is difficult to go to a restaurant with her, so we brought flowers and took her for a drive, which she very much enjoys.

In the car, she said, “I thought you were coming around dinner time.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, Mom,” I said.  “I told you to write down that we were coming at twelve.  And you said J [her caregiver] was writing it down as we spoke.”

“I don’t remember,” she said.

“Well, I’m sorry you were surprised,” I said.  “J must have written it down wrong.”

“Oh, J is wonderful,” she said.  “I don’t blame her.  I blame you.  It’s easier.”

She said this without a trace of humor or sarcasm or irony.

I know that dementia is a terrible, insidious illness that wreaks havoc on one’s essential self.  But what she said—“I blame you.  It’s easier”— is my mother at her most truthful and least inhibited.  This is the way it has always been between us.  (“I had the most beautiful legs when I was young.  I weighed 125 pounds all my life until I had you,” she told me when I was a teenager.)

My father, who has been dead 36 years and whom I adored, had a thing about ownership.  “It broke,” I said once over the shattered remains of a lamp I had unintentionally knocked from a table.  “It didn’t break!  You broke it!” he thundered.  I can still hear him saying it.

My parents really did a number on me.  I am responsible.  Always, I am the one to blame.

Oy, that word.  Blame.  For many years, I seemed unconsciously drawn to people who liked to affix blame.  Years of therapy later, I’ve learned that the people who want to blame you for everything are usually the people who are afraid they are responsible for whatever is wrong in the world.  You are their scapegoat.  They are hiding behind you, terrified of their own flawed selves.

I’ve learned this, but I have to keep reminding myself that it’s true.  My subconscious self is very used to taking the hit.

Over the years, I’ve become defensive.  It’s not a quality of which I’m terribly proud.  I think I became defensive when I was learning, in therapy, to refuse blame, to stand up for myself.  Now, it’s just a bad habit, a behavior I no longer need.  I am trying to learn to squelch the impulse to defend myself against all complaints and grievances.  Because, you know, sometimes I really screw up.  And then I have to own it.

Oh, here’s another thing I’ve learned.  Sometimes, the lamp breaks.  (Not that one that I knocked off the table when I was six.   I broke that one.)  Sometimes, the washing machine overflows or the cell phone won’t pick up a signal or the car won’t start, and it’s not your—or anyone’s—fault.

That’s a really freeing thing to learn.

When my mother said, “I blame you,” I didn’t say a word.  Two years ago, I would have read her the riot act.  I would have felt righteously indignant. 

Yesterday, it was easy to stay silent.  

Later this week, I'll write about my mother's thing about men.

1 comment:

  1. My thought is that when she says "I blame you," she doesn't mean "You're guilty." They're two different things.