I have done some bad, bad things. Disastrous things. There is no hope for my salvation. There is no God to forgive me. Rather, I am bound to suffer the anguish of my misdeeds all the rest of my days as punishment for my sins.
For I am certain that I contributed to my mother’s death.
If only I’d done more research. I’d have been more knowledgeable and thus, more capable.
If only I’d been more assertive. I would have fought for flexibility from my employer so I could have been more present with my parents, and my son. We would have had the luxury of time to divide care-giving tasks. We might have been more successful in our search for a reliable home health agency. We could have delayed placing my mother in a care facility.
If only I wasn’t already depressed; exhausted from hiding the truth, pretending I was “normal”. Then I might have been more like who I’d wanted to be and less like who I really am.
Instead, I operated in a constant state of crippling terror.
Terrified to ever have an honest conversation with my mother about her Alzheimer’s disease.
Terrified I’d lose my job because taking time to care for my mother made me an outlier at the office.
Terrified I’d lose custody of my son if I lost my job.
Terrified I’d lose both my parents: my mother to Alzheimer’s, my father to illness - common in seniors caring for their terminally ill spouses.
Terrified I’d be discovered as truly incompetent in every conceivable way.
This is my hell on earth. The firm belief that my fatal flaws influenced the end of my mother’s life. Had I been competent she wouldn’t have succumbed as quickly or as tragically. My parents would have had a measure of comfort and happiness, my son would have had a better role model.
The way I see it, as a result of my failures we placed my mother, perhaps prematurely, in an assisted living facility that specialized in memory loss. There were planned outings and activities in which she participated. The staff enjoyed her sense of humor, for she was still affectionate and social, even when she couldn’t find her words. But as the weeks passed the frequency in promised activities decreased.
My mother rapidly deteriorated. I would visit only to find her slumped in a chair, along with all the other residents, in front of the blaring TV while the aids seemed to ignore them. Eventually the activities board disappeared entirely and all activities ceased. She became ever more physically and mentally weak.
I was angry that the staff seemed only to get the residents dressed, toileted, and fed before dumping them in front of the TV, their stupor interrupted solely for meals. I was infuriated that this place had broken its promise of skilled memory loss care, all the while bleeding my father’s savings.
It was clear to me that I had allowed my terror to pressure my father into a very bad decision.
Certainly, my mother was sheltered, fed, clean, and safe. Yet there was only perfunctory personal interaction. A basic human need unmet.
I was wracked with guilt for breaking a promise I'd made when I was a teenager. I gave my word; I would take care of her. Yet I had instigated this twilight life. A woman who thrived in the company of family and friends languishing among strangers in an environment that was surely hastening her demise. What had I done?
The end seemed agonizingly slow, yet painfully swift. My mother was dead within 22 months.
I harbor hope that at some point my mother could no longer understand that her brain had betrayed her. I fervently hope too, in my selfish weakness, she did not know that I had betrayed her as well.
Such is this incessant torture. And there is more.
For decades Mother’s Day stood in bitter testament to the careless and arrogant ways of my youth. I’d been exceedingly reckless and there are those that suffer still for my cavalier attitude. My brazen and shameless behavior caused others years of pain and suffering. Now is not the time to unpack this. It must suffice that you understand the emotional destruction remains a terribly heavy burden. One for which I cannot seek forgiveness.
And so, Mother’s Day holds the deepest remorse for me. It is a day of penance. Despite any good I may have accomplished in my life, I tend to dwell instead on critical mistakes. Mistakes that were more than missteps to me. They were life-altering transgressions. It is difficult to allow myself much in the way of celebration.
Yet, I have experienced my life’s greatest fulfillment in having become a mother myself. I am baffled by my good fortune. I struggle to reconcile this pure joy with my foul sins.
Shackled to the ghosts that I’ve created, I’ve been unable to cut them loose. Wouldn’t that dishonor those that have suffered the consequences of my actions? How does one appreciate the significance of her errors without regret and retribution? If I believe myself unworthy of forgiveness from others, why would I absolve myself?
Because I am a mother.
Through motherhood I have learned to truly and completely place the needs of another human being ahead of my own.
And therein lies the answer. I must transform this pain to a teachable lesson.
Unresolved guilt and shame destroy self-worth and lead to self-destruction. I know this all too well and don't want my son to ever suffer as I do. It is my job to lead by example. To ensure he has the emotional tools to examine his own misdeeds, take responsibility, and learn from them.
He must understand it is imperative to forgive himself, and move forward. He has great value and a place in this world; he is deeply loved. He must fully realize the truth of this, and embrace its importance to a meaningful and happy life.
Given this new perspective, I must accept that it is time now to heal. To examine my questions, my actions; to find honest and reasonable answers. To be kind to myself in those revelations.
I pray that my son is already fully aware of the significance of healthy self-esteem. Still, if I cannot demonstrate the power of self-love when it counts the most, than I'm not fulfilling the vow I made to him on the day we met. My own mother would expect no less of me. She would be heartbroken to discover that I am wrecked.
Every day I let pass my own tiny infractions. Common errors in a learning curve, wrong turns, singing out of tune. I'm not certain though that I've ever honestly forgiven myself for major trespasses. I'm especially harsh on myself for those that have caused pain to others.
This new mindset will be enormously difficult to adapt.
If not yet for me, then I'll have to work to find my way to self-forgiveness for those that love me. Because I cannot return love when I won't allow myself to accept it in the first place.
And what is a life devoid of love?
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Hotline 800-273-8255
The initial draft of this piece was much longer and far darker. I could discern no way out, no way forward, no lesson to be learned. But as I continued to write and reflect I found my resolution.
If you're thinking of taking your own life, call the hotline. Please. There is help available all day, every day.
If you're troubled, but not a danger to yourself or others - write. There is evidence supporting writing or journaling as a valid coping and problem-solving tool.