Is it terrible if you feel absolutely nothing for the person that gave birth to you? I’m not angry at her. I’m not sad or wistful or unhappy. I just feel completely indifferent right now.
My mother recently moved into an adult assisted living center in north Jersey. She has a studio apartment that looks to be about the same size as my Manhattan alcove studio. The community provides nurses that check on her to make sure she takes her medication and maintenance people to clean for her regularly. My mother is almost 78, with a steel pole in her thigh from a car accident when I was 11; two new knees, and a right eye that is legally blind. For the most part, she is self-sufficient, but she cannot get out of a car easily by herself or walk up more than one flight of stairs without wanting to take a break. She forgets things easily and has a myriad of ailments that require more pills than I can count on two hands.
There are other residents at the facility whom she can choose to socialize with or not and planned group activities like bingo and movie night that she can participate in or not. They provide transportation to bring her to doctor’s appointments and grocery shopping. She is free to come and go as she pleases, but she doesn’t have to worry about basic day-to-day things that would be difficult for her to do on her own.
We thought it was a good compromise because after my father died last year, my mother moved in with my brother, Gabe, his wife, Cecile and their 8-year old son. This worked for a little while, but eventually Mom expressed extreme displeasure with the living situation because she felt she didn’t have enough autonomy. So, after we sold the house she lived in with Dad for forty-two years, we found a place she could afford that is close to where Gabe lives but also provides her some independence.
It seemed to be going well. However, a few days ago, Gabe and our sister, Lara, went to visit my mother and things dismantled quickly.
My mother has been the victim of several Internet scammers who prey on the elderly and has lost a lot of money because of it. Not long after my dad died, she voluntarily allowed us to set up a revocable trust for the majority of her assets so we are able to monitor her banking activity and see if she gets preyed on again and hopefully prevent it from happening. I spoke with an attorney who has dealt with a lot of elderly scammers and she said that once they have a victim, it’s like whack-a-mole, they just keep coming back. So, we have to stay pretty vigilant.
I went through Mom’s phone when my dad was in hospice last year and saw hundreds of messages with different people to whom she had sent screenshots of her checking information and texted promises of sending them reloadable gift cards. When I questioned her about who these people were, she was evasive and a little embarrassed so I just went through and blocked and deleted as many people as I could. I hoped it wasn’t something that would continue, but it’s only gotten worse now that my father isn’t alive.
Mom’s been unhappy about this financial lately because she thinks we aren’t letting her do what she wants when really we’ve been protecting her from losing the little she has. So, when my siblings went to visit her, she was frantic and angry and threatened to overdose if we didn’t let her have all her money. It should be noted that nothing in the trust prevents her from spending her money. She has a debit card and a lot of cash and is free to do as she pleases. The only times she doesn’t have access to her funds is when the bank detects fraudulent charges.
My brother and sister get notified when there is suspicious activity and the bank keeps a hold on any further transactions until one of them verifies if a transaction is valid. My brother texted us a screenshot of a recent monthly statement and there were over $6000.00 charges in one month to various PayPal accounts for small amounts and my mother couldn’t or wouldn’t say what they were for. She claims she has an agent who is going to help her promote a book she wrote about my brother’s death when he was only 33. I told her real agents do not ask for thousands of dollars up front and she kept telling me she knows better than I do, so I gave up arguing.
However, the suicide threat and her agitated behavior frightened my siblings and they asked the nurse for assistance. Lara had tried to help tidy up Mom’s living area (Side note: our mother is also a severe hoarder and we spent close to $20,000.00 and filled three commercial dumpsters with junk in order to prepare my parents’ house to be sold). When Lara attempted to throw out some old foam cups, mom flew into a rage and screamed at her. Mom said she would overdose on her medications so she would be out of our lives since it seemed to be what we wanted anyway.
The policy of the residence is if a person threatens to commit suicide, they have to call 911, which is what they did. My mom was evaluated and admitted to a psych ward at a nearby hospital. She was released after a standard 72-hour hold when they felt she wasn’t a threat to herself. But, that’s when things got worse. Back at the residence, she refused to take her medication and told the nurse she was going to stab herself with scissors. When I spoke to her about this later she said she never threatened to stab herself. She said she was angry that the nurse took away her scissors and that she just wanted to hem her pants.
It’s always been hard to know how much of what my mother says is true.
Coincidentally, that same day, police arrived at Gabe’s house when he was at work and told Cecile that they had a report from the bank that mom threatened to kill herself. This part is unclear but it seems she had a manic outburst because they wouldn’t extend her credit or release her funds. I also don’t know if she was physically at a bank when she did this or if she was talking to someone on the phone, but my brother said the police mentioned video footage of her. The address they had on file was Gabe’s address so they went to do a wellness check on her and Cecile told them where mom is living now.
When the police arrived at the residence, the nurses there were confused because they had just called 911 because of the scissors incident and they didn’t know anything about the bank incident. So, my mom was sent back to the hospital where they are currently trying to find a psychiatric hospital in her network so she can hopefully get actual attention to her problems.
She must still have access to a phone or iPad because Mom called and emailed my siblings and me several times and she is even more distressed. She thinks we are having her admitted because we want her to suffer and because we want our dad’s money. (I can’t help but laugh when I write that sentence because my family is solidly middle, if not lower-middle, class so the thought that there are riches to be had is absurd.) Mom says she is being held against her will and thinks the press will be interested to know what’s happening to her. She is calling all her siblings and painting a dramatically inaccurate narrative and what’s worse is they all believe her and think we are depriving her of enjoying the “little time she has left on earth”. One of my aunts sent us a long missive about everything we are doing wrong and used that phrase. We tried to explain to all of them what is really happening but they don’t believe us.
When I spoke to her I asked her why she thought we would be doing this to her and she said the nurses get a commission for referring her to the hospital. “Uncle Don (her brother) told me that’s what’s happening,” she said. “I read about things like that on Facebook.” I explained to her that the only person who can save herself is herself and that if she keeps threatening suicide to strangers she’s going to keep ending up in the hospital. My advice was to learn how to express herself without throwing a tantrum. I said, “You need therapy.” She scoffed and said she has a Master’s Degree in psychology and what she needs is to be left alone.
Here’s the thing. . . and maybe I will eat these words someday but my mother isn’t actually suicidal. She’s always been a grand manipulator and an accomplished exaggerator. This is all a loud cry for help, but what’s wild is she won’t accept the help we keep trying to give her. She thinks she’s a victim because she’s feeling powerless and she’s blaming everyone around her. And she is a victim. She’s experienced real trauma and she is severely depressed. And, yes, maybe she actually is teetering on dementia. We don’t know exactly because she refuses to see a psychologist. Why would she need to do that? She studied it!
I’m not denying she needs help. She is very unwell. I sympathize for her situation. Obviously, I don’t want her to suffer. But, I don’t care. I just don’t give a fuck. My compassion comes from a place of instinctive humanity, not from a genuine place of care.
In one of her email tirades to my siblings and me, my mother exclaimed that she sacrificed everything to give us our lives, but that is simply not true. She was a cold and selfish parent. She resented having children and blamed my father and us for stopping her from achieving her dreams to be a writer. Mom would constantly badmouth my father to her siblings saying he was a miser who wouldn’t let her have nice things. Mind you, my father was far from perfect, but seeing how she deals with finances now I can understand why he was so conservative.
When I read her cruel rants to us and I feel wholly unmoved. In fact, the only part of her narrative that angers me is the claim that she gave us everything we have. That is wildly untrue. She has never provided anything for me that a parent should provide – emotionally, physically, and yes, financially. Sure, she kept us alive until we were able to leave her house and we all did that as soon as we were individually able. But kindness, compassion, support, and comfort were not wares that were furnished in our house. She wrote that she worked three jobs to put us through college, but the truth is I studied my ass off and got a ton of grants and scholarships for college. The only thing she did for me is to take out $60,000.00 in loans in my name that took me over twenty years to pay off.
Everything I have, I got for myself. My whole life is self-made. I resent her thinking she had any part of who I am just because she gave birth to me. She barely knows me and I barely know her. I left her home when I was 17 and have only spoken to her once or twice a year for the last 20+ years. I hadn’t seen her in over two years until my dad got really sick and died.
And I’m okay with that. You can’t raise someone without showing actual kindness to them and then expect them to give a shit about you forty years later. Because I don’t. I’m not sad about it. I completely forgive both my parents for their mistakes with us. But what I cannot do is muster up an iota of tenderness in this moment.
Am I a terrible person for not giving a shit what happens to her now?