mothering my mother

Changing Places: Beth’s Journey

I have just experienced one of life’s most perfect moments –
my daughter’s wedding. It was the culmination of a year that
felt like a roller coaster ride, bringing me from the depths
of depression to the heights of joy with constant motion in
between. Not only did the wedding signal the beginning of my
daughter’s life with the man she loves, but it brought my mother
to the dance floor after ten months of debilitating illness.

As I watched “Nana” dance with my husband, I remembered the
beginning of the ordeal. A telephone call informed me that my
mother was gravely ill and would need major surgery and
subsequent chemotherapy. This threw both my mother and me into
shock. Her only illness in 83 years was appendicitis. Thus our
expectation was that she would remain healthy and active like
her mother who died at 104. She was my role model for a life
of constant activity and stimulation.

In one afternoon of surgery, she lost her vitality and
invulnerability and I lost my equilibrium. Life changed
without warning. My healthy, independent mother became sick and
dependent. I shifted my identity as a relatively carefree
professional wife and mother to caretaker for my mother and
support for my father. She had to deal with her fears and
disabilities and I had to provide strength and solace to her
as well as deal with my own panic. At 58 I saw the role
reversal that had been in progress for many years become
accelerated. “The child became father (mother) to the man.”

While physically this was not difficult, it was emotionally
draining. I was confronted with the depression, fear, and
self-pity that normally accompany illness. I understood her
emotions, but I felt I needed to maintain a positive attitude
in the face of all her negativity. This strained my patience
and I started feeling guilty for sometimes feeling annoyed with
her. After all, she was the one undergoing the physical
hardships. She was the one dealing with the specter of continued
illness and diminished quality of life. Shouldn’t I be more
patient and understanding? As much as I did for her, I felt
inadequate and sometimes evil. My attempt to help her remain
upbeat took a toll and I became depressed. My relationships
with friends were difficult. For months I withdrew from my
social life to find energy to deal with my own emotions, but
I never had time.

Although my mother’s physical condition improved rapidly, each
day still began with depression and ended in isolation. She
often turned a deaf ear to me and consequently increased my
frustration. There were times when I did not want to answer
the phone because I knew my mood would plummet when I heard her
voice. I needed more help in combating the negativity that
now engulfed us both.

A call to a gerontological psychologist saved us. She was able
to share her feelings and fears with him and he was able to
guide her through her transitions. As her emotional health
improved, I had more time to heal myself. I could take
advantage of my own support system – my husband and family.
I was able to focus again on work, my friends, my wedding

When the wedding came, both my mother and I were on the mend.
I know our life and our relationship has changed, but I came
through the experience with increased knowledge about us both.
I can now appreciate the good days and get through the bad
ones with a sense of calm.

In that moment, as she danced, I relived the past year and
reveled in its passage. The wedding was pure sweetness mixed
with pathos. Life had changed – it always will. I have
learned to cherish those special moments not only with my
mother, but with everyone.


Stepping Stones to Becoming Her Mother’s “Mother”

LOSS is the motivator of transition.

As a result of her mother’s illness, Beth sustained multiple

Her healthy, active mother
The expectation that her mother would live forever
Her independence, time, and control over her own life
Her expectation that her mother would always nurture her.

DISORIENTATION is caused by loss.

During this time, Beth describes her discomfort:

She felt guilt, anger, depression, fear, sadness, anxiety
She became isolated
Her energy was depleted
She did not function effectively.

REORGANIZATION results from taking a series of steps.

As the situation progressed, Beth:

Learned more about the aging process and how to deal with
Utilized sources of support such as groups and resources
for adult caregivers
Reconnected with family and friends
Re-established routines in work and normal daily activities
Recognized that her relationship with her parents changed
Modified her expectations of herself and her parents
Accepted the role reversal as a positive part of her life.


Recommended Books

“As Parents Age, A Psychological and Practical Guide” by
Joseph Ilardo

Dr. Ilardo explains the aging process, the emotions felt by the
child, and the impact of illness and aging on the family unit.
He also focuses on the grief process and helps his readers
cope with death.

“Transcending Loss” by Ashley Davis Prend

The book addresses the process of grief and loss. From the
shock phase, the disorganization stage that includes feelings
of anger, pain, guilt, sadness, anxiety, to the stage she calls
transcendence, Ms. Prend explains how we can find meaning from

“Changing Places: A Journey with My Parents” by Judy Kramer

Ms. Kramer chronicles her journey as her parents age, enter
assisted care facilities, and pass away. Her emphasis is not
the care-taking aspect of the journey but the personal and
profound feelings that accompany her through each stage. It
is a sensitive and helpful journal to guide us as we deal with
aging parents, their illnesses and death.


Our Invitation to You

Do you have your own transition story? We invite you to
share it with our readers for the benefit of women who
themselves may be dealing with similar changes. The skills you
used may be Stepping Stones for others. If you are interested,
please e-mail us.

(c) HerMentorCenter, 2001