Christmas is looming, just two weeks away now. While I frantically scribble last minute plans for get-togethers with friends on the calendar, it dawns on me that I will have to make time for the obligatory visit to my mother’s house. I double check what date my brother will be arriving back in our home town, and realise that the only day we will be able to visit her is the day before Christmas Eve. I set the calendar down, rake a hand through my hair and reach for my cigarettes.
It sounds awful, doesn’t it? That visiting my mother – at Christmas of all times – feels obligatory. But you see, if I didn’t feel so obliged, I wouldn’t be visiting at all.
My mother has suffered all of her adult life with a progressive neurological illness. As children, me and my brother suffered because of it too. We don’t resent or blame her in any way, but it was hard. As a teenager it fell upon me to care for my mother, as well as taking on a parental role for my brother. The house fell into disrepair, the debt letters came flying in and there was never any food. Is it any wonder I went off the rails at 16?
In the past five years my brother and I have had to watch with baited breath as our mother’s condition worsened. Despite moving out after I had my daughter, I have always dropped everything to be at my mother’s side when she goes into hospital; because usually, nobody else would. Then, a year ago, in the midst of the whole X scenario, I couldn’t drop everything. I couldn’t put my own crisis aside to take care of my mother. That was when it all went wrong.
Her family – a rather large bunch of people who we’ve never seen much of over the years – came crawling out of the woodwork, suddenly keen to “help out”. “Helping out” consisted of arguing the toss with the lovely staff at the hospital, rooting through my mother’s house and bank account paperwork and berating me and my brother at every given opportunity for “not doing enough”. As you can imagine, that was more than a little offensive when, as children, we were left to care for her and fend for ourselves. Nobody came to “help out” back then.
Eventually, in an attempt to explain why I wasn’t able to care for my mother at that time, I explained to a family member what X had done; what I was dealing with outside of the hospital. I had thought that there would be some understanding mixed in with the shock of the situation. I had thought wrong. The family member blamed me entirely for what had happened. Told me that I had never cared about my mother, that I didn’t deserve my daughter, and that I should kill myself.
For months afterward, every attempt that my brother and I made to see our mother was littered with glares and confrontation from family members. My brother got aggressive; I became withdrawn. I could no longer take my daughter to visit – much to my mother’s dismay – in case the family said something awful about what had happened to her. The situation was hostile, and has been ever since.
So today I confess that I haven’t seen my mother in over six months. I dread going to see her at Christmas. I am afraid of what might be said by the family, of what my daughter might overhear and of what my mother thinks of me. I hope, really hope, that she remembers all the times I stayed with her day and night in hospital. I hope she understands that I miss her and do want to visit, just not at the expense of my own mental health, or my daughter’s. I hope that she knows that seeing her so ill is difficult enough, without strangers who call themselves family making it any more painful. I love my mother; but I feel obliged to visit her.