Take a deep breath. She is here. We made it. Before she moved in, we talked about how this might be a hard change for her. She was, after all, in that house for 50 years. We knew it would be an adjustment for her to bring only a fraction of her furniture and move into a one bedroom apartment. We knew she would be resistant to coming out at first, to meeting new people that all seem so “old” to her. We knew that. We knew she would need us to remind her multiple times daily which way to the dining room, and we knew she would need someone to stand next to her as she showered. We also anticipated how she would be embarrassed by both of those things. We knew that.
We didn’t talk about you, and we should have. We should have talked about what it would feel like for you to see your mom leave the house that you grew up in. As you watched the movers take the dining room table that you did homework on years ago, and put it in the donation pile, how could you have known you would feel like this? We should have talked about that.
When your mom looks at you now, in her new apartment, with the same look you gave her 25 years ago when she dropped you off at college; who knew you would suddenly feel dizzy from the tables turning and unbearably glued in place out of fear of leaving her there and letting go of her as you knew her, all at the same time?
We talked about what it must feel like for her. We didn’t talk about you. We didn’t talk about the calls you would get, where your mom would insist this place wasn’t right, even though we know it is. How could you be prepared for a commute home from work filled with guilt as you get the groceries to make your family dinner, when you know she wants you to come eat with her? How could you have known what making weekend plans would feel like as you tell her you will try to stop by next week? We didn’t talk about that, and we should have.
Here’s what I want to say to you, the daughter. Let go. Let go of the guilt and the worry, because that’s the reason she is here. She is here so that we can take care of her, and you can be the daughter. Let go of the idea that you need to visit her as much as possible if you can’t. Please, visit when you can, and make that time count, but in the off time, focus on you so that when you’re here you can focus on her.
Trust that this is an adjustment for you and for mom, and that in a year you’ll look back and wonder how that version of mom is the same one you visit now. In a year, when you call, she may tell you she needs to check her schedule before you visit. Imagine what that will feel like!
When she calls you, reframe her negativity to focus on the positive. Don’t spend time listening to her complain, change the subject so she knows that you aren’t willing to dwell on those things. What you give attention to, you grow. Instead, ask her about the people she’s met, the food she’s eating, and the programs she’s getting involved in, and when she finally admits that some things here are good, celebrate her for that.
I get that this is hard for you, but I have no idea how hard. She wasn’t my mom, and I never knew her before the way she is now. In some ways, I have the advantage, because I don’t have the struggle to reconcile two different images of a person like you do. So tell me what I can do for you, and let me do the things you can’t. That’s what we are here for and we should have talked about that.