POLICE PURSUIT

momandpursuitMy mother and I are craning our necks towards the big flat screen on the wall of her board and care home. We are watching a police pursuit weaving through the streets and freeways of Los Angeles. I know what is happening. She does not.

These chases occur with stunning regularity. You wonder why the soon-to-be felons don’t think things through more carefully. The helicopters are hovering overhead; the police vans with their red lights flashing are looming large in rear view mirrors. You just don’t get away. Harry Potter’s cloak of invisibility is not going to save you now. The escapees will get nailed and let’s hope they don’t nail anyone else in the process.  But we keep watching as the drama unfolds. It’s like passing a car wreck on the highway. “Don’t look, don’t look…” My higher angels implore me not to participate in someone else’s suffering. The angels usually lose…

I’ve just wheeled my mother back into the living room of the big airy house after our sidewalk excursion in this quiet neighborhood. She hugs one of the stuffed dogs I have given her. It’s a sun-shiny day. Memorial Day… And she goes along for the ride without mustering one ounce of drama or angst. This is not the mother I know.

There she is smiling at the jasmine blossoms I snap off a vine and place in her out-stretched hands. She kisses her stuffed dog and looks up at the sky when I point to the little plane. But she’s happy to go back inside again and that’s where we watch the pursuit.

Dementia is an interesting thing. I sing and play ukulele in memory care units for people who respond to a familiar melody or tap along with a steady beat. They smile and laugh sometimes. They scream and paw at themselves. Their stories are gone. Their histories—dropping, dropping precipitously into a heavy mist. But something is left. An essence. And I try to honor that and meet them where they are.

Not so easy with my mother…

As we watch the erratic driver racing down the 105 freeway towards Los Angeles International Airport, Jinna, one of the caregivers, asks me if my mother liked to drive on the freeway. I chortle as memories of my mother unspool in my head like a really bad movie. My mother was a nervous driver, but as a passenger she could have won the Gloria Swanson Award for melodrama. She’d smash her right foot into the “imaginary” brake pedal on the floor. Never mind that she was in the backseat.

imagesBut I could live with that. It was her screaming that scared the hell out of me. Blood curdling screams. I’d feel the adrenalin let lose in my body in classic fight-or-fright fashion. Once she agreed to wrap her favorite leopard scarf around her face so she couldn’t see. Or scream. But then she put her big-rim eyeglasses on, over the scarf, so “I don’t look strange.” By then “strange” followed her like day follows night.

I tried to reason with her. “Mom! Don’t scream! It scares me when you scream. I’m not a good driver when I’m scared.” But my mother is a troubled woman. The Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde type and playing the “reason game” doesn’t work. She tells me she can’t help it. And today I know that’s true because that is how mental illness is.

When my mother was behind the wheel of her own car and another driver did something that pissed her off (which is casting a very wide net), her face went all Exorcist as she shouted “GO TO HELL…” Then she’d flip them off. I tell my mother it’s not a good idea to do that kind of stuff in Los Angeles. There’s that “reason” thing again. She’s lucky to be alive.

Then something happened: Dementia. When my mother no longer knew what pills she was taking, we added Zoloft to her colorful array of capsules. It helps modulate her moods. Within two days she had morphed into a sweet old lady. Fricking Betty Crocker. The caregivers say she’s so nice. She smiles a lot, laughs, kisses her stuffed dog.

And I’m thinking “who the hell are you?”

It’s been a long hard road for my mother and me. How different things would have been between us and in all of her relationships if she had been taking Zoloft, or something like it, the last ten, twenty, thirty years. And now folks who meet her for the first time are enchanted. It’s an ongoing challenge for me to reconcile “my story” of my mother with what is true today.

Like the people I work with in memory care units, I try to meet her where she is. YES, my mother was an angry and sometimes vindictive woman. YES, today she is mostly kind. YES, she has forgotten the people who were on her “hit list.” “I will destroy them,” she’d snarl. Red lights flashing. YES, she has forgotten I was on her hit list too. YES, her eyes get all sparkly when she sees me and we hold hands.

What is true? All the above, of course.

momandpuppyBy now the crazy dude on television is driving south on the 405 Freeway. He will soon run out of gas and the police will throw cuffs on his wrists and haul him to jail. Thankfully no one else is hurt in this pursuit. My mother is napping in her Lazy-Boy, clutching her polyester puppy (that fortunately survived its first ride in the washing machine and dryer).

So many memories. So many stories. And no answers. Except to trust this moment to shine a little light.

29 Responses

  1. Sandra Rae
    | Reply

    Cali Rose…a beautiful name for a beautiful soul….just went through all this with my 90 year old mom who passed on April 2, 2916 and after reading all this and crying through each blog I know that I did the right thing by being there for her up till her last breath….it was difficult to watch her change from her old self into her confused almost child-like persona towards the end and there were many times of anxiety between us but I amgrateful that I hung in there and gave her as much love as I could…thank you for sharing your world….and just to let you know my friend’s son had a little baby girl recently and they named her Cali Rose without knowing about you….
    Sandra Rae

    • Cali Rose
      | Reply

      Thank you Sandra for sharing your story. My record of “handing in there” is spotty with mom and others. Relationships are so complicated, including the one we have with ourselves ourselves. I congratulate you and everyone for doing the best we can, moment to moment. And now you have your own little “Cali.” Sweet.

  2. Cali Rose
    | Reply

    Anonymous

    Thank you for sharing your story about your mother – and about you and your mother. I went through something similar with my father in law, then my mother in law.

    It doesn’t sound like your mother is suffering so that’s a blessing. Is she the same “outward” person as she was when you were younger? Do others “know her” like you do? Obviously not. But the medications are allowing her to live in a more mellow place, which is another blessing.

    We have volunteered to lead worship and provide a Bible study at a nursing home for many years now (recently I’ve been taking my ‘ukulele although they made it clear they like the mandolin better LOL). It’s difficult – not for the faint of heart. But it’s more-so when you go through what you are experiencing – with mom.

    My mom used to say “and this too shall pass.” What I wouldn’t give to have my mom here with me again….

  3. Cali Rose
    | Reply

    Anonymous

    You share your experience beautifully. So vivid. Been there twice. My father and my husband. There is no good answer. The only real reward, if you can call it that, for being there for your mom is that regardless of what your relationship may or may not have been, regardless of whether she was a good or bad mother, you are there for her. You are doing the right thing. You are doing the loving thing. That knowledge should give you some comfort now and will remain as a point of comfort and pride for the rest of your life. Dementia is a kind disease for the person who has it. But loving and taking care of first my dad and then my husband, it caused me the most intense pain of my life. Unfortunately, your pain is shared by way too many. Draw on the love of those around you, even when you want to crawl in a cave and die. Their love and your strength will carry you through this difficult time.

  4. Cali Rose
    | Reply

    Anonymous:

    Beautifully written, as always, and I cried because I’m living my own version of this right now. I have an elderly roommate who is not only a dear friend but has been like a second mother to me, a wonderful, wise, delightful person. About a month and a half ago her health rapidly went south, and I’ve been caring for her. Now she’s started hallucinating (audio and visual) and practically not eating, not that she was eating much earlier. I spoke to her doctor and he’s sending a nurse tomorrow to evaluate for hospice. Cali, I feel as if I’m in another world, the Twilight Zone, and just when I think I’m out of tears, more gush forth. I know she wants to live and she keeps saying that, very forcefully, during her hallucinations. But I feel her slipping away. And I don’t know how to cope with what’s happening, am really flying blind. Neither of us has family for support, which makes it tough.

  5. Cali Rose
    | Reply

    From Anonymous:

    What a wonderful blog. I was there with you as you described your mom.
    And watched the stupid (yes another one) car chase.
    As we careen along in life with the unfolding Donald Trump drama, the craziness
    of it all, the weather, and generally one thing after another, you have taken me out
    of my little world for a few moments and given me a glimpse into yours.

  6. Cali Rose
    | Reply

    From Anonymous:

    Cali, what a great piece!
    So well-written, couched in a weirdly apt circumstance. That you’ve also shared something very personal and sad speaks volumes of your generosity and your strength.

  7. Cali Rose
    | Reply

    From P.

    I’m 87, have met you at several uke tests, am still instructing uke on Saturdays! Am SO lucky that I have most of my wits about me and hope I can keep on the “other” side of the performer/audience dance. Thanks, Cali, for the heartfelt beautiful and touching essay about you and your mother.

  8. Cali Rose
    | Reply

    From Anonymous:

    I just wanted to write to say how poignant your most recent post. All of your posts are so eloquent. But I found this one particularly moving.

  9. Cali Rose
    | Reply

    From Anonymous:

    This beautifully written e-mail touched my heart. May God give you strength to help you and your mother through this difficult time. You will always be glad you could do this for her.

  10. Cali Rose
    | Reply

    From Anonymous:

    Wow. I love the way you write. Thank you so much for sharing this, Cali.

  11. Cali Rose
    | Reply

    From Anonymous:

    God! You are an amazing writer.

  12. Cali Rose
    | Reply

    From Anonymous:

    This is so real, so true, so beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing the confusing journey of letting a parent go. This brought a tear to my eye. The poignancy of the end of life takes many forms and you caught you and your mother.

  13. John Genge
    | Reply

    God bless you and all the mothers of the world. Luv Ya Jonjon

    • Cali Rose
      | Reply

      Thank you John.

  14. Dianne
    | Reply

    This Mother/Daughter thing is a very tricky road as I am learning. As I get older I think of the things I should have done differently for my Mother and wonder how to best do things with my Daughter.

    Enjoy the time you have together now. Knowing you are doing your best and bringing her joy with you presence and music.

    You bring so much happiness to so many! The other day I was so happy after class. I had not played for a couple of weeks and when I tried it sounded awful to me, but with you leading us on in class I felt I could play anything.

    Thank you
    You are an inspiration in many ways

    • Cali Rose
      | Reply

      Thank you Dianne. Being human is tricky business and yes that mother-daughter thing can be particularly treacherous. But I trust that we are doing the best. And thank you for being part of The CC Strummers and the joy we get to share. 🙂

  15. Greg
    | Reply

    Yes…your entry resonated with me. My mother was also a VERY difficult woman, given to fits of anger and ranting. Mother was a very unhappy woman that unfortunately never received the benefit of drugs to help her…like many mentally ill people, she zealously guarded her illness and refused all attempts to change her behavior. She passed at 91 and was subject to dementia in her last few months, but it was hard to tell it from her usual behavior…Thanks for writing this.

    • Cali Rose
      | Reply

      I hear you loud and clear Greg. These troubled people can poison more than one generation. I think if my mother could have fully grasped the pain she caused others, it would have killed her. So in some sad way, clinging to her craziness and anger was a vehicle for her to survive. Who knows. But oh, how we suffer… And spread it around. Thank you for sharing a slice of your story.

  16. nicole cook
    | Reply

    So beautifully written. And also such beautiful insight. Thank you.

    • Cali Rose
      | Reply

      Thank you back!

  17. Nancy Oyler
    | Reply

    What a beautifully written piece! It made me laugh, think, and read it out loud to my husband, a rare occurrence. Thank you, Cali, and blessings for your patience.

    • Cali Rose
      | Reply

      Well I don’t know how patient I am… But I figure I woke up this morning so what the hell. Thank you for being there too Nancy.

  18. Jacquelyn Fox
    | Reply

    You sound like a wonderful daughter to your ever changing mother. My mother started out feisty, and when dementia hit she got even more “outspoken!” Even to the end at 94, she was very flirtatious with men… and had a boy friend who was 20 years younger than she was! She was a hoot… with and without her memory!

    • Cali Rose
      | Reply

      I bet you could write a book. My mother is very flirtatious too. The last time the paramedics landed at her home because she had fallen, she gleefully sat in a chair in her bra and panties, boobs hanging out and over, she all giggly and sparking with the hunky firemen. As I witnessed this scene unfold I held onto the hope that paramedics see this…a lot. Sounds like your mom lived wide and wild for as long as she could.

  19. Ginny Stone
    | Reply

    Hi Cali!
    I just Love G-D! He has blessed you with a very pleasant MOM in these last days. Isn’t that wonderful? Yes, it is. I am very happy for you. I don’t think a drug can make a person into someone they are not/I believe it brings out that part of a person that has been hidden and not allowed to come out due to ‘stuff’.Enjoy every moment you have with your mom, putting to sleep all the ugly memories from the past.
    I see you as an encourager, and I could be envious of those in your ukulele group
    who regularly meet with you. Keep doing what you do………………

    • Cali Rose
      | Reply

      Thank you Ginny. It’s a challenge to let go of the old story lines, but making music sure helps. I play the uke and sing for my mother and that girl can shake a tambourine!

      Best to you.

  20. Toni Owen
    | Reply

    OMG, mothers…a wonderful piece about a difficult subject, Cali.
    Mine was an unhappy soul as well, perhaps all women were who were born the property of men and had their lives determined by others. So much talent and potential was lost in that generation.
    Some bloomed and some wilted and dried up.
    Tragic.
    Bless you for being there for her, watching yet another frustrated male demanding his 15 minutes of fame in TV pictures and useless drama.
    Were it not for the tranquillizers, your mother might get behind the wheel and lead the police on a chase.
    I will never know my mom because she had to be a mother with me and was a totally different person with others. She had to tell me what was wrong with me because how else could I improve if my mother didn’t tell me? It was not criticism, she insisted, she was just being helpful.
    Alas, the bond we daughters share, filled with memories of women only we knew.
    Well done, Cali.

    • Cali Rose
      | Reply

      I hear you! My mother was a great actress and put on a hell of a show for the “outside” world. And yes, her problems, her suffering, her angst were almost always the fault of others. There were rare moments, enough to count on one hand, when she emerged from the fog and saw with clarity her destructive behavior and how it affected others. But those moments were brief and temporary. But we get to put good stuff in the world, you and I.

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