As the festival of Passover approaches, it’s a tradition among some of us, Jews and non-Jews alike, to start thinking about the Passover story as an allegorical reference to how we limit ourselves, and how we can use our inner resources to liberate ourselves. We think about our Inner Pharaoh, and what we need to do to get free of him.
The Hebrew word for Egypt is “Mitzrayim.” The word can be broken down into its roots: “Mi” = “from,” “tzr” or “tzar”=narrow place, tight squeeze, trouble, “yim”=masculine plural ending. So you could say that our own personal Mitzrayim is the narrow, tight places in which we find ourselves. Our challenge during the spring season of new growth and opening is to do just that: to split the Red Sea, to walk through scary tight places in order to remember who we are, and to grow past our narrow-minded presuppositions, to give birth to our newly liberated selves.
The other day at the nursing home my mother commanded (not asked–commanded) me to appear before her, at her house, at seven PM. She refused to give me any details, just “be there.” So I showed up at 7:30, since I had something to do prior and she had not asked me if that was a convenient time. Did it give me pleasure to know that she would be annoyed? Perhaps, yet I also know that annoying her will eventually come back to haunt me. Sometimes it’s worth it.
I got there, and she is sitting in Dad’s recliner, which instantly puts me on guard. There is this thing in Jewish culture where a person’s chair is part of their personal sacred space, and intentionally sitting in someone else’s place is considered an act of disrespect. So I am on guard anyway, and this just confirms that I better stay there.
As I perched on the arm of the couch, not wanting to sit in HER place (and besides, it gives me the creeps), she pronounced clearly and with authority: “I am NOT asking your permission.”
“OK,” I said, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Then she tells me in great detail of her plans to bring Dad home from the nursing home, how she and I will care for him with the help of whatever aides she can find; that she’s located a couple of them and they only charge $14 an hour, and besides, we would only need them for showering….on and on. Apparently she has not taken into consideration that it takes two young strong people to get him from the bed to the wheelchair, to the toilet, to diaper and dress him…and he’s been discharged from Physical Therapy because he’s not made progress….and his meals are now put through a blender so that he doesn’t choke, which had been one of my big concerns even before the nursing home.
And She Who Must Be Obeyed is NOT asking my permission. That means I don’t even have to bother voicing my concerns, because they’ve already been summarily dismissed.
I decide that I don’t have to have a “dog in that fight,” as they say here in the mountains. I keep my mouth shut. Poor Dad will be the one who suffers, and I hate that, but since “my permission” has not been asked, I won’t ask a lot of permission to be out of the country when I need to be.
And I’ll need to be, because that scenario is so excruciatingly painful to me that I will have to give myself a lot of space, knowing that injuring myself in order to try to further Mom’s follies is not going to help Dad, in the long run.
A few days later, I am told that “we” are taking Dad to the dentist. The aides at the nursing home will help us get him in the car. Who will get him out? Oh, they have a wheelchair at the dentist. She already checked that out, Stupid.
I don’t like this. I’m just getting over an episode of seriously-bad-back caused by catching Dad as he was on his way to the pavement, after taking him to another appointment. Mom had, in her trademark style, strode around to the driver’s seat, leaving me to somehow get Dad into the back seat. He collapsed, and I was holding him up calling for help, when one of the familiar Viet Nam Veteran street people came and helped me get him into the car. I gave him all the cash I had, and I wish there had been more. But it was too late for my back.
So I told her my back won’t take it, and she sneers at me and says that hers will.
There is a county transport service that has wheelchair accessible vans. I told this to my mother, who immediately denied it. Then she called about it, and wonder of wonders! Of course it was her idea now; but at least.
“You will be there at 12:30 to meet the van. You will ride in the van with Dad to the dentist. His appointment is at one. My appointment is at two. So you have to ride in the van with Dad. DON’T BE LATE!!!”
OK. I will be there at 12:30, and I will go into the appointment, because Dad has been hallucinating lately and I worry about the dentist’s chair and all the noises, and his trouble swallowing, and the fact that he will not be able to hold the little saliva sucker thing that you now have to hold yourself.
Isn’t it funny how it really is the straw that breaks the camel’s back? Here’s mine (my latest, anyway):
Friday afternoon, my mother shows up at my door with my mail. She knows I don’t want her picking up my mail (we don’t have mail delivery here, so we have to go to the post office for it), but she had some excuse this time.
After an uncomfortable moment standing at the door, I decide to show her dinner in progress. I always cook them a kosher meal for Friday Nights, and I bring it wherever they happen to be. Nowadays I’m bringing it to the nursing home. So I thought I would show her the kosher chicken rolling around in the kosher rotisserie, the pans of veggies, the potatoes…..oh, I do it all the time!
“See, Mommy, see what I did? It’s for YOU, Mommy! I picked these flowers for YOU! I cooked this food for YOU! Aren’t you happy with me now? Won’t this make you love me and stop saying those horrible things to me?” Says the little girl Laura, tears brimming but not falling, for that would make her laugh: “You need to grow a thicker skin.”
My kitchen is very tiny. Very tiny indeed. In fact, with my mother in it, I found I suddenly could not breathe.
“Let’s move into a bigger space. I’m feeling claustrophobic,” I said.
Her little malevolent eyes glitter.
“Claustrophobic, eh? What DON’T you have? I think you’re a hypochondriac.“
“Hypochondriac?” I repeat, shocked.
“Yes, hypochondriac.” She says emphatically.
I see her to the door, slam it, and collapse in a heap of raging tears. As soon as her car leaves the driveway I start screaming. I beg G-d’s forgiveness as I curse my mother, bringing down all of Hell’s fires on her head, into her belly, wishing her as painful a death as she engineered for her own mother…..and then I stop suddenly, realizing what has happened, that I have absorbed the poison from the wicked Queen’s apple, and if I continue in this manner I will, G-d forbid, become my own hateful mother. My own personal Pharaoh.
So I have been praying for some enlightenment, some clarity, some “how-to” that will get me through this piece of time surrounding my father’s death. My very own Mitzrayim: stuck in the narrows, whichever way I turn. Face-to-face with Pharaoh, a smirk and a sneer and a twisting of the guts.
Here is some really good advice on learning to open one’s mouth from The Invisible Scar, a blog dedicated to healing for Adult Children of Narcisists (ACON).
But I am not ready to deal with the backlash that always comes with opening my mouth. I am mortally afraid that if my mother escalates (a certainty) or lays hands on me (a distinct possibility), that I might “lose it” and do something violent, G-d forbid.
So I am keeping my mouth tightly closed, which I know is part of the Narcissist’s Weapon Arsenal. I don’t want to emulate her, I don’t want to BE her–and I know that’s a danger here. But right now I can’t deal with another knife wound. Figuratively, that is.
Tomorrow, at the one o’clock meeting (DON’T BE LATE), my dad’s fate will be decided: does he stay in the nursing home until he dies, or do we bring him home to die, however long that takes ( he estimates two years, and I believe him). Although I have been told I do not have a voice in this decision, I damn well do, and I will use it. I plan to make my case very clearly that there is no way that he could possibly get the care he needs at home.
Feeding, changing his diaper and his bed three or four times a day, dressing him, getting him showered, all without any assistance from him, because he is so debilitated……these things cannot be done by an angry 87 year old harpy, and aside from feeding him, my arthritic body barely allows me to hold his head up to drink from a cup.
My voice says NO. We CANNOT bring Dad home. I WILL NOT see his last days sullied by that screaming harpy cursing him for being an old, debilitated man. I will make that clear, in an unemotional, measured way: that is MY way, MY voice, because my voice has been crushed since I came out of the incubator at one month of age.
I did make contact with a regional Veterans’ Administration representative–my Dad is a WWII combat veteran–who is doing his best to get funding to pay for either nursing home or home care. She, my mother, had been telling me with that “you stupid idiot, you should know better” tone of voice, that the VA would never give them money. Well, guess what: they will be getting around $2000/month in Veterans’ Benefits–”For Dad and me,” she emphasized, as if I would want a single cent from them! And of course she takes credit for the VA angle. But at least it will take the financial incentive to take him home off–otherwise she would have to “spend down” her own money before Medicaid would pick up the nursing home tab.
Speaking of money, before Dad had his last fall, the one that landed him in the nursing home, I had been caring for him two days a week, plus making dinner for them (my own money, and let me tell you, kosher meat is not cheap) on Friday nights. The county Social Services worker told my mom that there was money available to pay me for my work as a caregiver. My mother turned it down on the grounds that a child should not be paid for taking care of a parent. Thank G-d I have money to live on now, but I am furiously saving for the day that that source of funds dries up, when I turn 65, in 4 1/2 years. That money would have come in right handy, to stash away for the desperate times that will follow the cessation of my private disability funds.
It is a terrible thing to say, but I am looking forward to the day that I am free from this elephant sitting on my heart. I know what that will mean. He is not yet ready to go; he needs to rectify some issues inside himself. I don’t want to rush that. But one thing I have learned in my chaotic life is patience. I once heard that the best way to victory over an abusive parent is to outlive them. I don’t know if I will outlive my mother, but in a way my death preceding hers would also be a victory. I just don’t want to see her sneering face on the “other side.”
And since I have a feeling that that would be a very effective form of Hell, I had better be careful not to “become my enemy.”
Somehow I must do the work necessary to face down my Inner Pharaoh and in doing so, lose the fear that has kept me in slavery for 60 1/2 years.