A few years back during the holidays, I visited my mom at her seniors’ home in Hawaii. I sat with Mom talking in the living room area of the facility. Mom said, “I got married.” I stared at her, “What the…?”
She told me that she had gone back to her hometown in Hilo, Hawaii and gotten married. The dude was some judge with whom she was friends when she was growing up back in the day. Honestly, I don’t remember his name—because none of that happened—although Mom lit up when she spoke upon this fantastical narrative.
Get that Mom is the 88-year-old woman who’s essentially confined to a wheelchair. She can barely walk on her own. Mom suffers from dementia.
I meant to dissuade Mom from her story, so I asked her, “What are you talking about?” I proceeded to tell Mom that her story did not actually happen. Rather, it didn’t make any sense.
Later I spoke with my sister Carol, “Hey, Mom thinks that she’s married.” Carol stared at me, pretty much in the way I had looked at Mom. That was the first she heard of her delusion. She said that Mom’s medication had changed, so the story might have been a side effect.
It was not my place to do so. I got it: That dude was Mom’s original love story. Honestly, I don’t know the pathology of dementia in terms of invented narratives: Whether the created stories reflect the yearning for the past in term of what might have or should have been. That’s still meaningful, at least for the storyteller.
Given both my parents’ history of dementia and mental infirmity, I may eventually discover all this in my later years. Or not, by definition. Just saying.
I should have been kinder to Mom in my listening. She told me of her love story. Whether it was real or it didn’t really happen was beside the point. That her fantasy gave her hope and joy mattered, at least to her. Now it mattered to me, as well.
Mom sacrificed a whole lot for Carol and me. Mom has always been my hero. I love her with all my heart. I know that she loves me with all hers.
I don’t know a whole lot about Mom’s romantic life before she met Dad. She never spoke of it, nor did I think to ask her when she was able to answer.
Mom grew up in a big family in Hilo. Her parents, my Ojichan and Obachan (Japanese for grandparents), owned a general store. Fortunately, Mom’s family wasn’t interned during World War II. Ojichan and Obachan worked hard to send all their children to college. My Mom went to the University of Hawaii majoring in Education. She eventually became an elementary school teacher. She would have a 37-year teaching career, where she made a profound difference for children.
Mom got married at about 31 years-old to my Dad. That’s relatively late for those times, not like it is nowadays.
I told my therapist, Lance, that I thought Mom might have married Dad because he was a lot like her father. Years later, I got Ojichan was a good man who had a bad temper, not unlike my Dad. Honestly, I only knew him as this gentle old man when I was a kid. Yet, I do recall some of the stories my Mom told of her experiences as a kid growing up.
My dad was the outcome of his experiences, as well. As much as I suffered from Dad as a child, I got that his dad was even worse. Tragically, parental abuse is the gift that keeps on giving. Again, just saying.
A sad memory I had as a boy was after Mom and Dad had an unfair fight. The fight might have even been about me. Mom cried, “I’m going to go crazy…” Mom suffered a whole lot. I believe Mom stayed with Dad out some Japanese culture deal, and to raise her children as best as she could.
When I was done with school and off working in Los Angeles, Mom and Dad retired. They stayed together, each pursuing their own passions. Mom traveled the world with her retired teacher friends. Dad had his dogs and fishing, his first love. I spent every July with Dad fishing in Alaska for about 17 years.
So, did Mom forsake her love story because of me? Quite possibly so. Everyone deserves to fall madly and deeply in love. Everyone deserves their love story. I would know because I’m still working on my love story with Match dot com or getting to know Joanne from step aerobics class. Yet, of all the people on Planet Earth, who deserved their love story: Mom.
Hence, the great existential quandary. Would I have wished or forsaken, if I could, being on Planet Earth so that Mom could have had her ‘Happily Ever After”? Honestly, perhaps. I’m proud of who I am, in large part owing to Mom. When Dad scared the hell out of me, she would say, “Slow down, Jonny.” She calmed my soul when I needed it. Mom showed me that kindness is true strength. She taught me to become the best version of myself.
About 10 years ago, I participated in a Transformational Communication course. I called Mom during the course. She was physically ailing. I wanted her to look at possible in-home assisted care options. My buddy Byron provided such services. This was before Mom required the full-time assisted care of the Seniors Home. Mom said, “I’m proud of you.” I got her love.
Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth said, “What’s done cannot be undone.” No, I can’t give Mom her deserved love story. I’m the one who really defines me. I practice to love and to forgive me. I’m okay with being me. Yet, what I do and who I am will honor both Mom and me. That’s the least I can do, for the life that Mom has gifted me. Amen.
This post was previously published on Facebook.com and is republished here with permission from the author.
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