Earlier this week, I was washing dishes when I heard my daughter playing in the other room. She was giggling and talking to herself and skipping down the hall. Of course, this behavior isn’t odd — at least in my house. Not for my free-spirited 3-year-old, who loves dancing and singing and playing pretend. These days, she has more imaginary friends than I could ever possibly count. But since we were home alone, I decided to check on her; just in case.
Of course, we were alone. The windows were closed, the doors were locked, and — aside from the sounds in her bedroom — the house was still and silent. But in her room, there was a party. Two stuffed animals sat upright at her coloring table, while a half dozen others lay strewn about the floor. Elsa was out, Barbie was out, and Ariel was lounging beside Belle. Nearby sat Rainbow Dash, Applejack, and a small stuffed squirrel known as Chippy. And, in the middle of it all was my daughter, sitting cross-legged and chatting on her “phone.”
“Hi, Grandma,” she said. “How are you?” And after a little pause, she replied: “Oh yeah? Well, Mommy is doing dishes and then we are going to the park. But it’s cold, so Mommy said I need to wear my jacket. Do you want to come?”
Then came another pause.
“Oh, okay,” she replied. “No prob’em. Oops! I’ve got to go now. I love you Grandma. I miss you. Bye bye.”
It was then that my daughter looked up. “Oh, hi Mommy.”
“Hi, Peanut. Who were you talking to?”
“I was just talking to Grandma,” she said. “I asked her if she wanted to go to the park, but she said she can’t.”
Then came a frown. And the line that stung most of all: “I miss Grandma.”
Ugh, I thought. There it is.
But I didn’t let her see my anger. I didn’t let her see how pained I was inside, or how disappointed I felt. Instead, I simply responded, “Aw, I know Peanut. I miss Grandma, too.”
But here’s the thing: I don’t miss Grandma because she’s passed away, or even because she lives far away. I miss Grandma because she’s sick — mentally and physically — and because of it, she’s absent from both my life and my daughter’s.
If you asked me to tell you when she first got sick, I probably couldn’t tell you. It’s hard to trace it all back to the beginning, but it’s also hard to imagine an end to it. Because the truth is, my mother doesn’t believe she is sick. She refuses to seek help, and claims that doctors are the “devil.” But there’s no doubt in my mind that she’s struggling with a mental illness — and undiagnosed and untreated mental illness — and she has been for many years.
Believe me, I should know — I suffer from a mental illness myself, and have for most of my life. I know the signs; I can spot the “trademarks.” I know that refusing to eat and barely sleeping are red flags, as is not working, never leaving the house, and not showering.
My mother hasn’t showered in over a year.
And while she doesn’t cry on a whim, or at the drop of a hat, she is irritable and short-tempered. She believes people are out to get her — that the world is out to get her — and that life is hopeless.
She believes that her life is hopeless; and her one wish is “for God to take her.”
Make no mistake: I empathize with her struggles and, in many ways, I understand them because I’ve been there, too. In fact, I’m still there — I have anxiety and depression and have battled both PPD and PTSD. But it’s hard to talk to someone who refuses all reason; to love someone who doesn’t love themselves; and to help someone who refuses to believe they need help.
And most of all, it’s hard to watch someone kill themselves slowly.
It’s painful — knot in my chest, knife in my stomach sorta painful — because there are things about my mother that I miss. Things I can’t get back.
I miss the days when we were young. When she would chase me around the house laughing, and sit beside me and color. When she would sing to me, even though her voice fractured and the high notes always cracked.
I know we can’t go back to my childhood, but there are things that I want for us now — simple things that shouldn’t be so hard to reclaim — that leave me with a heavy heart. I want her to better and to get help. I want her to love herself and care for herself. And I want us to have a relationship.
An actual, mother-daughter relationship.
And then there are things I wish for that actually make me angry; things that piss me off. Things like what she’s doing to my daughter, however unintentional it may be.
At the end of the day, my mother loves my daughter, and my daughter loves her grandmother. A lot. But because grandma is sick, they barely speak, and they almost never see each other.
Grandma never comes to visit, she never invites us over, and she’s never even babysat. Not. Even. Once.
In a way, that’s a good thing, because right now she isn’t capable of caring for a small child. But it still hurts.
It really, really hurts.
So much so that, sometimes, when I think about it for too long, I break down. I cry to myself and I mourn the loss of the mother I had — a mother who is still living and breathing and walking this earth, but in many ways is long gone.
And most of all, I mourn the loss of the grandmother my daughter will never know. A grandmother I hope will come back to her one day, and realize that her life is more than worth living.