anger, sorrow, and connecting with mother

I started blogging as a means of honest introspection, and so here’s (sigh), today’s truth: I got angry with my mother. The trigger was trivial, but I felt manipulated, and I took it personally though I need not have, and I got upset. I managed to breathe deeply in time, and no, I didn’t yell at her, but still….

Before my mother got dementia, she was a very intelligent, very energetic, and fiercely independent woman. She was very affectionate, but also capable of a lot of sarcasm and manipulation–in short, a challenge to handle if you fell on the wrong side of her 😉

Today, she wanted something done, and instead of just asking for it, she used a manner of speaking that was just too reminiscent of her old ways.  She uttered a couple of sentences that triggered in me an entire set of defensive pre-conditioned responses. Though part of me remembered about her dementia, the other part insisted that this was not dementia speaking, it was the mother who I had resisted as a kid and even later.

I retorted with a simple sentence, saying that I felt she was fault-finding and manipulating me, and that I would have done what she wanted even without her saying such a thing. She turned her face away, and I walked out.

In the balcony, I took a deep breath. Another, and then another. There were two of me, one that said, it is the disease speaking, ignore it, and the other that said, don’t take it, she may have the disease, but in this instance, she knew exactly what she was doing. Five minutes later, the two me’s were still at a tie, and my anger remained.

There was, of course, no way of knowing what she meant when she said it.  I could not ask her, she would not tell, she probably would not remember.

It was very strange, because I felt anger after many months. There have been innumerable triggers that slipped off me, leaving no impact. But this time, the child-me wanted consolation, which the adult-me knew would not come. I felt unable (and unwilling) to handle it. I wanted someone to come and console me.

Fifteen minutes later, child-me accepted that no one was going to come. If I, perfectly capable mentally, with all my brain still the proper size (or so I think), and all my intelligence intact, found a strong emotion so difficult to handle, my mother would definitely be unable to cope with her emotions.  She had dementia, and even at her best, she could barely cope.

So I went to her. She turned her face away, and I saw she was bewildered. Her earlier half-cunning-half-puzzled look had fizzled away.

My anger, by now, had given way to sadness. I sat down with her, next to her, put my hand around her shoulder, and told her that I was feeling sad and upset and did not know what to do. I talked to her about how her illness must be difficult for her, and how I understood it, but how it was also difficult for me, and I hoped she understood it deep down at some level. I was sad about what happened, and I loved her, but sometimes I got upset because I was human.

I don’t know why I sat down to talk to her this way when I had no reason to believe she would understand. I guess I just didn’t want to miss connecting with her, and with my anger accepted and removed to expose my sorrow, I wanted her to know that despite my anger, there was sorrow, and sometimes hurt and inability on my side. At one level, I was aware that she could end up feeling insecure but at the other level, I needed her to know something deep. After about ten minutes of my talking, I realized that she was holding my hand and stroking it, as if I were a pet or a baby. Her eyes no longer had that evasive or scared look–they held concern, and…love.  I had tried to connect to her, and I think she was able to sense and honor my need.

I was grateful that things turned out well, and not sure I handled it optimally.

From what I know of the functioning of the brain, emotional reactions kick in well before the rational names for such reactions can be given–that is, the anger rises well before I can label it as anger. So to not feel angry, I have to resolve my issues at a level far deeper than rationality.

I can see in hindsight that even if my mother chose a manipulative way to get what she wanted, her choice of such a method probably arose from insecurity induced by dementia. And this is what my child-me needs to understand: the person who speaks in an apparently manipulative way is also a scared child who does not know a better way to speak.

Maybe next time the child-me will remember that.  I sure hope so, there is a limit to how many minutes I can spend breathing deeply 🙂

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About Swapna Kishore
I'm a writer, blogger, and resource person for dementia/ caregiving in India, and deeply concerned about dementia care in India. On this blog I share my own caregiving journey, my experiences as a resource person for dementia care, and musings on life, aging, dementia in India, and such sundries. More about me and the work I do for dementia care in this set of pages:

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