Friday, April 01, 2005


Three months ago, my sister was alive and my mother was well. And I was breathing a sigh of relief that we had all made it through a very difficult year.

I was hopeful and confident that the new year would be better, easier, Less Belligerent to my family. I had my parents safely ensconced in an assisted living facility where all of their needs were met. They each made new friends. Attendants made their beds and cleaned their laundry. Mom was eating more and gaining weight and dad was eating better and losing weight. I figured it was a matter of time before one of them passed, given their age and health status. But it was OK, because that is the expected cycle of life.

The news of my sister's death knocked the breath out of me. It sent me into a ten minute, sobbing state of despair that was a virtual, mental blackout. Her death was unexpected. Premature by anyone's standards. Unfair. Unprovoked. And Ill-timed.

My mother's devastation over the news sent her spiraling out of control. Her depression led to edema, which developed into a blood infection, which led to hospitalization, which caused her to lose more weight and become weak to the point of being feeble, which led to her inability to lift her head, walk, or even use the toilet by herself. Mom now speaks in a whisper, and her mouth has taken on a gaunt appearance around her teeth. Much like the pictures you see on tv when someone is starving. Her arms and hands shake continuously. Her words don't make much sense.

"As a well-spent day brings happy sleep, so life well used brings happy death." Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)

I didn't realize it then, but I've come to understand that my sister was prepared for death. She was full of life, forgiving, generous and resolved about the Here-After. She was fearless and at peace.

My mother, on the other hand, is not ready. She lives in regret, uncertain of what death brings, afraid of being buried in the ground, afraid to spend eternity by herself. She struggles every day to live.

I have tried to set-up her circumstances so that she experiences happiness and peace...which alluded her for her entire life. I have chased this down incessantly, almost to the point of losing myself.

My therapist told me this week, "You can't undue a lifetime of mental illness and unhappiness."

I want to know, "Why not?"

She replied, "Your decision to fight her losing battle over taking care of yourself is classic co-dependency."

"Ouch," I replied....twice.