Chapter 6 – “Mothers are all slightly insane.” – J.D. Salinger
“Yes, I know, she’s got her troubles, that one,” Ma said talking about Diane while dabbing her puffy eyes with a piece of balled up old bathroom tissue that she then stuffed into the sleeve of her robe.
“Exactly right Ma, please just give her a break okay?” I asked. I glanced out of the picture window, and from my vantage point I could see just the back of Jody’s head, her pretty long dark hair bobbing on her shoulders as she spoke with the woman next door in her driveway.
In spite of my mother’s phony half-hearted sympathy for her, Diane was the one the rest of us worried about most. She was a physical wreck, but that didn’t stop Ma from calling her a dozen times a day to lament her own life and loneliness, and to complain about something or someone. She was relentless in her demands for Diane’s time and attention, and seemed to have no limit to the level of strain she was willing to exert upon her. She’d call and plead with Diane to come over, crying and acting panicky, or beg her to go to the store for her as she was almost out of orange juice or some other unnecessary necessity wailing “please help me!”
As frustrating as it was for Diane, she almost always could not resist. My mother had galvanized her with guilt from such a very young age so I supposed she was just too conditioned to do otherwise. Full of anger, she’d come over to perform her duty by going out to fetch the orange juice or whatever it was Ma needed and bring it by only to have Ma say something like “Oh, I forgot to tell you I needed bread too, would you mind going back out?” sending Diane spiraling into a rage. This scene was repeated at least every other week or so and I’d get a call from Diane wanting to vent. They’d have a screaming match with Diane storming out as Trudy sobbed and begged her not to go saying “please don’t be mad at me!” Ma would then call me blubbering, saying Diane had gotten mad at her “for no reason” and had screamed at her and wasn’t that elderly abuse?
This was a question she’d also posed to a first responder on one of the many midnight rides that followed those occasions when she’d fake dizziness, and or an anxiety attack, and press the emergency services button that was a fixture around her neck. She would do this after feeling particularly neglected or whenever some other family crisis such as, oh I don’t know, say a relative’s death, would take attention away from her.
I warned her after her last episode that if she pressed that button again and generated another needless early AM journey to the emergency room, she’d better plan on staying. I even packed a small red suitcase I’d stuffed with some of her clothing and showed it to her as I placed it as a threat by the front door, where it still sits.
“See this suitcase?” Push that thing again for no reason and I’ll be bringing it to you in the hospital so you’ll have a change of clothes to wear on the way to assisted living!”
This was the only leverage we could try to use to get her to stop her theatrics, but she knew it would never really happen. I’d promised her that as long as she was healthy enough to live alone in her own home, that’s what would happen. She was fine physically. Although she had her psychological issues, she wasn’t the one suffering from any of the effects of those. She left that to the rest of us to deal with.
“Oh no, please, please, don’t put me away,” she’d sob.
“Well, then cut the games out Ma. You’re healthy as a horse and you know it, and those ambulance rides cost over thirteen hundred bucks every time you do this!”
“But I don’t have to pay, right?” she’d ask no real concern in her voice. She knew she didn’t. Medicare and CHAMPVA benefits saw to that. Between her husbands, her children, the state and the federal government, she never earned or paid for a damn thing on her own in her entire life. She’d had at least six of these jaunts to the Faulkner Hospital in the last couple of years, all unnecessary as it would turn out, and all for attention according to the doctors. Wow, really? She clung to the part of her fantasy, I guess, that saw all of her kids come running to the hospital to “save Ma,” just like she’d, with ease, get them to run down the hall when they were children the minute she was thought to be in any distress. On one of those bumpy joy rides, the concerned EMT asked if she’d been eating well. In a weak voice she lied to him “No, I don’t see any of my children and my refrigerator is empty most of the time. Maybe I could get Meals on Wheels since my family doesn’t help me?”
The next day I got a call from Elder Services of Boston and another concerned and accusatory social worker asked me if I was aware that my mother had been rushed to the hospital and that she was living alone, helpless, and hungry, and did I want to sign her up for Meals on Wheels? Ma used to receive those but she kept piling them up like cordwood in her freezer because she’d never eat them and considered them “gahbage,” just like Salisbury steak frozen dinners before the gravy was rinsed off of them. I had convinced her that there were truly more needy people out there across the city that would eat them, and since she had enough means to buy her own food which she did anyway, she needed to stop getting them.
I set the social worker straight right away on everything and arranged a meeting at my mother’s house for the following week where I gave the woman a detailed etiology of Ma’s histrionics. We spoke in front of my mother as if she wasn’t even there, and the social worker said she’d spread the word to the Faulkner emergency medical personnel, but I told her no need as they’d already had her figured out as one of their “frequent flyers,” a term they used for people like her. Ma just gave me a dirty look at hearing that but didn’t say anything.
To be continued….