An Advance Directive for My Mind
I’m trying something new — pairing posts with music. It’s how I write, so if you want to crawl further into my mind, read this while listening to Wild Horses by the Rolling Stones.
My mother is losing her mind. The most independent, emotionally repressed person I’ve ever known has become entirely dependent on others and lost the ability to hide her emotions. She understands her cataclysmic loss, but can’t process it at a conscious level. So the emotional expression of her loss is wild and unmoderated, as the subconscious is wont to be.
It’s painful to watch, and it’s painful to play my role in the final act of her life. My step-father and I struggle, with ourselves and with each other, to balance her seemingly irrational, insatiable needs with ours. The struggle is day-to-day, crisis-to-crisis.
We plan for our financial end with retirement accounts, for our medical end with advanced directives, and for our corporeal end with burial plots. We don’t plan for the end of our minds.
To my children:
If the time comes when I’m no longer who I used to be, help me live my life, but also set boundaries for living your own. My life is almost over and yours isn’t, so save yourself. I love you more than you could imagine, unless you’ve had your own children. Then you understand.
- Take care of me only as long as you can take care of yourself too. Don’t try to do everything. Before the chaos overwhelms you, get as much help as you need, as quickly as you can.
- When I cry and rail against the world because I’m sad and angry and frustrated, listen to me and reflect my emotions back to me. Don’t try to solve my problems, because they are unsolvable. Remember when you were a teenager and you got angry — about me, or your friends, or your dad, or the boy who spilled a chili dog all over your backpack? I (mostly) stayed calm and listened. Do that for me now.
- Sometimes I’ll seem perfectly normal, and you’ll forget that crazy is just around the corner. Don’t forget. I’m on a roller coaster, and I don’t want you to ride this last one with me.
- When I call you 7 times a day, answer once if you can, more if you feel like it. But whatever you do, don’t answer 7 times.
- When I beg you to help me, know that you can’t take away all of my pain no matter what you do. Don’t try so hard that you hurt yourself.
- When I get angry at you, remember all the ways I’ve told you and shown you my love, and hold them close. That’s the real me.
- Remember that you’re grieving the loss of me even though I’m still alive. Grief is messy. You’ll be mad at yourself for the things you didn’t do for me. You’ll be mad at me for the ways I failed you. That’s ok, I know. Be kind to yourself.
- When it all becomes too much, it’s okay to put me somewhere nice where people can take care of me. The new me is afraid, wanting to depend on you and no one else. But the real me wants your happiness, even if mine is diminished in the moment. I’m still playing the long game, even though it’s almost over.
Pain and confusion may turn me inward, making me forget everything else. So I’m telling you this now, while I still can. Because the real me loves you deeply, selflessly, and forever.
I wish my mother could have told me this, but it’s not the person she was.
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