Other than those times in my life when my demons broke loose of their shackles and brought me to my knees, plunging me into unspeakable darkness and paralysis—I was a pretty normal, high functioning and responsible person. At a fairly early age as I recall, I took a vow that no one would ever get hurt on my watch. I became a professional protector—a supreme caregiver, mighty and powerful. You could always count on me. Until now. When my mother needed me the most, in her darkest hours, I found I couldn’t step up.
It’s almost impossible to describe to someone who has not experienced the horror of PTSD, how helpless you feel when terror has trumped reason. The body is holding onto memories on a cellular level that the rational mind can’t access. It feels like you are on a runaway train, and the more you lean into trying to uphold your life like nothing is wrong, the faster you unravel.
I tried desperately to hide the fact that I was collapsing. Friends and family attempted to cover for me. But one morning my mother called me to her bed and said. “Sit down. I need to talk to you. I never wanted you to be put into this position of wiping my butt and bathing me. As I can no longer leave my bed, you have had to provide for all my physical needs. It has become too difficult for us both. I want to go to the nursing home down the hill. I will be fine. You can then just be a daughter, not my caregiver.”
I sat in silence for a long time, stunned, tears streaming down my face. All I could think of was… I have failed her; this is not the kind of person I am. I began to sob, laying my head on her chest. She was calm and resolute, stroking my face gently with her soft, frail hand. “I have made up my mind,” she said. “This is not up for discussion.” … And over the course of the next week we moved her into the skilled nursing facility of our little community hospital.
The pain that took up residence in my heart that day has eased, a little, but it is an ache that I have had to make friends with because it does not go away. However, what has slowly emerged over these past four years, when I can get out of my way, is a greater and more profound truth. Sophie, who was never mothered, and who struggled with her own sense of failure as a parent—by moving into the facility—consciously, and with pure, unconditional love, sacrificed her life to save her child. She lived only twelve more days. I cannot write this without weeping.