I remember the moment when she stopped being my mother. I realized that even as a grown adult that I could not count on her for my most basic needs.
It was 2003. I had been on vacation and couldn’t reach my mom by phone when I came back. When my boyfriend and I went to her apartment there was a stack of newspapers in front of her door. That’s when I knew there was a problem. She had always stopped her newspaper delivery when she was going to be away from home. Always.
She didn’t respond to my knock, so we went in with my key. She wasn’t there, no signs of distress. We looked for clues as to where she might be. There were piles of letters written to a man I did not know. Romantic letters talking about wanting to run away with him. It was hard to tell whether he was real. She had already been ill for over 15 years and hospitalized three times, increasingly delusional. By virtue of her illness, she was vulnerable.
What came next was a blur of trying to find her. The management group at her apartment building hadn’t seen her. I thought hospitals, jails… There were many possibilities to cover.
I couldn’t think of where she would be voluntarily until I remembered how much she likes nice hotels. I started making calls and found one where she had been earlier. With that, I continued contacting hotels without any other sightings.
I kept in touch with the apartment managers and, on the third day, they said she had come into the office that morning. My boyfriend and I went right over.
I knocked on the door; she didn’t respond. I opened the door, but the chain lock was in place. I called to her. I pleaded. She did not respond or come to the door. I closed the door.
I knew what I needed to do. When the police arrived, I opened the door again. The chain was still in place, so they called into her, too. They spoke with authority. They told her she had to come to the door. Yet she did not.
I followed them in when they had detached the chain lock. She was standing at the kitchen sink rinsing out clothing. I don’t remember all of what was said. She remained mute with terrified, terrifying look in her eyes.
So they talked with her to find out what was going on and she responded to nothing. “Are you a danger to yourself?” “Are you a danger to others?” They would have to bring her in if she did not answer these questions. When she realized that they indeed take her to the hospital, she said “No,” in a quiet, little voice. With the police were going to leave. I told them they had to take her in. She was sick and she needed help. I insisted.
They called in to their sergeant. They also had me get on the phone and talk with someone at the police department. I didn’t know at the time, but that conversation was to get me to calm down.
The sergeant looked around and found that there was no food in the cabinets, no food in the refrigerator. Nothing. Not a box of salt. On that basis, she brought her into the hospital as gravely disabled.
Over the next days and weeks, she recovered and I haven’t seen that look in her eyes since.
As time went by, I told her how worried I was about her. I shared some of what I experienced. She told me she was just on vacation. There was nothing to worry about.
She would not, could not acknowledge my experience. That is when I knew she was no longer my mother, that I could not count on her for anything.
Time has gone on. Her condition has continued to degenerate. I maintain a complicated relationship with her. She loves me. She recognizes me as her daughter. I love her. I can see as the person she was and know how compromised she is by her illness. I work closely with her, at a distance. I listen to what she needs to tell me, tell her stories to distract and amuse her. What she knows about me is limited to things that will not trigger her delusions.
So, when we had a conversation about how much I worry about her being out on the street, she minimizes. She is trying to escape “the torture.” My concerns don’t compare and, of course, she’s right.