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Up in the Country, 3

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“You should write about this.”  My 84-year old mother gestures broadly and speaks in a voice weakened by months of illness and hospitalization.

“Write about this what?” I ask.

“This whole … experience.”

“You mean with you?”  I have to laugh.  I’ve been trying to write my mother out of my life for the last 40 years.  This particular experience was a trip to buy new hearing aids and I’ve loaded her in the car with her wheelchair in the trunk and a burly nephew in the back seat. Snow is predicted, but I was desperate to turn the tv down to a mere 3 or 4 decibals.  We’re in a suburb of Atlanta, so I really felt I was ahead of the weather when I left to make the 15 min trip to town.

That was an hour and a half ago and we are now thoroughly in the grip of what comes to be known as Snowpocalypse 2014.

The problem with snow in Georgia is people crowd the streets to buy ‘snow groceries’ or some other thing they can’t live without for 24 hours, but no one has thought to buy a set of chains or snow tires since they got their “I survived the Blizzard” t-shirts, circa 2011.

The people crowding the roads are driving no faster than 2.5 mph and sliding sideways into ditches every mile or so. And I’ve got at least another 8 or 10 miles to go …

I had not spoken to my mother in several years when my brother told me she was having surgery last July.  I hoped she’d go into the surgery with a good outlook if she knew I planned to be there when she woke up.  I had intended to see her in recovery, make a few hospital visits, and fade away again.

I’m sorry to say, she may have birthed me, but beyond that the mom gene didn’t really kick in for her.  Not with me at least.  We had a rocky 16 years or so, then I was out of her house and on my own.  I’ve spent years pretending we had a mother-daughter relationship and I modeled my own mothering on the things I needed and never got from her.

I guess I learned what love is from her mother, with whom I lived til I was five.  And, if my own mother wasn’t controlled by what other people think of her, she probably would have left me there forever.  Now I think it might have been better for all of us if she had.

Instead, she brought me to Atlanta to a stepfather who resented my existence and who she tried to please by emulating his hateful treatment of me.  They were not much nicer to the two sons they had, but did treat his namesake, Albert, Jr., like a little prince when they weren’t disabusing him for some slight failure.

After years of therapy I came to understand that what I’d come to recognize as mother love was, in fact, abuse.  And at 35 had come into my own enough to get her out of my life. It lasted a few years and I was blissfully happy; like childbirth the memories faded.  And so it went, I’d let her back in my life, she’d go back to her nasty habits and I’d cut her off again for my own mental heath.

Her surgery last summer went badly.  She had a stroke sometime during the days after, developed pneumonia and went on a ventilator in a drug-induced coma for 10 days.  The doctors called us in for a family conference, my brothers and I, and told us she need a tracheostomy for the vent so they could take her off the drugs.

I didn’t want her to have any more surgery – they’d harmed her so much with the first they were keeping her in a coma and now they wanted to do more. It seemed they’d gone from care giving to torture.  When the doctor asked if she had a living will, or had named someone to make decisions when she couldn’t, the answer was no. No one.

Ditto, to the question abut a husband to make decisions.  Nope.

“So who’s the oldest child here?” the doctor looked at the three of us.

“I know Albert looks like the oldest, but it’s me.” Not really kidding, but hardly appropriate.

According to her doctor, the law in Georgia designates that the oldest child will make decisions for a parent when they are incapacitated. The doctor stopped talking to my brothers (and by the looks on their faces I could see they were as surprised as I was) and concentrated on me.

Suddenly I wasn’t the prodigal daughter, soon to disappear again.  I was in charge.

I should have gone with my instincts and walked out then. The only thing that kept me there was the thought of what I was teaching my own children through my actions.

So I became her voice 8 months ago with no clue how enmeshed we would become while we tried to keep her alive.