"Are you my mother or my daughter?" Mom sometimes asks me, on a day when she's a bit groggy or confused.
Sometimes I say, "I'm your daughter but right now I'm taking care of you."
Then I change the subject to avoid focusing on her confusion.
Sometimes I don't explain.
Other times she just says, "Mother, you're hurting me!" or "Mother, don't make me do this."
I don't remind her that I'm her daughter.
But now I'm not sure myself: am I her mother or her daughter?
The boundaries between us are getting so confused as I tell her to eat or take meds, make medical and financial decisions, and sign for her on all legal and medical papers.
I tell people what she wants, what she thinks, what she is saying when her mumbling is too faint to be understood.
I tell my brothers and my sister what she is doing, how she is feeling, what she ate or didn't eat, drank or didn't drink, what meds she refused or took, what her needs are from day to day.
I tell her doctors and the caregivers and the hospice people all these things too.
I sit with her when she sees her therapist, silent as he probes her mood and behavior, until he turns to me and asks for my report. If she gives fanciful answers or starts to tell an unrelated anecdote, I give more accurate answers for her. If she's too sleepy and unresponsive to talk to him, I speak.
One day I wheeled her into the office of my own therapist, unexpectedly. We had driven to UV Irvine for an appointment for her, and I didn't have time to return her to her residence before going to my own therapy appointment. I couldn't leave her in the car.
"Mom, this is my doctor, Deborah," I told her. "Deborah, I misjudged the travel time and had to bring her in with me today."
She listened avidly to my whole session, adding her two bits here and there, trying to take control and make it all about her. (Which, in some sense, it was.)
The next week my therapist had a hundred comments on how controlling she is, how demanding, how I kowtow to her, what good care I take of her, etc.
Anyway, the point is, we are enmeshed.
Ever since I moved her to California in November, 2003, what few boundaries we used to maintain have increasingly dissolved.
If she's happy and healthy, I'm happy.
If she's upset, so am I.
This pattern is the opposite of good thinking on my part. As a codependent person and an Al-Anon member, I am not supposed to let other people's moods or behavior affect my moods or choices, but I'm not good at maintaining my boundaries.
This week that she's starting to decline and being put in hospice, I came down with bronchitis for the first time in ten years or more.
However, I went to my Al-Anon meeting tonight and got clarity on this issue.
I am her mother, and I need to start acting like it.
I need to take control of the medical decisions, stop waiting to see what she wants or how she behaves, stop trying to bring my brothers and my sister into every decision.
If she asks again, I'll say, "I'm your mother."