— Life —

Poor Little Thing

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Today I sit with mother in the beauty shop at her dementia facility. It’s become more difficult to make out her words, but her eyes say everything. “I think I need a psychiatrist, she says.” Her voice is soft and raspy. “I can’t remember things.”

Mother’s lived in this facility for six years. When I tell her she has dementia, she nods like she understands, and then starts fretting all over again. Nothing I say or do breaks her cycle of fear or her obsessive picking at the bump on the top of her nose. A bump of her creation.

My thoughts shift to another beauty parlor. Mother’s hairdresser stands next to me, a pair of scissors in his hand, waiting for her instructions.

“Mother, you look pretty in green,” I say. “You should wear green more often.”

“I don’t know why they’re mad at me,” she replies. “I haven’t hit anyone, today. There! Did you see how they looked at me?”

Gently I pull mother’s hand away from the bump on her nose. She begins picking at her trousers. In a few seconds she’s pulled one of her pant legs up over her knee. She’s stick thin. Her leg is as big around as my forearm. The nurse tells me mother weighs 93 pounds, one pound for each year of her life; almost 40 pounds less than this time last year. Other than not eating much and having dementia, she’s in remarkably good shape, but clearly, she’s in mental distress. She’s taking a mild anti-anxiety drug, but if it’s helping, I hate to think how she’d be without it.

I can’t bare to see her this way. I’ve been her caregiver since I was 12. As James once reminded me, “She may not have been the mother you wanted, but you can be the daughter she needs.”

I pull her trouser leg down, lay my hand on her knee and begin to pray, out loud, in the beauty shop. “Dear Heavenly Father, mother loves you, and she loves your Son. She’s forgotten that, but you haven’t. Please don’t let her continue to suffer. It’s not a quality of life. It’s not what she would have wanted. It’s not what I want for her. Please keep her from being afraid and depressed. Please take her, Father… Sooner, rather than later.”

Looking at mother, I’m reminded of snippets of conversations from my childhood, almost like I’m watching a movie.

I’m about seven, and I’m asking the new kid next door the name of his dog. “That God damned dog,” he says. “That’s what my father calls him. What’s your name?”

Without hesitating I say, “Poor little thing.” I understand the dog reference because it seems like mother always refers to me as “Poor little thing.”

My thoughts shift to another beauty parlor. Mother’s hairdresser stands next to me, a pair of scissors in his hand, waiting for her instructions.

“Poor little thing,” mother says. “Her face is so long and horsey. Long hair just makes it worse.” Mother has him cut my hair short, as though he’s using an imaginary bowl as a template, and she has him shave an inch off my hairline along the back of my neck.

In the next conversation, my father is standing in the doorway of my room, an uninvolved bystander.

“Poor little thing,” mother says to him. “Her asthma makes her poor little chest look all sunken, and her little rib cage sticks out like the hull of an abandoned ship.” She rubs Vicks Vapo-Rub over my bare, nine-year-old chest.

“You get this from your father’s side of the family,” she says to me. “When you’re older, you’ll have to watch out for diabetes, too.”

“Poor little thing,” she says to the clerk who’s helping her select my new pair of glasses. “Her lenses are so thick. They look like Coke bottles.”

“Poor little thing,” she says to the saleswoman in the department store. “She’s tall and skinny and has no figure at all.”

My thoughts bring me back to mother in her wheelchair. Once again, she’s picking at the bump on her nose. I resist the urge to say, “Poor little thing.”

Love, Brenda


  • aek September 12, 2015 at 3:38 am

    Reminds me of my late mother. My mother developed Aids related dementia very quickly. One day she was fine lucid talking normally the next visit she was poking, swatting invisible bugs that seemed to be irritating her. She kept saying they were on her face and won’t leave.. She had forgotten who we were yet one day sat me down in one of her lucid moments told me she doesn’t want to be here anymore I asked you mean hospital? No she meant being alive !! . At that moment I was pissed at my siblings, a few months before that she was rushed to the hospital in a semi coma. Her liver was full of tumors, We had a meeting with her care givers and presented with options. Keep her comfortable and she will pass quietly within hrs or days. Or they can do palliative Chemo see if any shrink she could live longer even a few months. I am a realist I opted to go peacefully into the night. I was out numbered. She lived in pain in her own world for 6 months. My mother was stubborn tenacious. She probably wasn’t the mother I wished for either…. But I was there. My mother contracted HIV from a blood transfusion in 1983 before all the testing rules were implemented.

    Our relationship was always hard. but it didn’t mean I didn’t care I did. She, after all was my mother!
    She died July 12 1999 I still miss her even the arguements not so much. but that’s who we were.. Alli….

    • 1010 Park Place September 12, 2015 at 3:48 pm

      Hi! So glad to see you here, again! I agree with not wanting to do palliative care on your mother. To do that to someone who already doesn’t have a quality of life is cruel. Eleven years ago, I had eight rounds of chemotherapy, and it’s a bitch. When my time comes, I can only hope there will be someone like you and I to look after me. xoxox, Brenda

  • barbarahammond September 12, 2015 at 7:33 am

    Oh, I understand. We have been dealing with my father in law’s dementia for several years now. He’s in a good facility, but he’s not living. He is often nasty, especially to me, but sometimes funny. I have no idea if my mother is still alive. Our relationship was so contentious I had to let her know I had forgiven her, but I could not have her in my life. It gets so complicated, doesn’t it? I never want to put my children through this.
    I hope you’re writing a book, Brenda!

    • 1010 Park Place September 12, 2015 at 3:53 pm

      You do understand. I’m sorry for that and for your contentious mother relationship. Life is messy, especially when it comes to parent/child relationships. Your comment about a book… The stories I can’t tell you would be front page news… Sometimes I think they’re a burden to carry around inside me, but then, I’m still here. For that, I’m grateful.

  • Lynne September 12, 2015 at 10:00 am

    Brenda, 1010 Park Place is a gem. I cannot tell you how many times you and your contributing writers have put my mind back in perspective. Your mother is blessed and so are we. I lost my baby brother to early onset dementia (triggered by two head injuries) . . . he was 49 when he passed. My mother is in the process of recovery from a hip fracture, accompanied by delirium and waves of dementia. She’s on a good path at present. ( Having BC teaches one survival doesn’t it? ) Sending a gentle hug, and a prayer from the PacNWest!

    • 1010 Park Place September 12, 2015 at 4:08 pm

      Thank you for your sweet words. I read them to one of our contributing writers a little while ago. We both agreed that’s the best compliment we could have received. As we get older, it seems as though trauma to the body makes us vulnerable for dementia, and then there’s breast cancer. Did you have chemo? I did… Talk about dementia! xoxox, Brenda

  • Jennifer Connolly September 12, 2015 at 10:46 am

    Powerful and moving Brenda! Your mother is blessed to have you. Some mother’s words can be so cruel, without actually being razor sharp. My mother had that ability. Words I remember to this day. Thanks for opening your heart and so eloquently sharing with us.

    • 1010 Park Place September 12, 2015 at 4:12 pm

      I’ve learned a lot from mother, mainly about who I don’t want to be. Mother’s have such power, don’t they? Actually this time we’ve had together, since she’s had dementia, has allowed me to lose my resentment and development empathy for her. She always saw herself as the poor little thing, something she tried all of her life to compensate for. So very sad.

  • Linda Hummel September 12, 2015 at 1:18 pm

    This is remarkable writing. Thank you for sharing something so personal and meaningful to anyone who has ever had a mother. James was right. –L

    • 1010 Park Place September 12, 2015 at 4:17 pm

      Thank you. I admire your writing so much, so that’s high praise, indeed. James’s comment was a turning point for me in my relationship with mother. That statement allowed me to put aside years of resentment. It was an epiphany.

  • roses2me September 12, 2015 at 9:01 pm

    Your sweet James was a wise man! And you are/have been fulfilling that position with grace and compassion! Sending you blessings and Hugs dear friend! Cindy xoxo

    • 1010 Park Place September 15, 2015 at 7:33 pm

      Hi sweet friend,
      How are you and your darling grandchildren? I sometimes get a peek on FB.

  • janels1 September 13, 2015 at 10:30 pm

    Wow, Brenda, you wouldn’t believe how close to home your moving story of your relationship with a mother with dementia struck me! I was never close to my mother, as she always seemed overly critical of me (“poor little thing”) without ever a good word for my accomplishments. Eerily, she called me and everyone or anything she was criticizing “poor little thing”. We lived in Florida, and she hated snakes, but they were always “poor little things”. I was hit with a 1-2 punch when my father died at age 74, and my mother finally lost her last vestige of a thread. I was then her caregiver for the next 20 years. In the meantime I was dealing with my own divorce and raising two small children. It seemed ironic to me that I was responsible for my mother, when my brother was her clear and declared favorite; but he took a pass, so it was up to me. I had struggles with a good nursing home as she would attack any roommate they put with her, certain they were trying to steal or harm her. She, too, was sadly in excellent physical condition, and didn’t appear as though she belonged among the other patients. In fact, she once talked a guard into letting her out, saying she was visiting. She was in the facility for the longest of any patient until then–17 years. She sank deeper and deeper so that she didn’t know me, nor could she feed herself. I felt my past disappear. I used to cry every time I came home from visiting her–it was a “head job” for me. Towards the end, I finally tried very hard to understand why she was as she was with me while growing up, and forgave her, out loud..then, almost right away, she died. I think I saw signs of her impending dementia decades prior to its development; but, since that was my entire childhood, I knew only that. Yes, “poor little thing”. Maybe that was introspection speaking… Thank you so very much for sharing! Best of luck, Judy

    • 1010 Park Place September 15, 2015 at 7:41 pm

      Yes, what eery similarities. Looking back, I saw signs of mother’s dementia long before it was diagnosed. Years and years. I also believe mother was mentally ill. That ah-ha moment helped me forgive her for her role in our tortured relationship. It also helped me forgive myself. I’m not sure I can ever remember a time when being around her was easy, and I don’t remember any fun or happy times. You and I are strong women. We’ve learned from our experiences and are hopefully better women for it. It would be interesting to explore the relationships we’ve formed with other women, i.e. women of mentally ill and/or difficult mothers.

      • janels1 September 15, 2015 at 8:35 pm

        Yes, Brenda, it feels like a sisterhood in here! My mother also never told me she loved me…consequently, I never stopped telling my two boys I loved them, and still do it!

  • Sasha September 14, 2015 at 7:36 am

    beautifully shared. I think we all have some form of “poor little thing” in our list of identities. Mine was, “Are you sure you need a second helping”.

    • 1010 Park Place September 15, 2015 at 7:43 pm

      Thank you. I’m wondering how you answered that question/comment. “Why yes, thank you!”

      • Sasha September 15, 2015 at 7:52 pm

        When I was a teen I was hurt and usually didn’t have a second helping. When I got older, I just told her…”Well if you weren’t such a good cook, I wouldn’t want more.”

  • Rena September 14, 2015 at 8:08 am

    I am so sorry to the little girl back then and the beautiful woman you are today. I can’t imagine hearing that from my mother over and over again. That had to be so painful and destroyed whatever self esteem you were just beginning to build. As you know I am also my mom’s caregiver and joke and say I have since I was when dad died things were just never the same. Dementia is a horrible thing that takes away everything. I wish peace and love for both of you. May the scars that she has caused be filled in with love and care because you deserve it Brenda. Beautifully written.

    • 1010 Park Place September 15, 2015 at 7:46 pm

      Thank you, sweet Rena! My self-esteem suffered until I was 21 and realized I was more attractive than mother led me to believe, and I had lots of abilities. My first husband nurtured those abilities, and I have him to thank for putting me in situations–good and bad–where I excelled. It’s tough being your mother’s caregiver, isn’t it? xoxox, Brenda

  • Lisha September 14, 2015 at 11:49 am

    Oh, Brenda. I know this path. She is lucky to have the daughter she needs. Glad to have found you.

    • 1010 Park Place September 15, 2015 at 7:47 pm

      I’m sorry to hear you “know this path.” It’s a road I wouldn’t wish on anyone. I hope to see you here, again!

  • Roxanne Jones September 14, 2015 at 5:03 pm

    Oh so touching. Thankfully — for some of us, anyway — there does come a point when the anger and frustration give way to empathy and compassion. And your mother IS lucky to have the daughter she needs.

    • 1010 Park Place September 15, 2015 at 7:49 pm

      Thank you. I’m so grateful that I now have a compassionate heart when it comes to mother. I’m just sorry it took dementia and decades and decades of wondering why we had such a tortured relationship.

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