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The daughter's tale

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Ella was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in her 70's a few months before her husband died.

There were two children, Marie and her younger brother. Marie's life was overtly different from her mother's. Ella was bright but not particularly well-educated. She was however clear in encouraging and supporting education for her children and decided from early on that her daughter should be a doctor and so she became, eventually choosing to work in medicine for the elderly. It suited her to support the least well off in society.

She had good memories and feelings about her maternal grandparents but her relationship with her mother was less than ideal. Ella was assiduous, even perfect in her physical care of the children. Every domestic task was undertaken and she was always at home when the children arrived from school with tea on the table as soon as the father returned from work. This housewifely perfection irritated Marie immensely as it was not accompanied by the possibility of discussion of anything but positive feelings about life. School-friends could not comprehend Marie's complaints as when they met Ella they found her a delight. Marie as 'aspiring intellectual' in adolescence continued to react to mother's 'niceness', practicality and efficiency by being contradictory and contrary.

These negative feelings about mother continued far into adult life accompanied by a painful guilt because of them.

Ella herself could never miss an opportunity to criticise her daughter [never others] in what seemed like every utterance — there was always something wrong with her hairstyle, her make-up, her clothes, the fact that she lived in Birmingham having moved away from the small town of her birth to attend University and not having returned — all this despite her also being proud of Marie and her qualifications. When Marie tried to take up the criticisms it was laughed off by Ella with further criticism that Marie could not take a joke.

The role of direct, practical caregiving can be an immense trial and strain particularly in the context of preceding ambivalence in the relationship.

When Marie's father died she had her own personal grief to confront but also guilt about her widowed mother living at considerable distance. She knew she could not give the direct care mother needed but she thought about what it was possible for her to do. In middle age with some maturity she had at last begun to appreciate all she owed to her parents including her mother. She was surprised to find that as well as recalling her negative feelings she also felt compassion and concern.

From her job she knew how to negotiate health and social services. Using Power of Attorney which had been organised by her father many years earlier she arranged care for Ella via direct payments, employing carers eventually for 24 hours a day. Although at a distance she was involved frequently and regularly, pleased to use the education, training and skills which her parents had made possible.

Those aspects of her mother which Marie had previously reacted against now proved themselves capable of sustaining Ella and others in these new and difficult circumstances. Although initially anxious about her state and not wanting to hear a diagnosis Ella took well to receiving care, considering the carers her friends and the carers in turn found much to like even to love in her.

Ella's habit of leaving the bathroom door ajar which had infuriated Marie in earlier times now helped Ella bear the dependency of having others perform intimate care tasks for her without apparent discomfort. Perhaps early trust in the relationship with her own mother was being re-enacted. Throughout her life, also into illness Ella had described her mother as particularly beautiful and she saw beauty also in the natural world, the countryside where she and her husband had moved after his retirement. She rarely mentioned that her mother could be domineering and a snob, rather talk was all about her beauty which she also saw reflected in the world - at least her part of it.

In illness, when still mobile, she walked around the house indicating objects 'my mother gave me that' whether that was actually the case. Marie now wondered whether she had received the criticisms infrequently voiced about Ella's mother.

Ella had never been overtly angry nor depressed but only ever expressed attitudes of thanks and gratitude - all of which had exasperated Marie previously but which now helped Ella and her carers.

Marie now no longer took automatic contrarian views. She was pleased to be mindful of her mother's needs. She was an involved participant in the care despite geographical distance. When she was able to visit, the warmth and pleasure in her mother's greeting and reaction to her was wonderful for her. Any criticism was directed to the carers who because of greater emotional distance were able to laugh it off. To Marie, arms were outstretched with exclamations of 'oh you are so lovely, I do love you' and many kisses. This could be repeated many times and Marie did not tire of it. She often wondered how the relationship would have been if Ella had remained cognitively well. As it was, although late, reparation was achieved for Marie, perhaps also for Ella.

The daughter was with compassion able to see positive aspects of mother previously hidden to her, mother was able to express warmth and love assumed to have lain under the previously critical attitude.

Jane Garner part of a case discussed in supervision,reported with appropriate permissions

Tags: carers, daughters and mothers, family, relationships Written 2014-08-11

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