When Roles Reverse…

After my mother suffered a massive stroke, I sat in her hospital room, tears running down my face, I kept thinking and hoping that maybe she was going to wake up and say, “OK, let’s go to the mall.”

The reality was...going to the mall with her was never again going to be an easy task. The more I dwelled on it, the more I began to think about never going to the mall again, if she couldn’t go with me. I thought, what if she died right now and we never had another happy moment together? What if she was dead right now and I was sitting there thinking she’s asleep?

It was at that moment that a woman from Social Services appeared at the door to ask how I was. I was surprised that she wasn’t there to ask how my mother was. I thought I was falling apart. But I said I was fine, and as she continued, she said that she had seen me sitting here by my mother several days in a row, and basically...didn’t I have a life that I had put on hold in order to be sitting here ten hours a day?

She proceeded to tell me that I was mourning my mother’s death “prematurely.” I needed to think about my mother’s life from here on out and to plan for her “life” not her death. It was almost what the emergency room nurse had said a week before. Effectively, “What are you going to do with her, now that she is sick enough to need full time care, but not sick enough to die?”

Didn’t she realize that this was the death of a “lifestyle” for my mother whose whole life revolved around shopping malls, card games, movie theaters, restaurants and TV? That was the death I was mourning. What was her life going to be like now? Was I crying for my mother or was I crying for the loss of her companionship? I could not remember the last time I had been to a mall without my mother.

That was 1992. She is 88 years old now and thanks to the wonderful care she receives, she’s still alive.

This week she was so "normal" I called and asked her how to make crab meat stuffing! Like she's EVER made it in her life, or within the last 14 years? BUT...to show you how “on top of it” she was, she responded, "Make it like any other stuffing and then just add crab meat." OK...I can do that, and I did do that. I give up!

Throughout the last few of years of her illness, my mother has spent the better part of each day watching television, going to the beauty parlor and eating anything resembling food that happened to be within reach. Miraculously, she’s managed to outlast the national average of 2.5 years for patients reside in a nursing home and has spent 14 years in nursing homes.

I would say that over the years my mothers’ mental condition has run the gamut and taken her from “slightly confused” to “moderately confused.” I wouldn’t say that her dementia is an ever present factor in carrying on conversations. She is able to have normal conversations for extended periods of time and she never fails to tell me that I am beautiful or that my hair looked gorgeous, every time I visit her.

In between such conversations she had spurts of what I would say resemble someone with Tourette syndrome and intermittently she calls out “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy” in a loud demanding voice. I finally asked her who she’s calling and it turns out she’s calling me! Why is she calling me “Mommy?” Well, she says, “Because you act like my mother.” I’m not sure which came first, the chicken or the egg, but I find it interesting that in the end, even she is sure the roles have reversed and I am the parent and she is the child.

Author's Bio: 

Jill Interland Press has become an expert on the subject of “Role Reversal” since her mother suffered a massive stroke in 1992 and she has been interacting with other adult children who have also moved into this new phase of parenting! She has conducted extensive research and investigative interviews with “parents” from around the world. In addition to her writing, she serves on the Executive Board of the Miami Jewish Home and Hospital for the Aged. She is in the process of writing Raising A Parent – A “How To” Guide to Survival. If you have any thoughts or questions on the subject, please send an e-mail to RaisingAParent@aol.com.