Throughout the greater part of my adult life my relationship with my mother was one of turmoil, in fact many times, one of hate. I have so many memories of harsh words, sadness, regret, heart break and anger. This was mixed in with a yearning to just be loved and accepted…to be happy. And this was not just my experience as a daughter, but from my mother’s perspective as well. I think she felt the same way.
My mother was mentally ill. I cannot tell you her exact diagnosis, because a concrete one was never officially made by her various doctors. I think she was depressed. I have memories of her lying on the couch for days, looking as emotionally flat as her body.
My parents were Portuguese Canadian immigrants and retired to Portugal in 1983. My mother’s symptoms and troubled life that would shape her next 30 years took front stage shortly after.
When you combine mental health illness with spousal abuse, it is a lethal combination and the outcome, in this case, was tragic. Those details need not be included…
However, the end was sad. My mother was 68 years old and residing in a nursing home at the time of her death. There she was spoon-fed after all her food had been put through a blender. She was bathed by strangers and she wore diapers. She could not walk on her own and when she tried to get up, she would fall. Therefore, she was always restrained while sitting or in bed. She couldn’t even speak coherently to express her needs or concerns.
On January 6th, 2013 her heart gave out and she died in the ambulance on the way from the nursing home to the local hospital. Perhaps her heart stopped, as it could not endure the emotional trauma any longer. She had suffered throughout her life greatly.
I had visited my mother at the nursing home in September of 2012, for a few hours. She had been transferred there two months prior, after being released from the Psychiatry Ward of the Hospital de Bragança, in northern Portugal.
I am now ashamed to say the visit only lasted a few hours. And I spent the majority of time with her case worker updating me on her condition. Meanwhile, the woman that ‘was’ my mother, was sitting and staring at me, not able to say a word. At the time, I felt it was the most I could do; the only thing I could deal with in the moment. Today I realize that my feelings during and reaction to that difficult visit, were the reason I am fighting today to help #endstigma about Mental Health. The sight of a frail, prematurely aged, defenceless woman haunts me. This was a woman that for many years raised a daughter on her own and held three jobs simultaneously. Seriously—three jobs. And supported the family while my father recovered from injuries sustained at work.
This day in September was my last opportunity to have told her I loved her – and I missed it.
There were many other missed opportunities. One that stands out happened on another occasion that I had traveled to Portugal to visit my grandfather who was in the hospital in palliative care. I travelled the long distance to say good-bye to him.
Coincidentally, at that same time, my Mother was also in the same hospital, because she had another relapse. Her Doctor had admitted her to the Mental Health unit. I remember walking into the hospital room where my Mom was and she was so happy to see me she said out loud to the other patients whom she shared her room with, “My daughter !!”, and hugged me so tight, as if she never wanted to let go. All I felt was uncomfortable. I had a huge urge to just run away. And shame…so much shame. I must have deeply hurt her when I said I was there because her father-in-law was dying and I came to say good-bye to him. I was not there for her.
My Mom was mentally ill and the truth is, I was ashamed of her. I had no understanding or tolerance and I certainly lacked the ability to show her compassion and love.
I know I cannot dwell in the past. I can’t turn back the clock, because life is not a Hollywood movie.
However, I am hoping that someone can learn from my mistakes.
My guilt has made me less indulgent with people that speak poorly of those suffering with any form of mental illness.
My resolution to forgive myself, and do something to help others, has propelled me to speak out and help #endstigma of Mental Health.
My Mom was Adelaide. Once, a very strong woman. I did love her. I just never told her.
Ema Dantas, Adelaide’s daughter