"Your Mother is in the Hospital. Welcome to San Miguel."

by Dr David, Editor / Publisher

I moved to San Miguel six years ago today, November 17, 2011. Flying into Mexico City that morning, I took the bus to Queretaro, where my daughter and her boyfriend picked me up and brought me to town. Arriving at my ex-wife's house, I was informed that my mother, whom I had left back in New England, was overnight taken to the hospital.

My life at that time reminds me of the joke, What do you get when you play a country music song backward? You get back your girl; you get back your dog; you get back your truck. Following her mother's death, the young, beautiful, autistic violinist I dated for 7 years was moving to California. The great majority of my practice was treating inner city seniors until the State of Connecticut in its infinite wisdom decided to stop paying naturopathic doctors Medicaid. My fledgling retreat center in Vermont burnt to the ground.

My mother was 90 years old. With my assistance and that of an aid who came in 3 times a week she was living on her own. A difficult, woman, she didn't need or want much assistance. No one came to visit her except my sister, who although she only lived 90 minutes away, only came once every 4 months, and my mother's sister, my Aunt Adele. Adele came at most once a year. My mother was largely deaf, refusing to admit it or to wear her hearing aids, because the sounds around her (toilet flushing, etc.) were too loud. So Adele and I could speak to each other privately in her presence. "She's just like Mumma [their mother]," she confided with sad astonishment. I don't remember my grandmother being emotionally brutal, but then we were in a different relationship. Mom was a fighter, constantly defending the violations of her rights, violations that were only in her imagination. Daily, before breakfast, she'd be swearing like a sailor, if at nothing else, than at the newspaper's headlines.

I used to tell people, "You have no idea what I've overcome." I've done a lot of self-therapy. I'm still doing it. Mom disdainfully rejected every movement I, as an adult, made towards intimacy. If I insisted, pleading that we were on the same side, a family, she'd get ugly, loudly so. I don't believe it was any different when I was a child. In my forties I confronted her, telling her, "You didn't touch us enough when we were kids." She glowered indignantly, but a few days later broke down into tears confessing, "I know I didn't touch you enough when you were kids, but that doesn't mean I didn't love you." Unfortunately, to the child and especially to the infant, that is exactly what it means.

Here I was talking about simple touch, because she never kissed us. During the last meaningful conversation I had with my sister, who never had therapy, she stated in our mother's defense, "Mom says that Grandmom never kissed her." Then after a brief, but profound pause she continued, "Come to think of it, I don't ever remember Mom kissing me."

Having just set foot in San Miguel and heard the news, before calling my sister, I knew already what had happened, because many times before I had prevented it from occurring. My mother was just over five feet tall and weighed 200 pounds. (She refused to believe the doctor's scale.) She walked with a walker and by holding onto furniture. Occasionally she fell. The floor was well-padded, as was she, so she never injured herself. I would visit and discover her lying on the floor, sometimes with the apartment smokey from the burnt food still roasting in the oven. She had the, "I've fallen and I can't get up button," but only wore it sporadically, and despite my insistence, never at night.

The last time I got her back on her feet by myself, I tore something in my shoulder. From then on I would call 911. It didn't matter what I advised, everyone showed up, police, ambulance, fire department. The small living-room became crowded with a gurney and earnest young folk, all intent on transporting Mom to the hospital. I had a routine to communicate with these alpha personalities: "Let's get her sitting up"; then, her legs stretched out in front of her on the floor, I addressed a couple of the weight-lifters in the crowd, "Why don't you get on each side of her and get her to her feet"; then, with them still holding her under each arm, "Back her up into her armchair." Once sitting she'd start croaking, "Get me my glasses." I'd continue, "Mom are you okay? Do you hurt anywhere?" She didn't want to go to the hospital. She knew what to say. "Well," I'd address the throng, "it looks like she's okay. Thanks for your help." Exit the emergency responders. This time, Mom did wear her emergency button and I wasn't there to manage the responders.

I called my sister, who was spitting mad at me, "You knew that this would happen. It was reprehensible of you to leave." Calmly, I reminded her of how when she'd call I would tell her how Mom was. (Sans hearing aids Mom wasn't very good at conversation even off the phone.) Now, I insisted, it was her turn to tell me how Mom was. She hung up.

I called the doctor, a woman who told me, "You abandoned your mother." I needed to work with this person. Transcending the offense, I set the matter right in one statement, "I have been my mother's primary caretaker for 15 years. You are talking to my sister, who called once every five weeks and came to visit three or four times a year. I installed cameras in my mother's apartment so that I could monitor her well-being from Mexico. I did not abandon my mother." The doctor, changed tone entirely, "Let's forget I said that." She told me that her physical therapy department told her that Mom would never be going home. Using that same non-assertive approach that I used with the first responders I suggested, "With all due respect to your physical therapy department, up until yesterday my mother was living on her own. I'm sure you will agree that if it is at all possible, it is best for her to continue living at home. I think she deserves another chance at that."

Mom went home with around-the-clock assistance that after three weeks went to eight hours each day. I imagine my sister had to drive up from New York two to three times a week. I imagine, because she never spoke with me. (My mother refused to speak with me since she understood that I was moving to Mexico.) I spoke with the aides. After another three weeks the aide who came on Christmas morning found my mother in her pajamas, lying dead across the bed.

Two of her new aides came to her funeral. She had a lot of interesting stories from her long life. She could be quite amiable and entertaining as long as she was the center of attention and you weren't related to her. For my sister's sake I'm glad she was forced back into relationship with Mom before her death.

I didn't go up for the funeral. My ne'er-do-well brother (also no therapy) flew in from California for it. Lots of cousins and friends of my brother showed up. I heard from cousins that it was very nice. My brother hasn't spoken with me in 20 years. My sister, who was already alienated before, hasn't spoken to me since calling me "reprehensible" when Mom was in the hospital. A couple of years ago I got tired of her curt, sometimes mono-syllabic responses to my heartfelt emails and stopped writing.

Writing this, presenting these secrets to the world, has been part of my ongoing, imperfect adjustment to emotional normalcy. But really, still and all, dear reader, you have no idea what I have overcome, what I am overcoming.

**************


photo: Alessandro Bo (cropped)

Dr David started his long publishing career as the editor of his prep school newspaper, which he immediately changed into a monthly magazine with feature length articles. He published nearly a million copies of a health magazine, Living Well. He moved to SMA six years ago this November and started publishing San Miguel Events six months later. Please visit his new project, the "new" Lokkal: www.lokkal.com/sma/magazine/2017/september/welcome.php

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