I hear loud screaming and banging. It’s 3:30am.
All my life, for as long as I can remember, my mother has been a yeller. She would yell to discipline me. She would yell to remind me, like, “Turn on the Puja light!” Or “Flush the toilet once for poop, and a second time for the toilet paper!” She would yell when she didn’t understand. “I tried Face ID but it won’t recognize my CHIN! Stupid phone!” And she would yell when I needed tenderness.
“Mummy, are you mad that I’m not married yet?”
“No…but is there something WRONG??!”
This yelling has gotten worse over time. As her spine changes. As her dependence grows. As she loses her once youthful looks lasting up through age 73 (!) to the stress of taking care of my dad, who has rapidly, during the time of quarantine, entered Stage 4 Parkinson’s.
So at these wee hours, she is probably yelling because she’s in a panic about any of the several ghosts in her mind, and doubly upset that my dad cannot console her the way he likely tried to in the past, and probably failed.
Acceptance. I have to accept people for who they are. Ok, fine. I accept.
But, see, for me, there’s always a glimmer of hope that people can change, that they can come around. That’s probably my downfall.
And that’s probably the reason I kept up the good fight for 2 months as I spent the winter with them, while they downsized their lives. I would lecture, give good sermon, educate, and model proper communication techniques. I would diagnose her with one of several rigid mental disorders, not allowing her to break out of her patterns of self-loathing and criticism. I would ignore, and work to increase my own power to withstand her rage attacks. I even tried matching….and that only left me completely depleted, with a throbbing eye headache (is that a thing?), pounding heart, boiling blood and an extremely short fuse, and how many of us can scratch the creative itch from that place? In an effort to be the good daughter, I went to places I never thought I would have to be called on to go when a parent is elderly and unable to control their temper. One of those places was to a Residence Inn, so I could protect both of us from each other!
But needless to say, it has been an extremely challenging time, as I come to acceptance, not just of them, but of myself, and just how different we are.
My parents would be leaving for my sister’s house once again in just a few days and I was aware of that. Before, it was like a countdown that would bring me relief. “11 more days, Rasika. And you can feel like yourself again.” “8 days, just 8 more days of this, let’s crank up the Pet Shop Boys to drown out the noise, maybe even remind everyone of the good ol’ days.” (What have I done to deserve this?) And with 5 days to go, I suddenly found myself thinking , “Oh. I don’t know if this is the last time I’ll EVER see them.”
So I became smarter about picking my battles. I would pick and choose when were worthy times to sit with them so they could feel me nearby, and when my mere presence would trigger another yelling episode. (I really also wanted my dad to have some peace and quiet. Of course, he’s so used to the yelling, he would muster his own yelling tirade to tell me to shut up! I get it, they have to be a United Front. Big eye roll, there.) I was getting adept at holding boundaries to protect myself. Not being naive enough to walk into a fight and asking my mom to simply text me her requests. Learning when it was better to just drop any resentment built up from the day and start a whole new loving interaction from scratch. And finding that I loved watching them when they would putter around doing things quietly, like my mom with her nightly dishwashing ritual around midnight. My dad staring at the TV, doing his exercises.
I know my Love Language is Words of Affirmation and Quality Time and Touch. And I know now that theirs is Acts of Service and Gifts. TOTAL OPPOSITES. So only in that last week, did I start to make their breakfasts as Service and stop expecting compliments or thanks afterwards. It should make me feel good to do, for myself. Period. And it was hard at first, because whenever they would make my favorite dishes growing up, I would let them know it. Ok, I’m sure there were days I didn’t but, it’s how we can even the score of love, allow the other to feel it, too. It’s weird when you’re facing the same emotional immaturity or limitation from a parent. Maybe it’s Karma.
One of the last tasks my Mom and I got to do together on this trip was figure out which heirlooms from her “KEEP” pile she wanted to leave me. Like, ok, we’re doing this now. Stepping into the big girl bloomers here. She was looking through these boxes that have been long set aside and they were labeled with yellowed stickie notes, “For (Insert Family Member here).” Like for my nephew’s wife, when he gets married! I mean, they would think ahead like that, for something still a decade and a half from now! And I counted that there were 5 things for me, 5 little stickie notes that said my name, along with little drawings of hearts like on my birthday cards growing up. And the items that she showed me, have a lot of value. But, I, being SO different, actually didn’t see value in those things. I placed value…on the stickie notes! That’s how much words mean to me! Isn’t that sick? And adorable, but seriously, no wonder my relationship to money is so … complicated.
What they wanted to give, in lieu of emotional support and encouragement – which I had been craving – is probably stuff I’ll end up pawning off. But I would frame the stickie notes! Because they contain the THOUGHT energy. The Thought of Me. I was THOUGHT of by them. They thought of me. Her sweet handwriting.
During this time, my mom said, “I used to go with your grandmother to the storehouse, and I used to love going with her to look through all boxes, and this set used to belong to her. It’s passed down from her to me to you.” Ok, so that one meant a lot to me. Because my grandmother’s ENERGY and my mother’s little girl HAPPINESS was in it. From THAT ONE interaction, I GOT it. I exploded open and actually got their Love Language. I get it. They always loved me. It was through the form of beautiful roofs over my head, consistent education, great dental care, elegant clothing, and the delicious favorite foods made — all the things I’d scoff at in my early therapy sessions, “Well sure, they provided for me, snark snark snark.”
I started to tear up. And that moment of vulnerability, I realized, is where I always turned away from my mom. I didn’t want her to see what made me weak, because it left me open to the harshness. But while my Inner Child wanted to protect myself, adult Rasika had long been starving to be known by her.
So I seized the opportunity. Since she was more hunched over now, I put my face lower than hers and looked up and said, “Look, I’m crying. I’m very moved by how you love me through these gifts.” And our eyes connected, mine glistening. And she scolded in that voice of hers, “HANH! Mummy has always loved you and this is how you’ll be loved!” Very strict! That ol’ Military love! And then it was quiet. And then, I seized the next opportunity. Gently, I responded, “Yes, and my love language is words. The right words make me feel loved. The wrong words make me feel unloved.” And then I left it at that, I didn’t want to lecture her in a small room with little ventilation. So, what I said got to land on her, and I let the rest be.
A few days later, I made a really great breakfast using some leftover food we had from her birthday feast. I’d perfected my omelette to resembling actual circles, fortified them with some tasty Tex-Mex meats and sprinkled some fallen petals from the flowers across the plate for decor… I made myself proud! As per usual, I made the food, cleaned up and made myself scarce, going upstairs to begin my own daily routines. I heard my mother calling my name. I had on my headphones. Totally ignoring. Don’t wanna hear any criticism. Then my mom yelled louder, “Rasu! Rasu! I just want to thank you for the beautiful breakfast. The presentation was just lovely.”
SHE COMPLIMENTED ME! SHE MADE AN EFFORT TO SAY LOVING WORDS! SHE SAID THEM! SHE DIDN’T YELL THEM, SHE JUST SAID THEM IN A LOUD VOICE SO SHE COULD BE HEARD. And I could have been bitter now that I’d gotten what I’d wanted but I was open! And I said, “Really?! You liked it?” And this amazing back and forth ensued. And she didn’t compliment it once, she didn’t compliment it twice, she complimented it three times over the course of the day!
The last few days became precious to me. But it’s the days after they’ve left that have really opened my eyes. As I shred the years of bills paid, mortgages dedicatedly covered, medical bills and routines carefully adhered to, notes upon notes of their blood pressure readings and lists of their guests and food menus for parties, addresses where my sister and I lived throughout the years, so much of their life and what was important to them is being SHOWN to me, and I am so so privileged to witness it. I GET it and I am FED by it. I’m NOURISHED by understanding how considered I was by both of them all of these years in their way.
So yeah, there is still hope for them. And I’m glad there’s hope for me, too.
Rasika Mathur is a Comedy Writer + Inspiring Storyteller, Chakra Healing Facilitator and Yoga Teacher, and hosts The FunnYoginI Show, an uplifting and irreverent podcast from Rukus Avenue Radio, that you can access from Apple iTunes podcasts or Spotify. She is Dog Mom to Zephyr and needs to go turn on the Puja light now.