My wife Michelle and I became my mother’s caretaker last year. It’s gone relatively well. Mamá’s going on 91, her mind is sharp, she eats like a horse. She scoots through the house with her walker. She’s a fairly pleasant elderly who helps out where she can, washing clothes, picking up dishes, threatening the cat (he’s got a tendency to nip if you don’t pet him right).
She wasn’t always pleasant. She’ll tell you that herself. She’s had a form of my illness all her life. Though she’s never been diagnosed bipolar, the signs were there. Sudden explosions into rage, anxiety that gripped her, drops into thick sadness. I saw it growing up. And, at the age of seventeen, those same traits manifested for the first time in me.
She began her own meds last year, and it’s made all the difference. I wish she had had access to Mirtazapine forty, fifty years ago; it would have given her half a century of peace.
She knows all about my past, that I was sexually abused by a relative for a year, starting when I was five. She has her own horrors regarding this, the fact that it happened under her watch. Through the years, by piecing together the stories, I’ve come to understand a little bit more: My father left us when I was three and, except for holiday visits, didn’t return until I was seven. He never wanted kids. He never wanted to be tied down. He was—and both my mother and I agree on this—a selfish man.
She knows my mind is damaged by both the family illness and the childhood abuse. She recognizes the burden, she’s seen me when I’ve been in the throes of madness, how I’ve beaten my head against a countertop, screamed until my lungs felt like they were ripping apart. She’s seen what my wife and kids have seen for years.
At night, I give her her medication. We kiss and say “I love you.” There is so much love in this house. My kids dote over her. According to Mamá, Michelle can do no wrong. Which is, really, pretty accurate.
After I leave her room, she prays. Saint Joseph is her go-to saint. She prays in Spanish and English. She asks Joseph to ask God to bring peace to my mind. “Please let Marcos’ mind rest.” Sometimes she weeps.
I believe in no gods. But I do believe in love.