Skin on skin

Ever since the illness really began (except for those first few moments of denial), our relationship has changed. My mother was always very independent, and was an excellent housewife, in all senses; she could be extremely demanding and authoritarian, but also very tender. Well, that aspect of her personality has gradually been disappearing, giving way to another which is more dependent, but closer to us.

The connection appeared, simply, when she felt calmer when I was by her side in situations that she found uncomfortable such as when eating or taking a bath. It appeared when I saw her eyes shine when she saw me, or my family.

Before the illness became as advanced as it is now, the connection between us appeared simply upon seeing her face change, as soon as I got home. From having a lost, sad expression, I could see her appearance change in how she smiled, how her eyes shone and how her face lit up. Even if she didn’t remember my name (and possibly didn’t remember that she was my mother), she somehow recognized me, and that made her feel good.

I don’t know how but in her gaze and her gestures, I found a new way for us to speak; this time, without words. Just by looking at her I could tell if she was all right, if she was uncomfortable, etc. Any bother or sadness that she could have had disappeared when we kissed, hugged and touched each other. I believe that she needed human, familiar contact so that she wouldn’t become totally lost in the darkness of her ill mind.

The illness, and the way that the illness affected our relationship, has, in its own way, made me a better person. Although this may sound selfish, the fact that someone needs me so has been very gratifying.

In spite of my mother’s near-vegetative state, I didn’t want to go one more day without seeing her, something that wouldn’t have happened before – actually, my mother used to make me lose my temper all the time. I missed her, and that was something that I hadn’t felt before she got sick, even though we spent time apart.

It was also a great source of joy to know that, one way or another, we were able to communicate.

Our entire family relationship became better, thanks to all these experiences. For the first time, my father sees me as an adult, and he has begun to let me help and asks me for my opinion.

My mother’s illness has made me really understand the meaning and the importance of the idea of family. It’s made me discover the great capacity for patience that I have, as well as making me realize that I’m much stronger than I ever would have believed I was.

With all of the problems that are associated with the illness, I’ve learnt how to get over the qualms I had about bathing and taking care of my mother. My interest in the elderly has increased exponentially, and it’s made me value even more the vast quantity of information that the elderly have, and what we would lose if we don’t keep this in mind.

No doubt about it: my values system has changed radically, and it’s made me understand what’s really important in life; now, I don’t get angry for no good reason, and I’ve learnt to accept the things that I don’t like, but can’t change. I’ve also learnt how to adapt to change more easily. It’s also helped me immensely to recognize my feelings and my emotions: rage, anxiety, sadness and love.

With this experience, I’ve come to know what unconditional love is, skin on skin, without words, and learn new ways to express tenderness. Before the illness, I didn’t use to say, “I love you”; now I do it all the time, especially with her.

In short, this has made me a better person, to value the really important things in life and to greatly strengthen my bonds with my family; especially with my father and sister.

Laura, Spain