When I was a child, music was always a part of my life. My sister and I were given piano lessons, my father played the violin, and my mother played both the piano and the violin. On Sundays we would all gather around the piano, my sister beside me on the piano bench and my parents standing side by side near us playing their violins.
One of my favorite songs was “Beyond the Sunset,” actually a rather sad song about dying but supported by an element of faith in God and the belief that there is something beyond this life.
Today I played the song when I returned from a visit with my mother in the nursing home. She has been in a depressed, feeling-sorry-for- herself mood for several days, complaining that no one talks to her or takes care of her or believes that she is important. I do my best with daily visits but it’s never enough. We have had bad moments before when she is like this, but today she broke my heart.
She accused me first of being late to visit her (I was finishing up with a load of laundry and arrived ten minutes after my usual time) and then blamed me for her bad mood and her refusal to participate in activities there. Then she told me (in what words she could gather) that it was my fault she was in there. I put her there, she accused me. I didn’t help her when she had her stroke, in fact it was my fault she had the stroke, and I wasn’t taking her out anywhere for rides. (She is not capable of getting into and out of a car without the strong possibility of a fall and I’m not strong enough to hold her. ) She actually told me she wanted me to suffer as much as she is suffering. The words were harsh and kept coming on stronger and stronger. I tried to leave and she grabbed me and wouldn’t let me go, the cruel words continuing. I broke free and left the room in sobs.
I know she has dementia. I know the staff will explain to me that she can’t help it. But this is a mother I have sacrificed everything for, including time I want to spend with my children and grandchildren in California and Arizona. I don’t think my mother ever loved me. I don’t remember being held or praised or made to feel that I mattered to her. And so now that she has dementia, her mental filter has been removed and she is free to say to me whatever she has wanted to say for years.
I hope I never tell my children that I want them to suffer. I hope I never accuse my children of not loving me. I hope I never make my children feel like they aren’t doing enough for me. I hope if I am ever in a nursing home, I try to make the most of it and let my children live their lives to the fullest because life is far too fragile and too short to spend being mean to another human being, especially to someone who loves you beyond words.
The piano is my refuge. The piano is my saving grace. When I got home and found the sheet music to “Beyond the Sunset,” I remembered those moments when I was a child and I had my sister and my father and my mother with me and we were a family. The song is a sad song for sure, but it makes me want to believe that somewhere above me in some other realm, my father and my sister understand the pain I am going through and will try to help me be strong enough to face whatever comes next for me and for my mother.