When author Anne-Marie Oomen’s mother was diagnosed with dementia and in need of more care, she was forced to confront her angst-ridden relationship with a mother whom she hadn’t much liked for most of her life. AS LONG AS I KNOW YOU; THE MOM BOOK recounts the struggle to help a mother who doesn’t want help by a daughter who would rather not. The result is a poetic, emotionally charged reckoning between mother and daughter, a year in which both women come to terms with their short-comings and resentments and develop a new kind of relationship.
When Oomen’s mother breaks her foot and it doesn’t heal properly, it sets the family on a new path – they must place their mother in a nursing home. On top of the physical issues, her mother also has Alzheimer’s. Her needs have become too overwhelming for the assisted living facility where she has lived. Oomen, as the eldest daughter, along with a sister Marijo, have power-of-attorney over their mother’s health care and she has signed an advanced directive that she should be given comfort care only. But what does that really mean to her mother, Oomen wonders? She asks her “Can you tell me what makes life worth living for you?” And her mother answers, “As long as I know you.” Her mother expresses that the most important thing to her is her relationship with her children and that if she ever got to a place where she did not recognize them, life would not be worth living.
Oomen learns as she goes. One day, in the facility where her mother lives, she witnesses another mother asking her daughter who she is – she does not recognize her own daughter any longer. But the daughter, patiently, lovingly, without regard to her own loss, asks her mother, “Who are you?” and answers for her, “You are Elizabeth and you are my mother.” Oomen writes,
“Today, I watched another adult daughter love her elder mother better than I imagined possible. I saw what a daughter could do, how a daughter might see the real question, might set aside her own need to be seen. I saw how it could be done, how a mother who had lost herself could be given back at least her name, led out of the desert of loss.”
There are many moments in AS LONG AS I KNOW YOU, that will be familiar to anyone who has been a caregiver of an elderly parent – the power struggles, the heart-wrenching decision making, and the unabashed tenderness and expressions of love that are unbound as a loved one faces the end.
As she cares for her mother, Oomen’s former anger, resentment, and frustration with her mother abate. She embraces her mother, and the time they have left, and in doing so, she saves herself.
This is Lin Salisbury with Superior Reviews. Listen to my author interviews on the fourth Thursday of every month at 7:00 pm on Superior Reads, WTIP Radio, 90.7 Grand Marais, or stream it from the web at http://www.wtip.org.