Prompt #69: Cruelty & Kindness
Writing Exercise, April 2023
When my mother was dying of lung cancer, I moved in to her house and took care of her. Anyone here who has cared for a sick loved one knows just how difficult that can be, especially when you’re taking care of someone you have always had a complicated relationship with.
My mother was charming and funny and stoic and feisty. She could also be hypercritical of me, her only daughter. Before I moved in with her, I kept my visits short, no more than two days, and even then by the end of the weekend, I sometimes felt like I had been dragged behind a truck. More often than not, I cried on my way back to the airport because of some passive aggressive or just plain mean thing she had said to me. Even so, my mother was my person, and I was hers. I have also never laughed with anyone the way I laughed with my mother.
When my mother was sick, I wasn’t allowed to talk about the cancer or about how she was dying (she had been given 3 months to live and made it to 8). And I wasn’t allowed
to cry in front of her. So I had to bear all the difficult feelings alone. I once tried to say the things one ought to say to a dying mother. I said, “You have been a good mom.”
She said, “Well, I wish I had a better daughter.” I broke the rules, and I cried. My mother said, “I’m only kidding” and then told me not to cry. Her jokes were often cruel and more often than not, I was the butt of them. I see now that she couldn’t tell me what she really thought, which was that she believed I was the best daughter in the world and she knew the sacrifices I was making to care for her. It would have been too difficult for her to be that vulnerable. Perhaps she would have started crying and never have been able to stop.
I wanted to be a good daughter, so I left my job and my husband and my home to care for her (though I did bring my terrible chow chow Ely) with me. I wanted to do everything right, to have no regrets—impossible, I now know. There are a number of things I did when I was caring for her that I am not proud of.