Dad Has Dementia

Week 25: Disinherited. Sort of.

Last updated: Jul 02, 2010


Last weekend, I drove six hours to the family home in order to help my mother clear out all the junk she won't be keeping after she sells the house and moves closer to me. I didn't exactly expect it to be a pleasant weekend, but the depths of the unpleasantness shocked even me.

Both my brother and sister (and their spouses, as well as my 7-year-old nephew, Billy) were waiting at the house with Mom when I arrived. My brother and his wife had driven over 1,000 miles to help with the massive task of clearing out 50 years'-worth of accumulated junk and family heirlooms.

Besides clearing out the items to be donated to charity, each of us children was to take the family mementos we'd like to keep. Basically, we were claiming our inheritances in advance.

This aspect of things proceeded very cordially. My siblings and I all get along quite well, and our overarching objective is never to sacrifice relationships in lieu of possessions.

If only my mother felt the same way.

I make a lot of allowances for my mother because of her mental illness. Sometimes, friends have asked me why I continue to "put up with her" when she's being particularly curt or cruel. My response is that everyone is capable of being mean "“ or kind. It's just that my mom's illness makes it difficult for her to modulate her emotions.

I learned this all too well this weekend.

For many years, I've coveted a certain item that belonged to my parents. The item "“ I'll call it "The Widget" because the actual nature of the item isn't important "“ nominally belonged to my mom but was purchased by my dad and was part of a collection of widgets that he particularly prized.

Over the years, as an adult, I've had many frank conversations with each of my parents about my desire to inherit The Widget. I spoke of how much it meant to me, because it bonded me to both Mom and Dad. I desired The Widget so much that I even said I would forego any other type of inheritance if only I could receive that particular item.

So, on the evening I arrived at the family home to help sort the heirlooms from the chaff, my brother-in-law asked me if there were any particular item from the collection that I'd like to have. I enthusiastically responded, "Yes! I would love to have The Widget."

Almost before the words were out of my mouth, my mother snapped, "No. That belongs to me, and I'm giving it to Billy."

In 11 short words, my mother effectively disregarded all of my feelings and gave my heart's desire away to a child who cannot possibly appreciate it, and to whom it has no sentimental connotation.

I paused, then smiled. "In that case," I said to my brother-in-law, "I want nothing. And now it's getting late. I think I should go check into my hotel."

Afterward, I drank a few martinis and cried in my pillow. How my own mother can be so cruel sometimes is beyond me.