It was the title of this book that got my attention and prompted me to purchase it. It seemed to be a situation I could really relate to. The interesting thing is that I did and didn’t relate to it as it turns out. The author was in her late 40’s and unmarried (check), her mother was elderly and living alone (check), they had a difficult relationship over the years (check), and she became her mother’s caregiver (check). But that’s where the similarities ended. Jo Maeder’s mother was living down in Virginia while Jo was living in New York, and Jo decided to give up her career and life in Manhattan to move with her mother down to North Carolina (near her brother and his family) and to live with her and care for her until her mother’s death a couple of years later. From a literary perspective, I kind of missed the turning point when Jo decided to make this major move (and it certainly was major)…the decision seemed to come too abruptly for me. I’m not sure if I just missed it or if it wasn’t made clear enough by the author.
While reading the book, part of me actually envied Jo her ability to be able to leave her career and take care of her mother full time (she did do some freelance work on the side). I, myself, gave this idea some serious consideration at one point (unknown to my mother) when my mom was having some physical difficulties and really needed more help than I was able to give with a full time job. Living together, though, just didn’t seem like the right option for us. When I did that for a couple of weeks prior to and right after my mom had a pacemaker put in last year, we ran into some difficulties from all that togetherness. Even Dr. Phil has mentioned on his show that, while he and his mother get along very well and he loves her dearly, they could just never live together or they’d kill each other! Another option might have been for me to move to an apartment in my mom’s building or very close by and take care of her, but then I wondered how I would have the money to live and pay my expenses without a full time job. Well, this was a problem that Jo Maeder was able to work out.
I think the main thing I took away from this book was how admirable it was that Jo was able to put aside the long time issues she had with her mother (and there were some serious issues, including her mother’s obsessive hoarding, infidelities when Jo was young, her parents’ divorce and Jo going to live with her father), and care for her in her last years of life. She seemed to take wonderful care of her mother. She said she rediscovered the maternal instincts she thought were gone and was able to “mother” her own mom. I’m not sure I could have done what Jo did, even though I do want to be there for my mother as much as I can as she continues to age and need me.
It also got me thinking about growing old and end of life, and my own concerns about not having had children. While I know there is no guarantee that your children will take care of you in your old age, the fact that I have none, does make me wonder what will happen to me as I age. I think this is a common thought among adults who have no children as I’ve spoken to others who feel similarly.
While this book didn’t necessarily offer me any strategies for dealing with my own mother/daughter relationship, it did leave me wanting to do whatever I can for my mom. It may not end up being as extreme as what Jo Maeder did, but her story shows what the mother/daughter relationship can become if we are able to look at our mothers, ourselves and our relationship a bit differently. After all, as the book’s jacket cover says, “if you’re not right with your Mama, you’re not going to be right with anyone.”