Queer Femmes Respond — Don’t Make Up Stories

I’m so happy to have this lovely post from my friend Lisa, with whom I have enjoyed femme tea and chats and who is making due and getting through in her own kind and loving way.

Deep gratitude to Lisa for opening her wise and questioning femme heart to us! It’s so important and healing for us to share our real-life experiences with family and beyond as we do our best with what’s going on and the resources we have or don’t have. Blessings, sweet readers, on you and on your families, and on your true, beautiful, human stories.

Don’t Make Up Stories by Lisa

At the end of April my 87 year old mother-in-law left her apartment to quarantine at our home. Laurie, my spouse, had been trying for weeks to convince her mom it would be safer to stay with us than at her three-tier senior living residence. Mom’s apartment is a large suite in the independent living area of a very upscale residence of a renovated mill building restored “to take full advantage of it’s high ceilings, expansive windows and picturesque waterfall views.” Ok, that’s a quote from their website, but really, the place is stunning, meals are served on china dishes at tables covered in linen; wine is served with dinner, and the food is so incredible that I wonder why the chef doesn’t work at a fancy restaurant.  Care is taken for every detail of the lives of the residence. Mom didn’t want to leave, until … COVID19 finally found its way into the memory care unit, and life changed.  Activities were suspended, residents were confined to their apartments and meals were brought to their doors.  The staff was doing all that they could to keep everyone safe. Mom felt like a prisoner in her own apartment, so she moved in to quarantine with us.

After Mom’s decision to join us everything happened so quickly, we didn’t take time to consider most of the changes in all of our lives. We knew that we would be making adjustments, however, no one discussed any expectations about what it would be like to live together. My big expectation was that Mom would help out around the house, if nothing else at least with meals, or clean up thereafter. Nope, nadda. My requests for help either fell on her hard-of-hearing-the hearing aids are too uncomfortable ears, or Mom just said “No.” I started to make up names for myself such as “The House Elf” or “The only staff member at The Purple House Assisted Living Center.” I became resentful, alone in my head I began to refer to my mother-in-law as “The Princess.” Laurie was between a rock and a hard place. She still goes to her office each day, and she counsels her clients remotely. She does all of the grocery shopping now, and sees herself as the one responsible to keep the two most important women in her life alive (although I’m in good health I am 12 years older, so she’s not taking any chances). She was doing her best to keep things smooth between her mother and me.

Sharing my complaints with friends brought me the kind of support I thought I needed. It didn’t help of course, because they took my side and Mom became the great villain in my story.  Then I talked with my therapist about it and the story changed.  “So,” she said “what kinds of stories are you making up in your head about your mother-in-law?” “Hmm, that she’s used to being waited on, and expects the same from me?” I was so busy thinking about poor me, I hadn’t considered what she might be feeling. Mom is quite willing to share her judgements, but feelings? No.

I began to be a better listener. If she says just the slightest thing about her residence or her old life, I respond with questions to help draw out more detail and her thoughts (but never her feelings). Reading into it I realized how depressed she was about leaving her apartment and her friends. Her vision is failing and she knows where everything is in her home–ours tends to get a bit chaotic. Her apartment is one level. At our house Mom carefully plans when she’ll go to the bathroom because she needs to navigate the flight of stairs to the second floor. Mom has glaucoma and I recently learned that she’s blind in one eye, regardless, she reads–a lot. I order large print books and pick them up at the library for her. She spends most of the day reading, but she likes to play card games, so I stop in the middle of my day, she puts down her book, and we play. At times, later I find that she has put dishes into the dishwasher, or set the dinner table.

Laurie has been relentless in catching up with doctors and making sure that her mother has the proper medical attention.  I’ve recently learned that Mom would consider herself a nuisance if she shared about her aches and pains. What I regarded as the princess waiting to be served, I’ve come to understand was Mom sitting with bodily discomfort that exhausts her.

The negative feelings I carried were a luxury at a time when too many people have lost loved ones to this horrendous disease. We have been fortunate so far to not have lost any family members. I always considered myself to be a kind and caring person, I surprised myself with the unkind feelings that I righteously carried–I am humbled. One of the lessons I’ve learned during this quarantine: Don’t make up stories in your head about what’s going on with Mom, or anyone else for that matter. Be kind–you never know when you will run out of time.

Lisa is a Jewish Unitarian Universalist proud femme. She is a retired director of UU religious exploration and faith development programs for children and youth. Before quarantine she donated her skills, of storytelling and leading children’s crafts, to bring laughter and fun to participants of an adult day program. During quarantine she spends 1 1/2 hours a day on FaceTime reading chapter books to her 7 year old grandson in VT.

Every Friday, I showcase a queer femme goddess. I want to feature you! Write to me at thetotalfemme@gmail.com and let me shine a spotlight on your beautiful, unique, femme story! If you’ve written a femme story or poem or song, oh, please let me post it!

 New Femme Friday feature starting spring 2020: Queer Femmes Respond. Are you reading more poetry? Are you navigating various technologies in order to see your folx and not be so isolated? Are you still going out to work? Are you able to get out for walks? Who’s home with you? We queer femmes are meeting these unsettling times with queer femme panache, and I want to hear about it! Along the lines of the Corona Letters over at the Sewanee Review, please send in what you’re doing, how you’re staying centered and sane! Write me at thetotalfemme@gmail.com with questions or ideas or a full-on post (with bio, if possible)!

 At the Total Femme, my intention is to post three times a week: Meditations for Queer Femmes on Monday, Pingy-Dingy Wednesday on Wednesday and Femme Friday on Friday. Rather than play catch-up in a stressful fashion on those weeks when life prevents posting, I have decided to just move gaily forward: if I miss a Monday, the next post will be on Wednesday, and so on. Thank you, little bottle of antibiotics for inspiring me in this! (“…if it’s almost time for the next dose, skip the missed dose and continue your regular dosing schedule. Don’t take a double dose to make up for a missed one.”) As I recover from treatment for breast cancer, however, I’m just going to post whenever I can manage.