GUEST BLOG: Just My Mother's Daughter
“For crying out loud!” I yelled for three long months, starting in early June. “My whole life’s being hijacked!” “Why NOW?” I asked, as if there’s ever a good time for a case of abuse threatening to destroy a ninety-year-old—who just happens to be my mother, living hundreds of miles away.
Just My Mother's Daughter:
Elder Abuse in the Family by Dee Ann Miller
Dee Ann Miller is best known for her 1993 book "How Little We Knew: Collusion and Confusion with Sexual Misconduct" and her extensive efforts both to "comfort survivors of abusive clergy" and to "confront collusion with abuse in the faith community." The book she is currently working on, "Enlarging Boston's Spotlight: Views from Inside a Baptist Parsonage" is expected February 1, 2017. It chronicles her 30 years working to combat clergy abuse and misconduct. Those who are interested in more information can email Dee or visit her website
“For crying out loud!” I yelled for three long months, starting in early June. “My whole life’s being hijacked!”
“Why NOW?” I asked, as if there’s ever a good time for a case of abuse threatening to destroy a ninety-year-old—who just happens to be my mother, living hundreds of miles away. Yet, there I sat, putting the finishing touches on one of the most important projects in my ministry, ironically related to another hijacking that turned my life upside down thirty years earlier.
“Don’t worry. We’ve got everything here well covered,” both Mom and her abuser kept saying. Did they ever! That’s what had me worried night and day. I knew full well what I was “seeing.” My mother, like many elders, treats my brother the same as if he were a “domestic partner,” as if they have a mutual “care-giving” agreement these past ten years of sharing the same abode.
In fact, the dynamics are the same as any case of intimate partner violence. The violations are of soul and mind that even police are untrained to see, despite being repeatedly called “unnecessarily” to her house following loud altercations. She’s as vulnerable as any woman with visible bruising, I insist; and what’s going on is far more serious than anything in the past.
However, after only a few minutes visiting on her front porch, authorities—including her Adult Protective Service worker—decide that my mother is perfectly capable of making her own decisions. Proving them wrong legally is extremely complicated, an empathetic elder care lawyer, long familiar with the case, reminds me.
"You can’t do anything from Kansas, anyway,” Mom frequently reminds me with pleasure that annoys me whenever I raise concerns. Truth is, I could do nothing if I was beside her while she clings to the son I also love dearly, who’s destroying himself along with her. To no avail, I’ve tried many times before.
It matters not what I know after spending much of my life, as a mental health nurse and advocacy writer, working to stop the widespread collusion so common with all professionals whose duty it is to protect the vulnerable. In this case, I’m just my mother’s daughter.
The inability of others to see her abuse as abuse has resulted in untold incidents of victim blaming for years. Each time, I’m left feeling more helpless while Mom is more vulnerable than ever. Now, with her fast-failing memory, the emotional, mental, verbal, and financial abuse, obvious to anyone who really knows her, is intolerable.
How this gracious woman, who’s still an energizer bunny, managed long ago to get the art of pretending down to a science, I can explain easily. It’s an “occupational hazard” for any woman married forty years to a minister.
In fact, with Dad long gone, my little brother, at fifty-five, shares this art. With a forty-year history of drug addiction, he keeps insisting he’s the one taking care of her—just in case she forgets. Yet he sleeps half the day, screams when awakened, then tells her he’s not hungry enough for the supper she’s lovingly prepared. Leaving her in puzzlement once again, he guzzles down a half gallon of milk. This daily “fast food” favorite serves him well as he rushes to find his next fix.
As I set to work, my seriously-disabled husband Ron, a retired minister with a huge advocate heart, frequently rolls his wheel chair into the home office, listening and offering his own expertise. With this support and every ounce of energy I can muster, my entire being is focused on the safety of my mother.
Yet things only get worse. When she passes a very simple memory test with flying colors, her concerned primary care physician is left baffled, while my brother uses the moment to gain the upper hand as he senses a brewing crisis. He immediately sets to work stirring up immense hostility and paranoia in his mother’s mind, adding to other lies he’s fabricated in the past to keep “enemies” at bay. This will continue until late August, when I enlist the help of others to bring her up for a two-week visit, only to discover she’s fully convinced that her son is correct— she’s being kidnapped and will never get back to Texas, where she’s convinced the sun rises and sets.
Back in early July, after she rushed down to the Police Department to drop check fraud charges she’d filed only days earlier, I’d almost given up hope. In care-giver overload, I waited, still listening to Rhonda, my mother’s most trusted friend and the real heroine in this story, who keeps me informed several times daily while speaking with authorities periodically to reinforce the truth.
For years, this devoted advocate has demonstrated Divine Love seldom seen on earth. Lately, her wisdom and finesse equal any psychologist with whom I’ve ever worked. Checking on things, quietly cautioning and comforting, Rhonda has served as a constant, much-needed voice of reality. This loving care forever increases to match the intensity of the abuse, as I discover most of the town, including some of Mom’s closest church friends, have abandoned her in their sense of desperation.
Rhonda knows exactly what’s happening, even the parts she can’t see. This I know, for she was my brother's first intimate partner victim, starting soon after they married in their late teens. Having learned previous lessons well, as one of six children forced to survive her mother’s alcoholism and prostitution, she escaped the marriage at age twenty-two with two toddlers in tow. Fighting her way to a healthier future, she made it clear to all concerned that she had no intention of being his victim ever again, a promise she’s made good on.
Looking for more allies, I phoned Mom’s pastor. Could someone in the congregation go by and check on her regularly for a while to provide an extra set of eyes and ears? Besides, she’s very lonely, I explain, after speaking candidly about my current concerns.
I’ll forever remember his response as one of the most creative “reasons” for avoidance I’ve ever heard: “Problem is your mother doesn’t qualify for our home-bound program since she still gets to church occasionally.” Since I had more urgent conversations awaiting me, I simply thanked him for his time and chalked the conversation up as good writing material.
Now, in October, I’m happy to report the ending of this year’s intense three-month struggle is better than most fiction. Mom’s living in the present moment, enjoying a "childhood" far happier than her first! She’s finally in a safe place, amazingly one she loves, ten miles from her front porch, excited about the new friends she’s making, and still under the close watch of her devoted advocate, Rhonda. She’s finally being treated for dementia far more extensive than even her neurologist could imagine until he saw the brain images. After a thorough workup, conclusions from diagnostic testing tell us she’s probably been unable to make solid long-term decisions for a decade or more--a fact well hidden, to the benefit of her abusers (and she’s had more than one).
Yet this evaluation she desperately needed would never have occurred had it not been for the Social Security Administration, where I turned after establishing check fraud. There I learned that in cases of financial elder abuse, if dementia is even suspected, Social Security can take drastic action, imposing a freeze on the elder's monthly income. Believe me-- this got the attention of a lot of folks-- the perpetrator and my mother included!
While forcing me to pay most of her bills for the last three months, this situation cut off the abuser's supply and served as impetus for her agreement to both mental and neurological testing in hopes of proving me wrong. With the truth clearly established, the whole set of power dynamics shifted rapidly, even restoring relationships my brother almost succeeded in destroying between my mother and those of us whom she’s come to realize had her best interest at heart all along.
“This really should be your next writing project,” some of my friends suggest.”
I laugh. “Don’t rush me,” I tell them. “I only want to get back to the writing project I left hanging in June when my whole life got hijacked.”
That’s kind of funny in itself, considering the inspiration for the project had come like a hijacking of another kind, shortly after I concluded in January that I was done with advocacy writing. Thirty years was enough, I declared, as I entered the eighth decade of my life. Time to sit back and watch the younger generation, now stepping up to the plate all over the world, speaking out against violence and abuse to a press far more informed than in bygone days when we had to teach journalists every question to ask. Anything else needing my attention would need to drop from the sky.
Which is about what happened in the theatre when Sasha Pfeiffer came out with a lost article from 1993, which turned out to become a pivotal point in the Oscar-winning movieSpotlight. Instantly, I was transported back to an interview I’d had on Boston radio, as a guest author, with this article being the subject of the lead-in remarks made by the host that morning. Once again, I knew I had to write what I knew—about that interview and far more.
So, finally… just last week….it dawned on me: Thanks to the positive outcome, though the struggle has been far from “a blessing,” this summer wasn’t a total hijacking after all. Oddly, it’s only brought this writer back on course--even as it got my mother where she needs to be.
Looks like quitting time’s not even close.
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