Caring for my primary abuser as dementia grabs hold of her

The woman who haunted and tortured me throughout much of my life is suddenly helpless and lost and desperate for someone to care for her (and her partner who also has dementia) as she grapples with knowing her mind is slipping away.

I have been forecasting what my mom’s demise was going to look like for about 7 years. I imagined all sorts of scenarios and I was just sure I was going to abandon her to some awful fate. That would be my revenge for what she has done to me throughout my life.

It’s hard to have mercy on someone who just 7 years prior subjected me to more horrific abuse that practically ruined me. As much as I wanted to believe the evil that I grew up with was somehow gone, she gave me a clear reminder that she was still right there prepared to show me the depths of hell to get her own needs met. She also very clearly reminded me that in her eyes, I was still nothing, would never be good enough, and had no value except to serve her needs.

I spent the next 7 years back in therapy after a decade hiatus, in-and-out of psychiatric hospitals, unable to work again, and struggling just to leave my house. Prior to that, I was living some semblance of a normal life, but I let her destroy me again. I didn’t even see it coming, and I have such programmed loyalty to my parents, sadly, I would probably do it all over again.

It’s weird how loyal most of us are to the families who ruined our lives. I am not amongst the group of people who decide to go “no contact” with their family. Mostly I decided to have contact because I convinced myself the serious abusive behavior was over.

For about the last 5 years, I have had minimal contact with my mom (my dad died 7 years prior). She had her boyfriend to make her feel like she was the queen of the earth. Boy, she struck gold with that guy. Does whatever she wants, no questions asked (a narcissist’s dream). It’s somewhere between cute and disgusting to watch.

Slowly over these last 5 years her memory problems started becoming more noticeable. Once the pandemic hit, and she stayed holed up in her house all the time, it started to become more evident the path she was on. The isolation definitely sped up her cognitive decline.

She would express worry about her failing memory every time I spoke with her. I would express concern to my siblings, and they would say she was fine and to just leave her be. We all have complicated relationships with her.

This last year my mom’s dementia started really ramping up. She is 87, and frankly it is an undeserved miracle she has made it this far. She has always been lucky like this. It has never been fair.

My mom would usually vacillate on our calls from sounding scared and helpless to scary and evil. Her dissociative identity disorder is not really relevant to this story, but it is fascinating and scary for me to see how DID can play out with dementia..

There were many times on the phone I felt like she wanted me to force her into assisted living or to live with me. Then she would scream at me at any mention of such a thing. It was a familiar whiplash for me.

Finally, it became clear that both she and her partner who has worse dementia could no longer prop each other up enough to continue living independently. My mom was unraveling. Parts of her I hadn’t seen since my childhood were popping out and behaving in ways she had been keeping contained. I hired helpers to come in, and she would do things like come to the door naked to greet them (a classic intimidation move from my childhood playbook). It wasn’t that she didn’t know what she was doing, she did.

Things continued to spiral downward until she finally got helpless and scared enough that she agreed to come up to assisted living by my house. Prior to this she had always lived a comfortable state away. My therapist was not thrilled about this decision as she knows the evil and power this woman has exerted over me, but as I teach my children, that’s the beauty of adulthood, getting to make your own decisions and mistakes.

After the initial high stress of getting her and her boyfriend moved in to assisted living, things have settled down. I have gone to see her frequently since she is only one block away from me. I have listened to her rage at me when she learned she couldn’t just leave the assisted living facility by herself given her dementia. I have listened to her have the same conversations with me over and over. The reassurance she needs reminds me of what my kids needed when they were young.

The surprising thing that has come out of this decision to bring my mom nearby was to get the benefit of exposure therapy by seeing her over and over. Through these many visits I now clearly understand that she is an old, helpless woman who can no longer hurt me. Finally.

As someone with polyfragmented dissociative identity disorder (I have a lot of parts), it has been really helpful to see we have switched roles: I am now in the parent role and she is the child dependent on me. This has been a huge relief to the many parts of me. Finally, the parts who have held on to the belief that she was this omnipotent person who would forever rule her evil over us have finally reached the point of seeing how helpless and weak she is.

So far, my mom seems to mostly know how lucky she is to have me helping her and making sure her quality of life is the best it can be under the circumstances. My guard stays up, but not like it used to. When she yells at me now it is no longer as traumatic. It is mostly just pathetic and sad. This is where I try to show her mercy instead of payback. It’s hard when the days seem all too familiar to my childhood.

The few people who truly know who my mom is to me wonder why I am taking care of her. Why don’t I abandon her like she did me. Why don’t I show her the same cruelty she showed me. Why am I still loyal. I am the first to admit she doesn’t deserve it, and I think she may know that.

Right now, I have decided that the reason I am taking care of her as this helpless, old woman is because I am not her, and never want to be like her. If I turn my back on her, doesn’t that make me the monster she was to me growing up?

I am not a monster. I am a good person in spite of what she has done to me. I am a good mother and have taken good care of my children and never once abused them. That’s not who I am.

My mom. I don’t know how things are going to go. I have given up trying to predict anything. I can’t imagine ever forgiving her for robbing me of my life, but I can try to show her mercy as she approaches the destruction of her mind. She doesn’t deserve it, but I will try to be there anyway. Somehow I find comfort in being kind when I know she would have met me with cruelty. I can’t help but think about my first psychiatric hospitalization at 21 where she refused to see me and left me abandoned.

If she continues to live, the days will become harder for me. Her dementia combined with her DID and the evil within her is like a continuous gaslight coming at me. I am not sure I will always be strong enough to stay in my adult parts and withstand it. It will be like a constant storm approaching with me uncertain of how hard of a hit I will take.

Have to remember to keep breathing, and taking it one day at a time. I said I will try to take care of her, but I can’t promise it. I will not allow her self-destruction to become my self-destruction. I just pray I can keep my word to myself.