“Minding Mama” – a performance piece

What if I didn’t have to worry about what people would say about this new piece, “Minding Mama“?  What if I didn’t concern myself with judgement about being a good daughter, a loving daughter?  What if I let myself sink down into all the colors of caring for someone who is slipping away.

The gift of art is that it lets us explore all the dimensions and aspects of being human with much more freedom and permission than we allow in our daily lives.  It lets us take a topic, be it personal or not, and stretch the possibilities, explore the boundaries, and then move past them into unknown territories.  

But even as an artist, looking at this story was difficult.

My mom has dementia. Over the course of years, it has gotten progressively worse. Once upon a time she was the caregiver, now our roles are reversed.  Unlike being a mother, where I was raising my daughter towards the expansive future of adulthood, with my mother, we are going backwards, regressing. She is losing more and more of her abilities, no longer able to cook, clean or bathe herself.  The conversations are groundhog day. The same questions or comments repeated over and over and over again.

This experience is fraught with a tangle of emotions: compassion, tenderness, fear, sorrow, guilt, resentment, anger, laughter, nostalgia, love, loss. And, through it all, I struggle with being a ‘good daughter,’ and all that it entails.

Over time, as her needs have grown, I confess I found myself dreading the visits, resenting this pull on my time, this shredding of my heart. But that was not something I shared easily, or at all. However, in not being able to voice these emotions, the ‘darker, uglier’ feelings grew and festered.  I was ashamed to admit I had them.  And if I hinted at any such discomfort it was always whitewashed, minimized, passed over quickly.

Of course, when we do not acknowledge these places in our heart, these colors of emotion, they grow and amplify, until it is all that we can think of.  Ironically, we become obsessed with the very aspect we do not want to acknowledge.

When I first started developing ‘Minding Mama’ it was in hopes of releasing some of these feelings, giving them air to breathe, room to speak, and then being free of them. So, I gave myself permission to do the deep dive, to move beyond what was just me, and invite in the full range of this darker spectrum. But once we tap in, we can’t predict what will rise up…. Holy Murdering Moly.

The first time I shared the piece with an audience, my stomach hurt. I was so embarrassed I even had these thoughts. How could I, given what I had experienced with losing my husband, have such callousness towards my mother’s condition? Yet, here were these foul words, spitting out of my mouth like vipers.

I found myself needing to explain that it wasn’t all me, that I had tapped into something beyond me.  I went on with this wasn’t how I felt most of the time. I described the emotions as ‘ugly’ and even went so far as to apologize for feeling that way.

Whoa! Hold on there, Nelly. What was happening here? What was I doing by apologizing for my feelings.

Except, we do that all the time. All the time. Apologizing for feeling at all!

Somewhere along the line, we developed a list of ‘good emotions’ and ‘bad emotions.’ We talk about emotions as high vibrational and low vibrational, with the high vibrational ones being what we aspire to. But, what does it do to us when apologize for our feelings, when we judge them bad or invalidate them? What does that do to our Soul, our Self, when we take aspects of ourselves and determine they are unworthy, shameful, in need of upgrading, purging or removal?

At the end of my first reading, I was surprised to be greeted with gratitude, relief, a huge thank you for speaking what we rarely dare to say.

So how liberating might it be to acknowledge those feelings, to claim them as ours? To welcome them as part of our human existence. How might we live our lives more fully if we gave them room to reveal themselves in their true shape, not twisted, hidden, whitewashed? How deeply might we breathe if we let them come through us, move through us, enlighten us with their full presence? Aaaah. Already I expand.

With this discovery, ‘Minding Mama’ has become more than just a performance piece about caring for a loved one with dementia.  It has become an exploration into permission, acceptance, compassion.  It has become an honoring of the ‘all of us.’ Not just what is acceptable, the kind, sweet, and loving, but also what is unspeakable, the anger, resentment, sorrow, horror.

I truly believe that it is only in accepting and embracing this spectrum of feelings and intentions, this deep rich range of colors, that we can feel, at last, fully whole.

Come check out “Minding Mama” this Saturday, September 21, as part of MissBehaving, an evening of bold, brave, beautiful women, daring to reveal what we so rarely share.

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