Jenny, 55, a piano teacher, married with two grown children and three grandchildren, and Iris, 61, a retired librarian, married with no children, are the daughters of Ruth, 81, who has recently suffered a stroke and is recovering slowly in a rehabilitation hospital. It is anticipated that she will be able to return home in a month or two.
Meanwhile, her case is being managed by a rehabilitation team consisting of a social worker, her doctor, a psychologist, a physiotherapist and a speech therapist. Iris, recently retired, visits her mother every day and stays for a few hours, while Jenny, who teaches four days a week at the local conservatory, comes twice a week for an hour or so.
Jenny comes into her mother's room to find Iris feeding her rice pudding with a spoon. Jenny kisses her mother gently on the brow. Ruth looks at her, but doesn't react.
Jenny: Hi, Iris, How's Mom?
Iris: She's not doing so well today. She's been sleeping a lot and she's more disoriented than she's been for a while.
Jenny: Why on earth are you feeding her? Shouldn't you be encouraging her to feed herself?
Iris: That's all very well for you to say, but when she tries to feed herself she drops food all over the place and it becomes such a slow process, I'm sure she's not getting enough nourishment. Let me do it my way.
Jenny: But Iris, isn't the whole point of her being in this expensive rehabilitation facility that she should learn to be independent again so she can manage when they send her home? Why don't you at least talk to the staff about this? That's what they're here for, to give suggestions on how to help Mom do more for herself.
Iris: Typical! You come breezing in here with all the answers, while I'm the one, as usual, doing all the work.
Jenny: Iris, don't be mad. I'm only trying to help. You know I can't come more than I do. What with my job and the grandchildren needing my attention after school these days, since Janet's doing that afternoon course. It's only a few more weeks though. Then I'll have more time to help out.
Iris: Yeah, yeah. Face it, Sis, you never had time for Mom. I was the one who was always there for her. But still, you were the favored daughter.
Jenny: Stop it, Iris. Let's not get into that again. Let's focus on what's important here. I know you want to help her, but Mom has to learn to do things for herself. The next few weeks are crucial for her to get back on her feet again. Surely you must see that.
You know the psychologist told us how important it is for Mom's mood for her to get up every day, wash her face and brush her hair and sit out on the porch a little. Otherwise she'll become an invalid. Have you helped her get out of bed today?
Iris: No, I told you she hasn't been feeling well enough. How much can we push the poor woman, Jenny?
Jenny: Poor woman, my foot. Mom's always been passive and you seem to encourage that. For once why not give her a push and let her stretch her limits?
Iris: What are you talking about? If you push her too far she'll only have a relapse. Do you want that? And if you try to get her up when she's not ready, she'll only fall, God forbid.
Jenny: But at least she'll try, and we'll be there to help her get up again.
Iris: I don't believe what I'm hearing. I never realized you could be so cruel.
Jenny: Cruel? I'm talking about helping her get on her feet, on her own. If your idea of cruel is to urge her take a step forward...
Iris: Fine, you want to see how she can to do things herself. Okay. Let's give it a try.
She hands her mother the spoon and gets up from the chair. Ruth, confused, tries to put it in the bowl but manages to knock the bowl onto the floor. She looks ashamed and miserable afterwards. "I'm sorry," she says weakly.
Iris (bitterly): See that? Are you happy now?
Some things never change. As usual, I'm the one left holding the bag, looking after Mama, who always needed so much, while dear Jenny is off getting all the attention. Hasn't it always been like that? Iris, the good daughter, staying behind to help Mom. Nothing has changed. Except now Mom needs me more than ever.
I really resent it sometimes. Everyone thinks I'm just interfering and bossy. It makes me mad not to be appreciated. Just look at poor Mom, though. She really does need all the help she can get, and the truth is, I'm the only one who can give it to her.
I know that Iris just wants to help, but honestly, sometimes she's so infuriating, taking on too much and getting in the way of the rehabilitation team who are supposed to be helping Mom get back on her feet. I know she's always been jealous of me. I was always the popular one. And she felt she had to compensate by being the one who did everything for everyone.
The truth is, I really don't have the time to do more. I guess it suits me in a way to have Iris taking the major brunt of looking after Mom. But that doesn't change the fact that what she needs is more independence and less babying from Iris. I know I'm busy working, but if it weren't for the fact that Bill and I are footing the bill, Mom wouldn't be able to afford the excellent rehabilitation team she's got here to help her. So I am doing what I can in my own way.
I have nothing to feel guilty about.