Wednesday, October 31, 2012

On Moms and Dads and Caregiving

Her message said she needed a place for her mom.

I'd been there.  I'd felt that.  My friends had shown me the way.  When she called, I wasted no time; I called her right back.  Telephone tag and two hours later I was wandering my house... my yard.... my kitchen as she brought me back to the days before G'ma was settled.  I couldn't sit still. I needed to do something, anything, because to do nothing was untenable yet there was nothing I could do.

I listened to her talk.

Her mom needed..... her dad was..... and then there was her own family... and a relationship-by-marriage... and she was just so tired. Her own kid was finally getting settled.  She was in charge of so much, and so little all at the same time.

So, I listened to her talk.

Her parents are there and she is here.  Should they move, she wondered?  Would they agree to move, I wondered right back at her. 

She didn't say anything for a while.

Making decisions is where it all begins, and ends, and around which it all revolves. No one wants to talk about it. She was no exception.

I know what that feels like.  I resisted making decisions for G'ma; I allowed her, perhaps, more independence than her cognition warranted.  The woman got lost one block from her home.  She was delivered to the concierge in her apartment building by a lovely young policeman who offered to drive me to the address on the card Brother gave me.  To my mind, it was a simple case of "no harm, no foul."  She had shown excellent problem solving skills, waving down a police car and asking them to point her in the right direction. She knew she was in trouble and she knew how to find help.  There was no reason for her to live in a more restrictive environment.  She was fine.  I knew it.  I had to know it.  The alternative was too confusing, too jumbled, too sad.

Also, she had the best attitude. She wasn't afraid; why should she be? She spoke the language. She was vaguely offended by the question.  I respected her and left her living alone in an apartment with a refrigerator filled with styrofoam containers of left-overs which was cleaned out by my sister and then the cleaning lady once a week.

And don't get me started on how she mismanaged her pills.  The day she wondered why she was living in ice and snow when I was in the desert, deadheading snapdragons and wearing shorts, was the happiest moment of this part of my life.  She moved here eight months later.

I am blessed, and I know it.  I am the luckiest daughter in the world.  My mom raised a person in whom she can put her trust,  who will keep her safe, on whom she can call in an emergency.  She wonders where she is and why, but "whatever you say, sweetheart" is her default position.  She has forgotten many things; she has not forgotten that she raised competent children.

Before me, she had my sister.  There was a little more of two-way-caring there than there is here, but she was younger, then. I know I can call on her in a pinch.  She may not remember my name, but she knows she's supposed to care for me... and she does.  She was never a very  an emotional person; she accepts, but does not seek out, hugs. But when faced with a teary face, her arms are open and ready.

In the same way, I decide for her based on what I think she would want.  Of course, she's not the same Mommy I knew when I was ten, or twenty, or forty.  Her desires have changed, her outlook has tilted, she's a new and improved version of the woman who always knew the right thing to do - for herself and others.  All that is locked away.  She can barely remember the question, let alone form an answer.  Deciding where to live and how much care she needs are things that are now on my shoulders.  Carrying the load without feeling the burden is made simpler by her acceptance of the situation.  So many of my friends' parents argue and stall and engage in verbal combat; G'ma just smiles and agrees.

So, I listened as my friend talked about her mom's physical needs and her dad's stoicism and listened as the reality began to sink in.  Memory care, bathing assistance, medication supervision, activities, food, quality of life issues.... they were everywhere and irrelevant at the same time.  She needs to visit and consider and consult and, if she wants my company, she won't have to do it alone.

This is a piece of adulthood for which none of us is prepared.  There is no cure for what is really wrong - they are just too old.  Different pieces wear out at different rates of speed.  The losses are asymmetrical and annoying and frightening and then they become dangerous.  That's where she is right now, on the cusp,in danger of drowning in the emotions. 

"I don't know what they need," was the recurring theme of the conversation, and the answer was beyond my ken.  She'll have to explore and gather facts and rely on her instincts and judgment.  What they need is available in a dozen places in a dozen pieces; the harsh reality is that no place will be perfect. She has high expectations and a good heart, both of which will be tested over the next few months.

I'm glad that I can be here for her.  "Been there.  Done that," feels pretty good right now.


  1. Hey AB, I'm back from the storm. Uggh! What a mess it is around here. But the sun is out and I'm at the office. Think the kids were even getting tired of being home and cooped up.

    I'm not looking forward to having to deal with this with my parents. My MIL is already in a senior's home. But she has her own apartment and they have other care--if and when she needs it. And she's not far from any of her children (except my BIL; who lives in SF). The rest of us are within ten miles of her.

    My parents are ten years younger than my MIL, so they aren't having to deal with this yet. But I'm learning from you to be patient and sort of go with the flow. Be there for your parents, but still let them have some control of their lives. My heart is just racing thinking about this. :(

    Hope you are doing well.

    Megan xxx

  2. Dealing with this now, and I wish desperately to have someone like you here to show the way. Complicating it all is the lack of financial means to fund the decisions which need to be made. It gets done as best as possible, but is at times overwhelming.
    Reading this post, I felt supported. Thank you.


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