Tuesday, June 30, 2009

I'm Sorry, Mother Dear

Eight days ago was the day that Mother Dear went to the assisted living facility. It all went rather smoothly, and both my brother and I did a good job being calm and keeping our emotions in check. It wasn't until I arrived back home to an empty house that I started to cry.

So many emotions and thoughts have crossed my mind over the first 24 hours alone, some causing me to sob, others to just have tears well up in my eyes.

We had agreed that the story we would tell my mother was that we had found a new doctor that was going to help her with her memory. For the past month, every time she would mention her lack of memory or had a loss for words, I would remind her that we were going to change doctors to see what he could do. I was hoping that the seed would be planted with continued renewal of the subject.

My brother came up with the idea that she would be "admitted to the hospital for tests" so this new doctor could evaluate her. There is a kernel of truth to it and she went along fine.

I packed up her clothes over the weekend into some paper shopping bags. If she saw a suitcase, I was afraid I'd blow the story. When my brother arrived on Monday morning, she was still in bed so we moved the bags to his trunk without her knowing.

She got up and we continued to treat things like it was a normal day. She sat on the couch and I got her orange juice and pills. Then we stated that we were going to see the special memory doctor and that as soon as she finished her pills, we'd get ready and go. As I washed her hair, I thought about how that was going to be the last time and I was mindful to enjoy the experience. I got out a fresh set of clothes, she changed, and away we went.

It was a half hour drive. Afterwards, my brother said something that I had also thought. He felt like he was taking his dog for her last walk before he put her to sleep. I, too, had a similar feeling. Like when I put down my cat after 16 years. I also thought that it was like leading a lamb to slaughter. Yes, I caught myself that I was being a bit dramatic, but my Mom is in such a place that she was innocently going along without a clue what was to come at the end of the journey. While not death, she was going to a place where she had repeatedly said she never wanted to go. And here were her two boys, literally entrusted with her life, pulling a fast one on her.

I know. It needed to be done. And the way we did it was for the best as it cause no distress in her at all.

When we arrived, she and I went in and my brother parked the car. As we entered the door, we passed the activities room full of the residents. Mom asked, "Did you see all the old people in there?" I nodded my head and proceeded on to the admin's office. My brother caught up and we went to her room. That's when I told her that this was going to be her room since the doctor wanted to keep her for observation. I thought this was when the light bulb was going to go on for her, but it didn't.

The head nurse came in and asked if she wanted to go for a walk. Out they went, hand in hand, as she got the tour. My brother and I ran out to the car and got all of her things. We got back to her room and unpacked three bags of stuff. Mostly clothes, but also some bathroom items like her toothbrush, a bar of soap, deodorant, and a Build-A-Bear Polar Bear wearing his "Hug Me" sweater that I had made for her years ago and sent back for Christmas. Fuzzy Butt the bear went on her nightstand. And that was that.

Next was a trip to the nurse's station to give them all of her pills, go over the final paperwork, explain again what she likes and doesn't like.

When we left, she was sitting in the activities room with everyone else. We chose this particular place because it is in her small home town and we hoped that she might find friends that she had grown up with. As it turns out, the assistant activities director knew who she was, our whole family, and she had made an immediate friend. They were sitting together chatting like old friends.

I asked my brother if he thought we should go in and say goodbye. His answer was a quick "no." I asked if that was for her benefit or his. He said "both." I respected that, given that Mom was already settling in and she wouldn't remember us leaving anyway so it was better not to cause a scene.

He drove me home. He said, "Today is the day I've dreaded for eight years." Four years prior to my arrival, he had changed jobs to stay closer to home. While not living with her, he kept tabs on her quite well.

As I said, there were no tears until I walked in the door. Everything around me reminds me of her. This house where she lived for nearly 60 years was decorated by her. Each piece of furniture. Each item on the counters and walls.

I've broken down crying and found myself repeating, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry."

• I'm sorry you have this terrible disease. A disease that steals your personality. Your memories. Your likes and dislikes. Your sense of space and belonging. Your knowledge. It stole your retirement.
• I'm sorry that I couldn't hold out longer. That my personal situation was such that I couldn't keep you here with me.
• I'm sorry that you'll never come home to this house where you lived for 50+ years. Where you spent 40 years with your husband and raised two children.
• I'm sorry you'll no longer be able to see your yard where you gardened endlessly to keep the flowers blooming and the weeds at bay.

The interesting emotion that crossed my mind was guilt. Guilt for the normal reasons, yes, but for one I hadn't expected. Here I am, in her house, enjoying all of her things while I had placed her where she couldn't. It feels like I have stolen everything from her.

All in all, I think the day went well for her considering what actually happened to her. I cried most of the day since I see her touch all around me.


Greg said...

Oh, that was difficult to read, for obvious reasons. I'm glad you posted to let us know how the day went. I have various responses that I'm too tired right now to join up into a well-crafted reply, so please forgive this list:

1) "I'm sorry that I couldn't hold out longer" - you relocated and put your life on hold to care for your Mom full time. That's more than 99% of people do these days. You did it until your own health was endangered. No Mother would want her Son to suffer for her. Remember that the voice in your head making you feel bad is not your Mother's but your own.

2) I'm sure that you and your Brother knew best how to manage the transition, but the whole deception thing leaves me feeling a bit uncomfortable. It's a shame you couldn't have made the move your Mom's idea to a degree, taking her to see places and seeing which one she responded best to. However, it sounds like her first hour went remarkably well, and I hope she is existing in that eternal present where the passage of time isn't noticed. She may appreciate the extra company where she is, and the availability of attention at any time. That she found a friend so quickly is a VERY good sign. Be prepared for the Home to become a "hotel" as well as "the hospital" over the coming weeks.

3) I, too, felt TERRIBLY guilty about taking everything away from my Mum, but she barely seemed to care about things that I thought she'd never want to see go. You're judging yourself as if she's thinking and responding like we would, but she's not. In her eyes, where she is might even be an improvement, so try and be kind to yourself. Whilst YOU feel the unfairness of taking her home away from her, it was no longer a safe place for her to live (I recall your "wandering" worry). As always, you've acted from the best motives.

4) You and your Brother also love your Mom enough to have made the effort to choose the best local place for your Mom. For all that you are currently surrounded by memories of "betrayal", you've done the best you can to keep some of her surroundings familiar. I think you should keep repeating a mantra of all the things you've done in care for your Mom to try and balance those feelings of loss you're feeling now.

5) It won't all be feelings of guilt. You will also feel lonely. I don't know if spending time with friends or even going away for a little while is the best for you. I expect you want to stay local for a while to keep visiting your Mom and ensuring that she's not distressed.

6) How long are you planning to wait until you do something with the house? I have been rubbish at getting on with this myself. Guilt made me cautious about making any changes that I couldn't back out of, even though it was as plain as day that my Mum wouldn't be returning to her home.

Let us know how it goes the next time you visit her, eh?

Thinking of you

Greg x

citygirl said...

Thank you for sharing this painful day with us. I read this posting twice and felt myself wanting to cry (but couldn't because I'm at work in a crazy open-concept desk). However, I think I might have a little cry when I get home just because.

We used the same technique with my mom, i.e. she's going to the hospital because she's not been feeling well and our family doctor (who she actually remembered the whole time - forget your own kids but don't forget your doctor!) wants her to go get checked out. We took mom to the hospital one winter evening and got her admitted under emergency status because she had quite a sudden downturn (we think a stroke), was becoming very physically aggressive towards us and she had begun wandering/getting lost in the Canadian winter which is quite bad. This also moved her along in the list for a home; a list we had been on for quite some time but the need was becoming more urgent by the day. Despite all these facts, I still felt like the biggest jerk for admitting her. She kept asking to go home while being admitted and it was quite tempting to just take her home. Thankfully my siblings and I kept our resolve that this was necessary and we weren't turning back.

Unfortunately, mom caught pneumonia within a day or two and literally was on her deathbed. It was horrible. I cried every night for the first week, thinking that our own selfishness had caused this. If we could have only somehow coped at home.

Thank G*D, mom pulled through the pneumonia and when she was well enough, she was placed at her first home (she eventually moved onto a nicer place more geared towards Alzheimers when room opened up). For the first few months, she kept asking to go home and we kept up the story that the family doctor has admitted her here for testing and to get better which she always happily accepted.

Things do eventually get easier as your mom settles in. There will come a point where your guilt and pain will lift a bit. Keep up your blogging - you'll need somewhere to exhale.

Krista said...

It's always hard putting your parent in a home. You did the right thing and like you said, you have to take care of YOU. She is going to be just fine. My dad has really gotten use to the home he lives in so much that he has really gotten attached to the women who take care of him. When I go visit him, he looks around the room looking for them. When one of them walks in, he will say "well they you are". So, that actually makes me comfortable knowing that he is comfortable and happy.

It's hard not to feel guilty and that is just a natural feeling for someone who loves their mother so much. She is lucky to have you. Just know you are doing the right thing and don't beat yourself up for it. Just visit her as often as possible and make sure she is always comfortable and at peace. That is most important.


Lacey said...

Well, I have a lot to say, but at the moment, I think you don't need to hear it. I truly feel your pain. I don't know if that helps, but believe me, what you have done (are doing) is never easy. My mom is gone 25 years and I still think of all that I could have done. Seems that we just can't ever do enough for a mom that we love. I did what I did. I don't know if it was the best I could do, but it's done and nothing can change it.

Mom said...

I hope my kids will be as loving and caring as you have been. When the time comes I do not want them to feel guilty for doing what needs to be done for my health and for theirs.

A Single Man said...

Just catching up with you....

You and your brother are saints, not only to have cared for mum for so long, but to also be so considerate of her feelings when the day finally came for placement. I don't see deception in this case as unkind; in fact, I see it as a very loving thing to do.

And of course you cried...who wouldn't? And of course you're sorry for any number of reasons.

But please don't feel guilty about stealing from her. The disease stole her life from her. You have done everything you can to help and love her.