My sister, my husband and I were driving my mother to see the assisted-living place we picked out for her. For a year, since our dad died, my sister and I have been caring for Mom at home, six months at her house and six months at mine. After a year of total immersion in elder care, we can’t do it anymore. The medical issues of Mom’s daily routine are too much for us. It’s time to make a change.
We all agreed. Well, not all of us. The lead player, my 94-year-old mother, declined to participate in the process. She said, and continues to say, that she wants to live with us. She also says she doesn’t want to be a burden. We want her to live with us. We don’t want her to live with us. A mother is never a burden. She is a burden. All of the above are true.
One might conclude that she was reasonably content with the “aging at home” arrangement. Sadly, she has not been content, but rather deeply sad and withdrawn, which is no one’s fault and beyond anyone’s ability to ameliorate.
So, it seems the time has come to try a different environment, where she might try to speak to someone her own age.
“Just shoot me,” she said on the way to the place last week. In case I hadn’t heard, she said, “Just get a gun and shoot me.”
“I can’t hear and I can’t see,” she added, reciting the mantra that is her answer to basically every request to engage. Yet as we sped along, she read the “chicken on sale” sign in the supermarket window, and she heard me whisper to my sister, “I can’t take this.”
“I can’t either,” my sister said from the backseat.
“What can’t you take?” Mom asked.
This kind of life passage pushes people beyond their abilities. You think you’re someone who can step up and take care of an aging parent with grace and energy and kindness. And then, after a year, you discover that the daily drain of elder care has tested your emotional resources, and found their limit. You had a vision of yourself, but in real time it’s more vision than reality.
My sister looks weary these days, and I imagine I do, too. Taking care of one super-old parent can do that to a whole passel of grown children. I have a tape running through my head at all times of the day and night, reminding me what chore is next: the meds, or the special food, or the safe shoes, or the shower protocol, or the new cane, or the lightweight wheelchair, or the haircut, or the eyeglasses.
In the meantime, I’m forgetting my own stuff all over town. Two pairs of sunglasses went missing in two months. I’ve left gloves and scarves and even my iPad in random restaurants. When my mom was living with me, sometimes I drove around just to get out of my own house and back inside my own head.
The assisted-living facility we chose is by far the nicest place my mother has ever stayed. Elegant and beautifully appointed, it looks too good to be true, because it is. It’s basically a stage set. Every chair and delightful bouquet and platter of cookies is perfectly placed. But it’s no one’s real home, and very few of the residents willingly chose to live the last years of their lives in a “place.”
For some, I suppose, it does become a home away from home. Friends are made. Cards are played. Meals are shared. But those are the people who were probably good campers in their day. This move is an unlikely leap for our mother. On yesterday’s get-acquainted tour, she declined offers of every single thing proffered, from water to chocolate to meeting her neighbors.
So, I’m not getting a great feeling about the prospects of a happy adjustment. My sister and I just can’t do the level of care that we’ve been doing anymore, and our mother, rather than saying she’ll give this a try, wants us to shoot her. No one ever discussed this scenario with me. There is no blueprint.
I did have one brilliant idea. Yesterday I said to her, “With all that you’ve lost, you’re still our mother. You can still be the selfless mother you always were and try this new living arrangement for us as well as yourself.”
“What?” she said. “I can’t hear you.”
Copyright © 2017 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.