Coming back from a delightful time in Philadelphia–with a cute trick-or-treating kitty cat, candy, cupcakes, reading books, little responsibility–was harder than I expected. After all, if you have four relaxing, fun days, you should be ready and cheerful to put the harness back on and walk the next row, right? I called Mom an hour or so after we got home, about 6:15 in the evening. A staff member answered the phone and said she was in the room to get pants for Mom, who had appeared in the living/dining room area wearing a t-shirt, Depends, and nothing else. Gloom descended over me like a heavy fog, and I remembered what was so hard about all this. Trying to maintain some dignity for my mother is getting harder and harder, and I still don’t know how to do it. Does Mom need to go to memory care? I asked myself.
Tuesday I got ready and was out at Bickford around 10:30. Dad was in the sunroom, so we had a pleasant visit, he enjoying tales of Emma, laughing and commenting and–wonder of wonders!–hearing quite well. When I left him to go see Mom, I found her in the living room, music book she can’t read in her lap, joining in the sing led by two women who come to Bickford once a month to bring the old favorites to sing. I joined Mom, and we sang, among many others, “Sweet Old Love Song” and “Old MacDonald”–apparently the favorite of young and old alike!–and Mom commented at one point that “this is fun.” There’s not that much that is fun for her, so I was happy to hear her say it.
I then spoke to the nurse and director about memory care, they focused on what we can do to keep Mom where she is; as far as the appearances sans pants, they suggesting nightgowns (which Mom has never worn) and getting rid of the t-shirts. This seemed like a simple solution. I went to the nearby Meijer’s and got my groceries and four nightgowns for Mom. As I moved around the store, my energy drained out, possibly leaving a trail behind me like a snail. I didn’t really think the nightgown ploy was going to work, was the truth. What if Mom looked for t-shirts–which she has worn to bed for years–upon finding none, might she head for the living room for help wearing briefs and bra…or less? By the time I was in the car, I felt hopeless and grieved. Mom needing memory care was weighing on me more heavily than I at first thought. The rest of my day was not productive, to say the least. Hurray for Netflix!
Wednesday I went out and was greeted by a staff member who takes care of and loves my mother–”she’s my sweetheart” she says. She told me that Mom was still in bed, and that she had been into Mom’s room four times, but each time Mom refused to get up. I went in, dreading finding her in an unfamiliar, maybe angry, state, but the moment she saw me, she smiled and threw back the covers, ready to get up. I suggested joining the hymn sing, to which she readily agreed. Mom headed into the bathroom, and after a few minutes, I heard her saying, “It hurts, it hurts!” The terrible constipation was back and this time she was bleeding. My heart lurched; another grievous hurt for her that hurt me too. Have I mentioned she’s not sure what to do with toilet paper anymore? TMI for some readers, I’m sure, but it illustrates the level to which she has declined, along with the trips to the dining room not suitably clad. I checked Mom’s bed to see if it was wet, and it appears that we will now need to have her bed changed daily, especially with staying in bed so long–up to 16 hours, I think. No wonder she is weak. Rats.
I helped her out of the wet briefs and into dry ones; she asked me if she should pull them up. Ditto her pants. But she did know how to put on her socks! After getting her in some clothes THAT LOOKED NICE TOGETHER, and combing her hair, I helped her up. Oh dear–the chair was stained with, um, [deleted in the interests of clean thinking] which makes it necessary to have the chairs professionally cleaned. Put arranging for that on To-Do list, along with buying super-large washable pads for her chairs. Also Coco was out of treats for the kitchen ladies to give her instead of bacon (Coco would prefer the bacon, SHE says), so we needed to get some at the vet, and I needed to make an appointment for a bath for the dog (who is not pleased with this news!) at the same time. I needed to also pick up prescriptions for me–I have a secret-from-me sinus infection discovered at my physical earlier that day–and there was a book waiting at the library for me. My afternoon schedule was complete. The thought of the errands, in combination with Mom’s condition, was overwhelming. I took Mom down to have a glass of milk and listen to the hymn sing.
The office was my next stop, to tell the nurse and director the latest, and say again I wondered if memory care was far off. It turns out there is no room in memory care, as three residents are in hospice, which helped explain why they were eager to find another solution for Mom’s needs. Also a woman in that area is allergic to animals and afraid of them [question: why move into a place where animals are welcome if you are allergic to and afraid of them? There are many many places where animals are prohibited. Grr.] so Coco would not be welcome. Great.
Then I headed to Dad’s room; it was time to tell him the facts about Mom’s condition. My sister and I mostly respond with “she’s fine” when Dad has asked about her, in order to keep his anxiety down. But if we moved Mom to memory care, he would have to know for any number of reasons. I told him Mom was needing more help, and possibly memory care. He was surprised, said she always looked fine at meals, which is basically his only contact–not that he sits with her or talks to her to know how much she’s failed. His worry was that their money might not go far enough, and wanted me to get reassurance that there would be adequate funds. Another to-do item: call the bank [surprise answer: there is enough money!]. He expressed more surprise, and clearly found this all hard to believe, so I had to tell him some the events I’ve mentioned earlier in the post. These facts convinced him, but he was clearly shocked. My sister mentioned to him Thursday that, with memory care full, options were to hire help at Bickford or move her to another facility with space. “Absolutely NOT!” he said firmly. “Get her what she needs to keep her here. Money is no object!” We are relieved, as moving her is not a good answer unless things get much much worse.
I came home Wednesday with the List of Errands, feeling like I had a mountain to climb, so asked my husband if he would go with me. [Note to self: ask for help when you need it!] He would, the dear, which made the errands and calls much easier to face. Dog treats and bath: check. Washable pads: check. Drugstore and library: check and check. Bank call: done.
Thursday, yesterday, I took “off,” as I knew I needed to decompress for a day, and the break was helpful in getting some perspective and replenishing my energy. Today my sister and I went together to Bickford, took turns visiting Mom and Dad. Mom was not getting out of bed again today, so dear Sister got her up, made sure she got a shower and dressed Mom while I saw Dad. Then Mom and I visited, and upon my sister’s return, Mom took off her glasses, pointed to her right eye, and made crying sounds to indicate something was wrong. Sure enough, her eye was swollen and red, so she’s developed an eye infection, probably from not washing her hands enough. We got the nurse to check it out, she agreed with our assessment, and I suspect Mom has gotten some antibiotic drops in her eye by now. Poor thing. It seems to be something every day that hurts her. It helped to have a sister by my side, though, and we agreed as we left a little later that it was easier to visit together–not that we always can. We also agreed that Mom has been making a rapid change for the worse in the last couple of weeks, and that there is less and less MOM with us; thus, a new level of grieving has started for us. We’ll adjust to this, too, but it’s hard. It’s very hard. We’re far from the only people suffering this sort of grief, but that doesn’t change our pain. Company lightens the load a little, but each of us must deal with our own burden of grief. Writing here, and comments from readers also gives me strength. Thank you.