Oh, I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain,
I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end,
I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend,
But I always thought that I’d see you, baby, one more time again.
James Taylor, 1970
Mom not able to walk to the dining room? Ha. She would walk the dogs over the dunes, golf 18 holes with friends, come home and direct lunch, afternoon activies, another walk on the dunes, dinner, then to walk the the golf course at Crystal Downs while teaching capricious grandchildren how to golf. Then cards and popcorn while the kids played video games. And now she can’t walk safely without a walker. Can’t make it from her room down two halls to the living room without pain and shortness of breath. Can’t manage a trip to the bathroom alone. Doesn’t know what day it is. Doesn’t even know how to call for help.
As a physical therapist I worked with the elderly in a hospital setting for 5 years, sometimes meeting the same people multiple times. I know how they descend into decreased mobility and cognitive function. Too many of them were Mom and Dad’s age or younger. I could see my parents laying in the bed in front of me. I finally had to quit, burned out, unable to continue to cope with the disablity and lingering death that is awaiting Mom and Dad. Now I watch Mom pushing her walker way out in front of her, leaning forward in a way that is bad for her back and can lead to falls, more decreased mobility and suffering. She has come to the walker so late that she cannot learn the correct and safest way to use it. So I watch her leave the walker behind to sit in the chair. [Patient: "I fell when I was getting into the kitchen chair." Me: "Where was your walker?" Patient: "I left it by the wall, out of the way." Me: "Arrrgh!"] I was nearby yesterday when she got up out of her chair with a foam cup in her hand, wanting to take it herself to the wastebasket, no walker. She was just trying to help. She stumbled to the right and I caught her, feeling I had prevented a fall. She usually just bounces, but there it is. The physical therapist can’t keep her own mother safe. Most of the time I accept it. As a therapist, I know I’ve done all I can, that she’s not capable of learning anymore. As a daughter there is the feeling that I have somehow failed her.
Today she needed to go to the bathroom. Usually I will help her. The experience at the hospital has helped me to comfortably help her with this and other basic things. I just didn’t have time today, so I went to get a staff member, D., to assist her as it can be a complicated procedure now. As I gathered things up and left the room, I could hear D. saying, “Let’s go this way, Betsy,” and see her holding Mom’s hands, leading her carefully and lovingly to the bathroom. As Dad often says, “Let Bickford be Bickford.” By this he means don’t worry about it, the “ladies” will take care of it. And so I have let go. Again.