The morning after learning that Mom had broken some ribs, I called Senior Services to ask how to get home health care started to assist Mom with showering so I wouldn’t have to. I had imagined myself coming to their house each evening to help her shower–and why shouldn’t I? I live about a block from their (former) home–and felt trapped and panicky at the prospect. The S.S. (no, not THAT one!) set up an immediate appointment with me, and later that day I told our story to the–I think–social worker. Happily, we arranged for someone to help Mom with her shower for the next day. Additionally, Meals-on-Wheels started coming, which weren’t all that appetizing, but Mom wouldn’t have to try to create a meal. She, as she had from the age of 16, was working to keep weight down, and mostly was eating plain yogurt and cherry tomatoes, so this noon meal would improve her diet variety anyway. When I visited in the afternoon, I asked Mom what they had for lunch from Meals-on-Wheels. She thought for a moment, then said, “I don’t remember.” My heart sank. I kept hoping I was wrong about Mom’s mental state, and that I was worrying needlessly, but this was another sign that she was truly in dementia.
The aide who came to help Mom shower was very nice, and told us to get Mom a shower chair, which was a great help because of Mom’s unsteadiness. If she moved wrong, the broken ribs hurt, and she jerked away from the pain, which threw her off balance. Still, we were doing OK, Dad thought, with the medication dispenser, and now M-o-Ws and home health care. “Our goal is to outlast the Schapers!” he announced, referring to the only other couple on their street still in their home. He was joking, but for a while we it seemed they would be able to stay put at their home, 711.
The next morning Dad called me, very upset. “Your mother went out without telling me, and I don’t know where she is! I’ve driven around the block, and couldn’t find her!” His panic fired up mine, and I jumped in the car and drove a longer route that I knew she sometimes took when walking the dog. Sure enough, she was there, walking confidently toward home. I drove to their house, and waited for her, wrung out from the emotion of picturing her wandering ever further from home, lost and confused. This scenario played out a couple of times in the next weeks, and I wasn’t sure how much more of this either Dad or I could take. Mom knew her way around the neighborhood, and I was no longer worried that she would get lost; it was Dad’s worry that was beginning to make their living alone unmanageable. So now what?
Months before, probably around the time Mom quit driving, Dad made it clear that he had about had it with running a house. Everything that went wrong–in one case a loose cupboard door–sent him into orbit emotionally. I had seen a new facility going up near the mall, and heard that a church member, Dorothea, was living there. On impulse one day, after I’d been to the mall, I went inside, and was directed to Dorothea’s room. I knew she’d had health problems, so I wasn’t sure how I would find her. I was amazed when a radiant D. opened the door and welcomed me; I hadn’t been sure she would know who I was. I stepped in the door and stopped, my eyes riveted on a–yes it WAS– a cat! “You can have cats here?” I asked. “Oh, yes. And dogs. We’ve had a 100 lb. Golden Retriever living here.” The rest of the visit convinced me that, should my parents need an assisted-living facility, Bickford Cottage might work. The most obvious match was that my parents could bring their chocolate lab, Coco, to live with them. My sister and I didn’t see how they could move anywhere, because my mother would be devastated to lose her dog. This was almost too good to be true, but I spoke with one of the staff, and she assured me that Coco would be welcome. Excitement swelled in my chest as I drove home. This place could be the answer!