Bad reaction

I visited Mom briefly on Thursday, right before dinner. She was sitting in the lobby by herself. Most residents had already gone into the dining room. The facility administrator had recommended that I ease her into the information about moving. We were chatting, and I casually told Mom she’d be moving soon to a new room in the same building. “Oh” was all she said. She was pretty cheerful. A little bit flat. I liked this nonreaction she was having.

I didn’t go back until today, Sunday. I visited after lunch. When I got there, Ginny and Alice were in the lobby, but Mom wasn’t there. They didn’t recall seeing her at lunch. They assumed she was asleep. Sure enough, I found Mom on her bed, lying on her side with a yellow throw over her, the other side of the bed covered with clothes. A box on the floor by the bed had been emptied of some of its contents, mostly puzzle pieces and pictures. Mom woke up with a start, but was quick to get out of bed and ask me what we were going to do. I asked her if she had eaten lunch and then gone to sleep. “Well, you know, I just don’t remember,” she said. She was in a pretty good mood. I changed her clothes for her, put some deodorant on her. “Do I stink?” she said. She didn’t, in fact. I just thought it was a good idea to freshen her a tad. I told her again that she was going to be moving soon in the same building, and that Laura and Jeff were coming to help with the move. “That sounds fun,” she said. She needed reminders about who they were. Then she said “I’ll get to see all my relatives.” Yet another good reaction. I asked her if she wanted to go see her new room and she said yes.

We took the elevator to the second floor and walked down the main hall that leads to the care center – what this place calls its nursing home. On the way, Mom said she had to poop. So we turned around and headed back toward a public restroom. Though there were two other women in the bathroom, Mom left her stall door open. The older of the other women in there did, too, because she had a walker, which kept the door propped open. They carried on a conversation about an upcoming bingo game. Once that was done, we headed back toward the care center, then to the right, and then to the left down the hall to Mom’s new room. It turns out 237, the one I had selected, is not available after all, nor is the other room that was going to be empty. Both are going to be occupied by residents who are going to be displaced by a renovation. So Mom will be moving into 333, and she will have a roommate – a woman whose husband lived in the room with her until he died. The administrator and the social worker tell me it will be a good fit.

We popped our heads briefly into the room, where the current resident was eating and watching TV. I showed Mom her side of the room quickly. I informed the woman that she’d soon get a roommate, my mother. I asked her if anyone had told he she’d be getting a roommate and she said no. I am really hoping that’s not true, that I am not the first to spring this news on her. I am hopeful that she also has dementia and just doesn’t remember that she has been told about her pending roommate.

I told Mom these rooms are smaller, and that she won’t have as much furniture. But that all she’ll need to do is sleep in there, and otherwise she can do what she does now: visit with her friends in the lobby of the assisted living building. The administrator said that would be fine. I think she’ll even be able to eat over there. I told her we’d be putting her belongings in the new room for her. She no longer seemed to think it would be fun. She looked around as we walked the halls on our way back to assisted living and said, “Is everyone here sick?” I said no, some might be sick, some might be in wheelchairs, some might just need extra help. I told her the doctor wanted her to live on this side so she’d be safer, with more staff around. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. She seemed to be getting increasingly fretful.

We returned to the assisted living lobby, which was empty except for one woman who was sleeping in a chair. Mom and I sat on the couch. She was not happy. She began to speak in full sentences, to be very expressive of her dissatisfaction with this new arrangement. “I never imagined this would happen to me,” she said. I said the same thing over and over, that her days will be pretty much the same, that she’ll sleep in a room with a roommate, and then wake up and spend her days again the way she always has. “This is an embarrassment to me,” she said. I told her I didn’t see any reason to be embarrassed. She gave me a look of disdain as if to say – that that is easy for me to say. She said, “I don’t want to spend all day in a bed.” I told her she certainly will not be bound to the bed at all during the day. She did not like the small size of the bed, and she said she hasn’t had a small bed like that in her whole life. I told her it’s kind of like dormitory living in college, where your room just has the essentials and you spend the rest of your time somewhere else. “I wish I had more information,” she said. “I don’t want to live in a hospital.” She was upset I hadn’t told her sooner, though I’m glad I did not. Two aides came by and asked what we were talking about, and I told them Mom would be moving to the care center. One said, “Really? Why? I didn’t think she’d need to go over there. She’s not that much trouble.” I felt like kicking her. I tried to mouth the word “money” but said out loud that doctor’s orders are that she needs a safer environment. The two aides came up to Mom and rubbed her arm and told her it would be OK, that they would come get her and bring her over to assisted living each day. I was grateful for that. Mom could not be cheered up.

At about this time, three of her friends showed up, including a woman who also has dementia, and who has become so much trouble that she is moving back to New York state to a nursing home. She is a wanderer, I’m told. Funny, though, I think she does better at chatting than Mom does. But I haven’t spent any real time with her for a long time. Mom was asking me why she’s the only one who has to move, that her friends are able to stay where they are. What is it about her that is so different, she asked. I told her friends what we were discussing, that she’d be moving to the care center but would still spend her days in assisted living, hanging out. They were very supportive. One said, “We’re all in the same boat. Our bodies might change, or something else might get worse.” She tried to convince Mom it’s not a big deal. I did not like it one bit that Mom was so able to articulate her questions and concerns. It’s as if this intensely negative experience was bringing out the best in her ability to function, which is just plain bizarre. She was reminding me of the Mom of several years ago, very negative and suspicious and assuming the worst.

She had this same reaction when she moved to assisted living. She said she was moving to a cave. She made fun of the physical disabilities of all the people around her. She felt way too normal for the environment. But she really adjusted pretty quickly. Despite this reaction now, I have every confidence that Mom won’t remember for long that she has moved and her new living conditions will become the norm for her. But even knowing that doesn’t make me feel much better about the prospects of her fretting and complaining and asking ‘why me?’ for the next week and who knows how much longer, until she develops new habits. It’s not just inconvenient for me – it hurts me to my bones to have her feel this way. These emotions she is having are the very emotions I am hell bent to prevent. And I just can’t right now. She is already taking a medicine to calm her. Plus two antidepressants and a third that doubles as a sleep aid. But if she goes on for very long with this kind of attitude, I will ask for more medicine to improve her mood. I just can’t stand to think of her suffering.

I asked her if she wanted to walk me to my car, and she said yes. She walked out with me, still frowning. She tried to open the passenger side door. I told her I was leaving to get groceries and do laundry. That I wasn’t taking her anywhere just now. “Oh. You’re leaving now?” she said, apparently in disbelief. And she turned around and walked away, along the sidewalk and back into the lobby. No hug. No kiss goodbye. No turn back to wave.

8 comments so far

  1. Jenny on

    *hugs* Sounds like a really rough day. I hope the rest of the transition goes more smoothly. Anything we can do, just holler. See you soon!

  2. IcedLatte on

    Oh, poo. Sending you a virtual lemonade ….

  3. momsbrain on

    Thanks, guys. I’ll be seeing her tomorrow and am very curious about how she’ll be then. Could be a very up and down kind of week!

  4. plettahar on

    sorry this was so rocky. i hope she makes the adjustment sooner rather than later…

  5. Gemma on

    Maybe you should ask the administrator to speak to the aide about questioning the move. I’m sure she was trying to be sympathetic, but it seems she needs some guidance in how best to do that. Especially since this situation probably comes up regularly in the assisted living wing.

    You are surrounded by loving thoughts as you face this new challenge.

  6. momsbrain on

    Thanks, plettahar and Gemma. I saw her today. She forgot about the conversation we had yesterday … but eventually was reminded about it. And by the time I left, she was blue again. When I asked her to hug me goodbye, she touched my shoulder with one finger and said that’s it. She kind of laughed, too. So she was better than yesterday, but still not happy about it.

  7. Sherri on

    Sounds like she might be coming around a little …. Thinking of you…. I know this is hard.

  8. momsbrain on

    I told my sister I thought it would be cyclical. The good news is I found out that Mom can continue to eat in the assisted living dining room. So she will be happy about that. I am not going to see her today and tomorrow is moving day. Then we’ll deal with the fallout, I guess…. thanks!

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