A little tough love

Things have been mostly good with Mom since the Wednesday night concert. That was quite an event, held inside because of rain. The dining room was packed with residents and a few family visitors. The facility offers free food and door prizes. When I got there, Mom was eating a hotdog and popcorn. This was shortly after dinner. I’m glad she has an appetite. When she doesn’t eat well, it usually coincides with stress, like the most recent cat death and the move to the nursing home. We sat through the music, clapped and sang along. When it was over, I went with Mom back to her room. It was 8:30, typically her bedtime. She got into bed, but was still in her clothes. Now that she has aides around, she changes into pajamas every night and into a new outfit every day. I was turning her over to her aide, and I said I had to leave. She said, “Oh, no, don’t go” and reached her arms out to me. She has never done this, and it was terrible. I told her it would be OK, that she would be asleep soon. She calmed down and I kissed her goodbye. As I was driving home, I felt upset. I guess this is how parents feel. I thought of the time I was visiting my sister and her husband at their house in Connecticut 20 years ago, when their baby Julia was just about four months old. Laura was trying to teach Julia how to fall asleep by herself. This often involves letting a baby cry. Laura was shattered by this whole thing, and at the time, I thought, is it really that big a deal? I can see now why that was so painful. I opted against parenting, and I’m glad for a variety of reasons. Now I am getting a taste of it, but mostly of the difficult parts. I do not get to see a child grow up and become her own person. Instead I am watching my mom become more and more like a child every day. It is an interesting experience, and certainly is teaching me a variety of things. I hope that, when the stress of this move has passed, it might make me more patient – with Mom and just in general.

I returned Thursday in the morning. Both Mom and her roommate were taking a nap. I relieved the aide for awhile and read a magazine while Mom tried to sleep through all the noise in the hall. A little after 10 a.m. she decided to get up. We went to the lobby to read the newspaper. I had a deadline this time: an 11:30 date with friends for lunch. And a friend was visiting later in the afternoon, and I would be picking him up at the airport. I left Mom in the lobby with her aide and went to lunch. I had a fun night out with my friend, an old college roommate on his way to Athens to attend his niece’s wedding. He, Patrick and I had dinner and drinks. The next morning, we hung out until my friend had to meet his brother for a ride to Athens. I had spent more than 24 hours away from Mom by the time I went to see her around 2 p.m. on Friday.

I found her sitting in a little lobby area surrounded by staff. “Here comes her daughter,” one staffer said, and I said, “What’s wrong?” They laughed at me for that – there was nothing really wrong. Mom was being just a little bit grumpy – there was a birthday gathering in the courtyard, and she didn’t want to attend with her aide. But when I arrived, Mom said it would be OK to go out there with me. I relieved the aide and we sat outside with a pretty large group of residents. They were served homemade sno-cones and there was music playing. This is a monthly event to celebrate any birthdays of the given month. Mom seemed fine. A social worker came over to us and introduced herself to me and asked how things were going. I told her there had been lots of improvement since a week ago, when Mom spent hours trying to escape. She then did an assessment on Mom right there, asking her a series of questions, I assume to gauge her level of memory loss as well as her mental health. The questions included the usuals, what day is it, what month is it, what season is it, what kind of facility is this. Then she asked Mom about whether she is happy, whether she feels helpless, whether she has hope for the future, whether she has regrets about the past. Mom answered, when she could, in a generally positive way. This was a relief to me. I figured she didn’t really comprehend that she was being examined about her potential level of depression. When it was over, I suggested we go to the lobby to read the newspaper.

We sat on our usual couch and I gave Mom the funnies. I read through a couple of sections. I noticed Mom was occasionally looking at the paper and occasionally just sitting there picking her chin. There were several people in the lobby area chatting, but eventually it cleared out. I had another deadline today: a 4:15 massage. I wanted to leave by 4. A little before then, Mom started to complain that she is very alone at this facility. She said I should have told her earlier that she was moving. She had said a few things that suggested to me she might have had another visit to the assisted living side, but I didn’t pursue any information about it because 1) I didn’t want Mom to remember it and 2) if I had asked an aide about it and found out it was true, I would have been pissed that she was allowed over there when I have instructed staff not to take her there anytime soon. I could see she had developed a bit of a black cloud over her head. I told her we should walk in the courtyard to look at the trees, flowers and birds. As we were crossing to another door, she sat down in a chair and complained some more. She noted that there were no people around outside and she didn’t like that. We walked inside, and found one familiar person there – Audrey, a former assisted living resident who moved to the nursing home before Mom. She is feisty and has said she doesn’t want Mom to follow her around. I appreciate her honesty. But on this day she also said she had been diagnosed with pneumonia, and I wanted to get away from her as fast as I could. I took Mom to the lounge to see if she wanted to watch TV. I told her I needed to get going. I found out she would not have a one-on-one for the rest of the day – she is being weaned off of that. Which I think is a good thing, but I was bummed that it was coinciding with her bad mood. A nurse came to give her her antipsychotic. I expected that would calm Mom eventually. I took Mom to her room, turned on “Bonanza” on her TV and suggested she just rest for awhile to see if it made her feel better. It was 4:10 and I had to get out of there. So I kissed her goodbye and left. Once again, I felt terrible. But I figured that, like a child, she has to learn to find her own happiness to some extent.

I actually dozed off during my massage, which was just wonderful. I came home and fed the dogs and played with them so they would get tired. The nurse said I could call to see how Mom was doing, so I called around 6:30, after she would have had dinner. The nurse said Mom had been wandering from time to time, not agitated pacing, just walking, and staying in the vicinity of her room and the lounge by the nursing station. She had eaten dinner with no problem. This nurse said Mom knows how to find her room and seems capable of finding her way back to section 3, her hallway and lounge area. Mom never went toward any doors to escape, though. I said I guess it’s just time for Mom to figure some things out for herself, and that I found that necessary, but difficult. This was when I brought up the concept of tough love. She said it is hard to let go, but it’s probably the right thing to do. She was very kind, and I was grateful for that. She said I could call again before her shift ended if I needed to. When we hung up, I burst into tears. I repeatedly said to myself, “I’m sorry, Mom. I’m so sorry.” It makes me sad right now to think about it. This was an intense, but short, burst of emotion. I calmed down pretty quickly and generally was able to put these most troubling thoughts out of my mind.

I’m home alone for a couple of days while Patrick visits his parents in Michigan. I thought I would watch some sort of mindless movie on TV, but instead I watched “Away from Her,” a movie about Alzheimer’s, for a second time. And while I watched, I scanned a book, “Alzheimer’s A to Z.” The book is for caregivers. It mostly has anecdotal information about what patients might do and strategies to deal with these things. I actually find it a little elementary and only marginally helpful. I decided to turn off the TV and read some crime fiction in bed with the dogs. I put them to bed before 10 p.m. and fell asleep fairly easily. I woke up at 7:30 a.m. So I really shouldn’t complain about being tired today. I’m contemplating a long walk in the sunshine and an eventual visit with Mom that I think I will time to occur shortly before dinner. I’m hoping for a happy Bonnie today.

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4 comments so far

  1. Barry on

    Hi Emily; I just wanted you to know I’m still reading your blog at least weekly; I loved all the pictures you posted from the family visit; I get a pang in my heart when I read about you bursting into tears or having a difficult time or when your mom seems aware and distressed about her situation; well keep in mind in the upcoming months when it gets cold and dreary you can always come here to sunny Phoenix and stay with me for a visit; it would be a lot of fun; I think of you often and what you’re going through for whatever that’s worth

  2. momsbrain on

    Barry, that is worth a LOT. Thank you for the message and for having us in your thoughts. When I’m particularly low, I try to remember that it could be worse. I just feel sad when Mom is sad. I know she will eventually adapt to this environment.

  3. Tom on

    Hi Emily. I remember those feelings of guilt so well! They are unavoidable but good news is that they eventually pass. It’s great to hear that things seem to have improved considerably from when we were there. I hope you got to take the long walk in the sun. You deserve it!!

  4. momsbrain on

    Thanks, Tom. When I’m feeling particularly upset, I try to remember that Mom probably will not remember her own bad feelings. That is often the case, and it provides a lot of relief to me and, I guess, to her. I confess I took only a medium-length walk in the sun. 🙂


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