Archive for August, 2009|Monthly archive page

Decisions, decisions

I met today with a funeral director to begin the process of pre-paying for at least part of Mom’s needs after she dies. Somewhere, there is a will that states her wishes. My sister and I both recall that she wanted to be cremated. I also favor cremation in general, so that is our plan. Or at least part of the plan. There is a lot to consider, and even though I know what I think would be nice and suitable, I don’t feel it’s something I should decide on my own. Laura and Jeff should be part of the conversation. But the thing is, I’m in a hurry to spend Mom’s money. Today, in fact, was the 45-day deadline to spend down to $1,500 to determine her Medicaid eligibility. I am not there yet. But soon I will place a downpayment on Mom’s funeral expenses and pay for 14 days of assisted living for the month of August, and then she won’t have much money at all.

So once a family decides on cremation, there are other things to consider. Visitation? Memorial service? Actual funeral, with clergy present? Should Mom’s body be there or not? And will we keep her ashes in separate containers, one for each of us, so we can have a part of her with us forever? I had thought we might go that route. But I think Laura would like a burial, a permanent place to visit. That would be nice for my aunt, too. And the funeral director noted that sometimes, people take ashes to their homes, and then THEY die, and there are these loved one’s ashes left in the corner. What does one do with those? I hadn’t thought of that. I imagine funeral directors have thought of everything. And seen a lot of things.

I don’t really feel inclined to have a service for Mom. She was not a member of a local church, so I don’t think a clergy person is appropriate. I certainly don’t want to lead a service that’s more of a free for all, with people speaking one after the other. I would like visitation, or calling hours, or whatever. To have pictures all around, and classical music, and to talk with Mom’s friends in a casual atmosphere. Mom was casual. She still is casual. She liked a party. Formality wasn’t her thing. However, I am just one person. Maybe others would like something serious and formal, for reflection. Virtually everyone else who knows Mom will have spent a lot less time with her at the time that she dies than I will have spent with her. So maybe I shouldn’t decide. The same goes for whether her body is there. I tend to think, why? But the funeral director noted that for many, especially family, seeing the body is an important part of saying goodbye. So I am open to that. But I tend to not like that particular practice, having a stiff, artificial version of the body I once knew to say goodbye to.

So, we’ll have to make some decisions as a family. I felt nervous before I got to the funeral home. I get nervous before I do a lot of things related to Mom. I’m not afraid I’ll cry or anything. I’m not having “performance” anxiety, you know, like I have to represent Mom in some special way. I just have butterflies. I guess it’s just plain anxiety. What I’m doing is often important. Life savings, long-term care, death. Those are serious issues. Once I’m in the thick of it, the butterflies go away.

Lost in the parking lot

I’m pretty sure Mom has started to dress herself again. There are a couple of hints. One, her bedroom is a mess. Clothes are scattered all over her bed. Disposable underwear, clean and dirty, are on the bed, on the bathroom floor, on the bedroom floor. And then there is what she was wearing on Sunday: three T-shirts stacked one over the other, gray fleece pants and about five necklaces and even more bracelets on her left arm. She also had pink cheeks again, as if she put some lipstick on them to give them some color. Of course, she looks adorable. Why she is layering T-shirts, however, I’m not sure.

I found her in the lobby with the gals on Sunday afternoon. She had her dog with her. She no longer carries her purse around. It used to be such a Bonnie trademark – a yellow purse. But now she just has the dog with her. I sat in the one remaining seat in the lobby and chatted with everyone for a little bit. I then told Mom I wanted to check her apartment and that she could just stay in the lobby. Which was fine with her.

The apartment was in some disarray, as described above. It kind of irritated me, which is ridiculous. Mom doesn’t do this to irritate me, or the housekeeper, or anyone else. I imagine she is in full confusion mode when she is trying to manage her clothes. I just threw all the clothes I found into the laundry basket. It certainly will not hurt for them to be washed even if they are clean. I don’t think Mom is actually sleeping on her bed so I didn’t work too hard to completely clear it. There were a couple of blankets messed up on top of the comforter along with the clothes.

It also appeared that Mom had gone on an eating binge. I found a few empty cookie containers on the kitchen counter. The box of chocolates my aunt had brought last Tuesday was empty, sitting on the table. Another box of chocolates from Valentine’s Day, which had been in the refrigerator, was empty on the counter, as well. There was one empty cookie packet on the bed, next to some crumbs. I threw away all these empties. Finally, there was Easter basket grass trailed around the living room and bedroom from a cute little basket someone had brought Mom on Easter. I think a friend might have brought it to Mom. I never knew the source. Mom apparently had eaten the jelly beans from the basket, too. I threw away all the grass and put the basket on the counter. I hope all the trash stayed put. I also picked out an outfit for Mom for after her Tuesday shower. Satisfied that the place was less of a disaster for the housekeeper’s visit on Monday, I went back to the lobby to sit with the ladies.

I chatted with everyone for a little while but I didn’t stay long. I had a little stomachache and wanted to get grocery shopping done so I could relax a little. Mom seemed content where she was. When I said I should leave, she got up to walk me to my car. She said, “Oh, I think I pooped my pants a little. It’s wet.” I suggested we go to her apartment and remedy this situation immediately. When we got there and removed her pants, she had on no underwear at all – another sign she is dressing herself. I didn’t see signs that she had actually pooped in her pants, but I sent her to the toilet to do whatever she needed to do and put those pants in the laundry for safety’s sake. I put some underwear and a new pair of pants on Mom, plus new socks to replace the socks with holes she was wearing. As we were standing in the living area, she leaned toward me, but I was already on my way to pick up my purse and head out. She said, “I was going to kiss you.” I went right to her and told her she could kiss me now. This is new, but also old. For most of my life, I have kissed both of my parents hello and goodbye rather than hugged. When Mom got sick, for awhile we had no real habit for greetings and departures. Gradually, I started hugging her goodbye. Now, she wants to kiss me. And I like that.

She walked me to my car, which was parked slightly outside the usual visitor area so I could keep it in the shade. Mom and I kissed goodbye. I pulled away from my spot and looked out, and Mom was walking toward my car. She was confused because she had two choices, a straight sidewalk or a curved sidewalk, to take to get to the door. I drove so I was up against the straight sidewalk and told her to use it to get back to the lobby. I offered to walk with her but she said I had already done so much, that she didn’t want me to do that. I watched her walk all the way to the building. She stopped once to turn around and wave to me, and I was still there, and I waved back. And she made it back to the lobby.

Room selection

I met with the assisted living administrator on Friday morning to pick out Mom’s room at the nursing home. The nursing home is attached to the assisted living facility. The nursing home was there first, at the front of the property, and the assisted living apartments were added on later (not sure when) and are attached to the back of the property and down a hill. Mom lives on the first floor of assisted living, which has three total floors. It has been a perfect spot for her, just down the hall from the lobby and the dining room. I am hoping to put her similarly near the action on the other side.

We looked at three rooms that are available, two that are currently empty and one occupied by a woman whose husband shared the room with her until he died. I think I am planning to take room 237, the first one we looked at. It is just a door or two down from a nursing station and across the hall from a lounge area where I can envision Mom sitting. Just around the corner in the other direction is the hallway that would take Mom back toward assisted living. She’d have to go straight down the hall until she saw the elevator, which would take her down one floor to the assisted living lobby area. (The first and only floor of the nursing home equals the second floor of the assisted living facility because of how the property is configured.) I am hoping she’ll be able to find her way. The administrator said it would be fine for her to continue going back to the lobby to sit with her friends.

There was another room just down the hall from 237, but I think the reason I liked 237 was that the sun was blazing in the window when we looked at it, and that just added a little cheer. All the rooms are the same and they are not very big. They are shared by two people – that is all that Medicaid will cover – and they contain two beds, two small closets and a shared bathroom. A nightstand and small dresser come with the room. I am hoping we can also cram in a buffet and two chairs, at least. We’ll put Mom’s TV in there, even though she doesn’t watch it that much anymore. And we can hang up pictures. Maybe we can fit one other small table or stand in there. But it will be tight. Plus Mom has a huge walk-in closet now, which she will swap for a tiny closet space. I’ll have to really give thought to what clothes to keep and what to donate. I’d like to avoid keeping things at my house, like clothes for different seasons. Our little house is already crammed full of our own stuff that we don’t necessarily use. The one thing I will bring back to our house is stacks and stacks of photos. And maybe some knickknacks. But this is also what I would like to divvy up with my brother and sister. I want Mom’s room to look familiar and comfy, but I don’t want to crowd it with things that probably won’t hold much meaning for her, or that she could lose.

Chances are decent that Mom will be able to move in to an empty room and start out alone until someone new comes along who needs a room. I’d like to start her out that way rather than moving her in with the woman whose husband recently died. I’d actually like Mom to have a roommate with dementia, too, so she is on “equal footing,” so to speak, with her roommate. I’m told there are plenty of people with dementia in this nursing home. It is not a locked Alzheimer’s ward. But it is much more secure than the assisted living side. Mom would not be able to stay if she started trying to escape – if she is “exit-seeking” in nursing home lingo. So far, any of her exits have been for walks on the property, so I’m not too worried that she’ll do that. If she does, and she gets kicked out, I will have to find an Alzheimer’s care facility that will take her and Medicaid. I hope never to have to do that.

The administrator recommended that I make frequent visits at the beginning of her move to assure her of that continuity, that I am still in her life. I can do that. And my sister for sure will be here at the beginning, too. And I hope my brother can come. I am a little daunted about the work involved, as Mom currently occupies a space that includes a small living room, an entry with a sink and small refrigerator, a bedroom and a huge bathroom. Plus two large closets. So there is some clearing out to be done. We already know her upholstered furniture, a couch and a chair with an ottoman, plus her bed, are destined for bulk trash pickup, as they all have been peed on any number of times by the cat, or Mom, or, most likely, both. But we’ll have to figure out what to do with a few sentimental items, such as Mom’s solid wood round dining-room table and her old dresser. And an old bookshelf from her parents’ house. But it will be nothing like moving her out of her apartment and into assisted living, which was utter hell. I am so glad that hard task is behind us forever.

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