A Place for Mom

It has been almost 2 years since I moved my 80-year-old mother into an memory care facility. My mom had been living alone for more than 20 years, as my Dad passed away quite young and she never remarried. She is/was fiercely independent, not terribly good at trusting others, and quite stubborn. To make matters more challenging she suffers from macular degeneration and Alzheimer’s.

I am not particularly close to my mom, for lots of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that we have lived in different states and different countries for the majority of my adult life, but nonetheless she is my mom and I love her in my own way.  In the last couple of years it became apparent that she was no longer safe on her own and so I began the long process of putting the pieces in place to move her. In the beginning it was mostly paperwork, phone calls, working with her financial advisor and her doctors, all of which was time consuming but not terribly difficult or emotionally charged. It was not until I arrived at her doorstep and set eyes on her that I realized just how difficult this was going to be.

For most of my life, my Mom was strong, resilient and hard working. She was a tough broad who survived the untimely death of her husband, a horrific childhood and the challenges of raising a strong willed daughter… But the person who met me at the door was but a shadow of herself. She was frail, scared, and confused. The years of distance between us seemed to fall by the wayside as I held her in my arms and told her how much I loved her.

I jumped into packing and organizing her things as the movers were arriving the next day and there was much to be done. With every book I packed I had to explain what we were doing. I found myself repeating the plan every 5 to 10 minutes, each time my heart breaking a little more.

Growing up we lived in beautiful houses, immaculately decorated. My mom loved her tchotchkes. She collected beautiful things, everything from crystal figurines, gifts from my Dad, to the classic literature books that filled our shelves. She has downsized over the years but many of her most treasured trinkets still remain sprinkled among photographs of my Dad and letters and drawings from her grandkids.  Her new home – a bedroom in a lovely cottage with other Alzhemier’s patients – left very little room for her basic essentials let alone her beloved knickknacks. Decisions had to be made as to what to keep and what to let go, and since she was in no position to make any decisions they fell to me. With each and every item I packed – the memories of my childhood came flooding back, accompanied by a few regrets.

We barely weathered that first night  – she was up most of it trying to come to terms with what was happening and seeking reassurance that everything was going to be ok. I was expecting the physical labor – the emotional labor I underestimated. The role reversal was shocking. My Mom was a nurse by trade and spent most of her life taking care of people. Taking care of her was not in the natural order of things and neither of us were really ready for it. As she finally closed her eyes that first night, I cried myself to sleep.

The move was quick and efficient and Mom was in her new place the next day. I spent a few more days with her before I boarded the plane back to my family. She was nowhere near settled when I left which tore at my heartstrings. She was sad, a little angry, and very bewildered but I knew she was in good safe hands, which was, in the end, the best I could hope for.

Life is funny sometimes. I am blessed – I have a supportive husband, I have two teenage boys and one adult daughter who are the most awesome people I have ever known, I have a terrific job co-running a business with smart funny engaging partners, and I have a circle of friends that I could not live without.  As a parent I go through stages, some stages I am better at than others – just ask my kids. I am finding this current parenting stage so rewarding – it is full of great conversations, challenging debates, and lots of planning for amazing futures. But what amazes me is how I find myself so totally unprepared for this new stage as a daughter and my mother’s caretaker. It crept up on me – and with no road map or instruction sheet in hand and no chance to opt out – I have jumped in head first, and am winging it, hoping all along that my Mom is peacefully settling into her new stage in life and that maybe, just maybe, we can make up for little of the time we have lost.