Assisted living · Caregiver · Caregiving · Henri Nouwen · Nursing homes · Role reversal · Transcendence

Assisted living, part 4 / December 26, 2006

My mother went to bed early tonight (about 7:30) but I can hear her up again, wandering into the kitchen, the living room. Today I told her that I’d arranged for her to move to assisted living, and I imagine that she’s unable to sleep because of that.

She responded in no uncertain terms that she did NOT want to leave this house, where she has lived for almost 60 years. Every bit of advice I’d received counseled me to be firm. Don’t ask her, tell her. I had rehearsed my words for weeks, wanting to couch my firmness in love and not bossiness. She made a face and then seemed to sink into herself. In the end I couldn’t help myself wanting to discuss it all with her: “What other option is there?” I asked after she agreed that I should move back to my house, but still resisted moving out. “Someone could live here with me,” she said. I finally caught myself and steered the conversation back to my direction.

Her move-in date is the day after tomorrow, the 28th. I deliberately said nothing about this over Christmas–I even invited our relatives over, despite my mother’s hesitation. We had a lovely Christmas Eve–lots of conversation and food. I didn’t sense my mother withdrawing, as she sometimes does when in a group. Afterwards she commented on what a nice time she’d had. I managed to let go of the ever-present anxiety and enjoyed myself, too.

However badly I handled things today, I DID back off a bit in the afternoon. I waited, and my mother finally raised the subject again this evening, when we were watching the news. “I can’t leave this house,” she repeated. I tried, once again, to be firm in my expression that, while I will always be her caregiver, I can no longer do it alone. She agreed with me, but clung to the untenable. I then told her about the AL–a former neighbor now lives there, although not in the AD unit–and about how it is NOT a nursing home: she would not be clipped to a body alarm and planted at the nurses’ station, how I could visit whenever I wanted and take her out, how they have a beauty salon, and exercises, and concerts, and that it’s located near our favorite ice cream stand beside a lake.

She seemed to soften a bit. I finally told her that I was doing what I felt my father wanted me to do, which brings up an interesting story.

The day before Christmas I visited my father’s grave. I usually just stand there and “talk” to him–I know I can do this anywhere, but I imagine his gravesite as being a spot where the signal is strongest. So I stood there on Sunday and asked him to help me do the right thing. I asked him to give me a sign (I can’t help it–I grew up Catholic. We love burning bushes and seeing images of Jesus in grilled cheese sandwiches). But I forgot about it as soon as I left the cemetery.

I’ve mentioned before that as I struggle with my faith, I often turn to the writings of Henri Nouwen. He finds active Christianity within the present world, in the way we live now. He identifies what the contemporary believer struggles with and responds to that with an often deceptively simple lesson. A scholar, he chose finally to work in Toronto’s L’Arche Community, a home for the most broken members of society.

I have a book of his called Our Greatest Gift: a Meditation on Dying and Caring. I read it through a few years ago, and now I sometimes pick it up and open it randomly, hoping that he will speak to a particular struggle of mine. I did this on Sunday–I opened the book to page 63-64 of my edition and read:

No, we shouldn’t try to care by ourselves. Caring is not an endurance test. We should, whenever possible, care together with others. It is the community of care that reminds the dying person of his or her belovedness… When I reflect on my own community, the l’Arche Daybreak community in Toronto, I realize increasingly that what keeps us faithful to each other is our common commitment to care for people with mental disabilities. We are called to care together. No one in our community could care single-handedly for one of our disabled members. Not only would it be physically impossible, but it would quickly lead to physical and mental exhaustion. Together, however, we can create a caring space that is good, not only for those who receive care, but also for those who give it…It is essential to the weakest members of our community that those who care for them do so together…

I must say, I felt a little inner snap upon reading this. Especially since I’d hastily shoved the book in the middle of my bedside bookpile, and only when I accidentally kicked the pile over did this particular book remember itself to me after I’d come home from the cemetery.

So I do feel as if my father has whispered into my ear. It’s still going to be tough but I already feel less alone.

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