Assisted living · Caregiver · Caregiving · Grief

Making the change / January 7, 2006

It’s been a rough couple of weeks. Anticipating and planning for the move to assisted living, making the move, and now adjusting to it–each stage has exacted its emotional toll. I began visiting my mother six days after she moved in, and if I had it to do over again, I would visit her earlier. But who knows? There’s no way to hurry the grief and adjustment for her, but I think moving her in and then disappearing for nearly a week (on the advice of the staff) might have confused her more than she would normally have been.

I now visit every day. At this point, I don’t know what’s best but this is my gut impulse. The university I work for is now in intersession, so I’m able to leave earlier than usual in the afternoon–I’m off at 3:15 and I can make it to Garden Manor by 4 (it’s not that far, actually, but there’s no way I can avoid city traffic). I sit with her until dinnertime at 5. I spent a couple of hours with her yesterday and today, in the afternoon, trying not to overdo it but wanting her to know that I’ll still be around.

Our visits begin with my mother telling me that she can no longer stand it. She HAS to go home. I’ve managed to whittle my response down to: “I love you and I don’t want to you be alone when I’m not around.” I used to get into circular conversations with her about logistics and motives, but that doesn’t work. I’ve found that short and direct is best. She cries and tells me she wishes God would take her. The other day she asked me why I had put her there to die. I now repeat my response and then try to ask her about her day, or her meals, or the other residents, to distract her.

What’s interesting is how her mood changes by the end of the visit. She’s certainly not cheerful, but the tears stop and she seems a bit resigned to the place. I’ve noticed this change the past few times I’ve visited. Now at a certain point she’ll say, “Well, you should go now–I don’t want to take up all of your time.” I don’t go at that point–this gives me the chance to say that I want to spend time with her. I stick around awhile longer, and eventually she walks me to the door to say goodbye without begging to go with me.

We usually walk around a bit during my visit and often sit in one of the common rooms, which gives me the chance to notice the nineteen other residents. They are mostly women my mother’s age, but there are a couple who are younger as well as three men. My mother waves and says hello to almost everyone she sees, and today she told me that one man played the piano the other night, and they all gathered around to listen to him. She also told me that another woman on her wing comes from my neighborhood, and that yet another woman was depressed. So despite her telling me that “no one has anything to do with me here,” there seems to be some interaction. She’s resisted most activities so far, but was persuaded to go on the “Mystery Ride” on Friday, where a group is taken out for a ride. My mother has always loved going for a ride where she has nothing to do except look out the window. But she complained that no one talked and that they didn’t even get out of the van. “But you don’t usually like to walk around much,” I said. She paused. “No, I guess I don’t.”

I think this response was part of her determination to speak ill of the place, no matter what, in the hopes that I’ll take her home. What’s very interesting to me is that she has been exceptionally sharp since moving there–none of the delusions she experienced in the nursing home (where she believed that she was back teaching school and all around her were her students). She knows just how long she’s been there, and she once even asked me how much I was paying for this. She still asks me where “Ma” is, but she has also introduced me to others as her daughter.

So I think she’s adjusting, even though I know there will be more tears and pleadings for awhile. The staff is nice and there are several other ladies who might be potential companions for my mother. I am slowly personalizing her room–her roommate is in the hospital right now so she’s been alone in there–and this is where I see myself having to adjust. I’ve brought pictures and mementoes but I’ve found myself resisting removing some things from her “home”–and then having to remind myself that “home” is in transition right now. And if I don’t help her with the physical transition, the emotional transition might be rockier.

And then I come back to my home and battle the effects of long-idle appliances and plumbing. I feel like I’m fighting a battle on several fronts. Yesterday, I’m proud to say, I fixed a leak in my washing machine drain system AND replaced the fill valve in the downstairs toilet. Thank God for Home Depot. The weather has been confusingly mild–in the 60’s when it should be in the 30’s–so I’ve been able to do a little yard cleanup, too.

But the other day I remembered that I’ll be able to revive my garden this spring. I can replace the old roses that had fallen victim to a particularly harsh winter a couple of years ago. I can buy seeds and start them indoors. Bit by bit, I think, my mother and I are making the change.

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