Assisted living · Caregiver

Letting go / January 27, 2007

Today is colorless and cold, one of those bland, blank winter days. After weeks of unnaturally mild weather we were snapped in two yesterday when the temperature dropped to the single digits. I left for work yesterday morning in 7 degree Fahrenheit air. My car sounded like it was about to fall apart when I started it. Steam billowed out of the storm drains along the way, and at work a frost had settled on the inside of window beside my workstation.

I suppose the season is a good backdrop to my mood. I haven’t been able to settle, and I don’t know how long the guilt and anxiety–mostly guilt–will be daily presences. An inner voice nags me and demands repeated reminders of all the factors that led to the decision to move my mother into assisted living. I’m beginning to wonder again about getting some counseling because I still find myself almost horrified by her situation. This isn’t normal or healthy. The most dispassionate part of me knows that, given the circumstances, we just couldn’t continue as we were: my mother could not be left alone, I cannot quit my job, and we’d reached the financial and psychological limit with home health care.

But when I think of her THERE I have an awful time balancing my feelings. Something deep within shouts at me that this isn’t right. Maybe I should be patient and slog through what is possibly an adjustment period. But maybe these feelings signal something askew in my world. Separation anxiety? Maybe I’M the one who’s clinging in the worst way. It’s almost impossible for me to empathize with her because the world I know is one where you confront a situation by thinking it over, letting it present itself, and then reining in the emotion in order to do what’s best. I can’t–or won’t–imagine what it’s like no longer being able to put life in some kind of coherent intellectual order.

What’s interesting is that I’m responding by furiously cleaning my house–getting rid of some of the “stuff” that I now see as a burden. Shredding, recycling, tossing, rearranging. I’m actually parting with some of my books–I have hundreds of books, which have been the bane of each move I’ve made in my life. I work in a university library, for God’s sake–why do I need a copy of nearly every book I’ve ever read (and then some) in my house? Why do I need to keep all my old LPs, cassette tapes and CD’s? I’ve hung on to so much–I even have termpapers I wrote in college that I’ve lugged around for the past thirty years.

Am I beginning to see a pattern here? Does it have something to do with not being able to let go?

I don’t really want to equate moving my mother into assisted living with unburdening myself of my possessions. That would be a bit much. But I think both situations bespeak the difficulty I have in establishing limits.

Enough of the self-analysis. I’ve reduced my visits to my mother to three times a week. A week ago she was despondent. Then I had a relatively nice visit with her on Tuesday. On Thursday she was anxious and confused, telling me repeatedly that she had decided to go home “next week.” Her roommate has returned from rehab, and I think this change has triggered some of my mother’s anxiety. I can’t really say why–she doesn’t seem to be concerned with how they will get on, or with how their daily habits will mesh. I asked my mother what time her roommate went to bed, and she didn’t know. “Is she nice?” I asked. “I guess so,” my mother said. She insisted several times that I had gone to school with this woman, a delusion that only hints at the damaged circuitry of her anxiety.

So nearly a month has passed since she moved and I think we’re both still struggling. The bottom line is that I’m having trouble imagining her getting along without me.

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