I talked to a friend whose mother moved into a nursing home last July. Jen confirmed what I’d heard about adjustment: that it’s incremental and can take several months. The going was rough for awhile–her mother needs care primarily due to physical problems but the physical and emotional stress of failing health and a new environment probably had something to do with the dementia that arose. I remember talking to Jen a few months ago and she was extremely discouraged. But her appreciation for her mother’s home has increased with her mother’s acceptance of it. Her mother, she told me yesterday, is now “at home.”
My mother has been at Garden Manor for two and a half months, and I’d say that she’s definitely in the middle stages of her adjustment. She is no longer angry at me, and she no longer demands to go home. She still wantsto go home, but I can tell by the way she talks about it that she no longer blames me completely for her situation. When she brings the subject up I acknowledge the difficulty of her transition and then tell her how much I would worry if she were to live alone. “I didn’t think that you wanted to be alone,” I usually say, hoping to suggest that she has some control over the situation. “I don’t,” she now says, “but if we could get someone to live with me, I could go home. Please don’t tell me it’s impossible.”
And so I say that nothing is impossible, although finding someone to move in with her will be a challenge. “But I never rule anything out,” I say. I think this makes her feel better, and that’s what’s interesting to me about this stage. She no longer needs to go home NOW, but she still needs to hope that she might go home, given the right circumstances.
Sometimes it’s like walking a tightrope–real hope on one side, false hope on the other. I visited her after work today and we took a very short walk outside, the weather being mild. Then we sat on a park bench, and I could feel my mother sinking a bit. “I never thought I’d ever be this unhappy,” she said. “You’re the only one I can tell–I can’t tell the others.”
I inhaled deeply, trying to find the right response. My mother looked over my shoulder and said suddenly, “Look at how big that rock is. This place is so pretty.”
These “in-the-moment” shifts are still mysterious to me, but I took this one and ran. I reminded her that St. Patrick’s Day is coming up, to be followed by St. Joseph’s Day. St. Joseph’s Day brings with it the sublime Italian seasonal pastry called the zeppola that we both love. “I can bring us some zeppole,” I promised and she brightened up. I brightened up, too, because it was a promise I could keep.