Monday, November 28, 2016

Great Expectations...

...are often followed by Great Disappointments. This is how we find ourselves, three and a half months after my mom moved in with us, helping her plan her great escape. Ah, I make light of it, but it is sad for all of us. So many factors contributed to her wanting to make the move back to southern California. Some of it was boredom, loneliness for more human interaction, more rain in two months than she's seen in 20 years, and the usual friction between mothers and daughters when historical roles are both reversed and revised by dementia, and sheer cantankerousness on both our parts.

We all tried, we really did. Roger and I are both very quiet, self-contained people. We can spend hours and hours directing our attention to things that interest us: gardening, photography, backyard birds, sun and moon rises and sets, atmospheric optics, cooking and baking. Most of these things are done with hardly a word spoken, but just single-minded intent to get things done. It didn't occur to us that ongoing conversation would be an integral part of my mother's happiness. And really, even though we know now, we still don't have that much to say. See, I'm happily typing this, and I'm not saying a word out loud. Not a good thing for my mom who needs way more stimulation than either one of us could offer.

So, on December 10 my sister is flying up from southern California, and the two of them are heading back on the 13th. My mom is moving into an assisted living facility that's only 1.7 miles from my sister's house, much closer than the previous facility. We're all hoping this will be a good move for her, that she will be more socially engaged and stimulated there. I told her that it's probably a good idea for her to play with people her own age. We both laughed.

This not how we thought it would go, but this is how it's going. I have a whole new respect for people who can live multi-generationally and do it successfully. I once believed that that was how it "should" be. Now I'm pretty convinced it most definitely is not. Not anymore. Not the way we do it in the modern world. Not in these times of the broken vestiges of the ancient human family. It doesn't work.

29 comments:

  1. You do your best. That's all you ever can do. And that you have done.

    Looking back, it will still have been a good thing to do; some good memories for your Mom, some for you.

    I could never have lived long with my parents, even before the Alzheimer's kicked in. Too many reversals of roles. Who gets to play the parent in *this* interaction? Who gets to play the rebellious three-year-old this time?

    (And both Mom and I could really ace that three-year-old role.)

    Add in limited mobility, which brings up other needs, such as your Mom's need for conversation, and just the general slowness of life with older people contrasted with the younger generation's need to get things done. I worked for some years with geriatrics, and realized how much time has to be allotted for little things like putting on shoes or sitting in a chair. I had to swallow frustration thousands of times.

    It all adds up.

    It's good that you can both laugh about it. And doubly good that you have more family to help with the move.

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    1. Susannah-- Thank you so much for your comment. You made me laugh out loud ("Mom and I could really ace that three-year-old role"), and I really needed that. I think my mom is beginning to regret her decision a bit to move. She says she can't remember what upset her anymore and why she called my sister and got this whole thing started. I feel so torn. I really do.

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    2. It's so difficult; you always wish you had done something different, even when matters were out of your hands. Like now, when it was your Mom who made the decision to move.

      And then, the second thoughts. With dementia, it's even trickier; memory fades quickly, and change can be threatening. Even change that was first seen as liberation.

      For your sanity, I hope there's not too much yes/no/yes iffiness during the packing up process, and that the whole move goes smoothly.

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    3. Susannah-- I appreciate your insights so much. I worry about my mom making this decision and then regretting it. Twice now she has held my hands and said, "I'm really going to miss you." Yes, I am going to miss her too. I just hope this new facility offers enough stimulation to keep her from sitting in her room, reading the newspaper and fading away. Thank you for sharing your thoughts here. I appreciate it so much.

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  2. I could never have had my mother living with us, she was too independent and lived on her own not far from where I live till she passed away from a Stoke. My in-laws live in Scotland a good 7-8 hours drive away and are getting to the stage of needing help. One of these days we are going to have to face one of them passing and nither of us can put up with them staying for more than a couple of days. I think you were very brave having your mother all that time but you did what was right, now spend some quality time with each other for a few days.

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    1. Bill-- I can't tell you what it means to me to have confirmation from friends here about how hard it is to do this. I kept thinking I could make it work. I see that it really is a nearly impossible task.

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  3. I'm sorry it didn't work out, it was clear that you wanted it to. It sounds like you are making the right decision, though. For her. My mother was in assisted living for a number of years and it improved the quality of her life.

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    1. Colette-- I hope we are making the right decision. I was awake for quite a while in the night worried that my mom will just descend more quickly into dementia. My mom spent four years in an assisted living facility (until May 2016). At first it was good for her, but the last year she spent way too much time alone in her room. And, the quality of food declined there over the years. We're just hoping that in the new place the food is better, the "fellow inmates" are friendly and the socializing improves the quality of her life.

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  4. I watch my father interacting with other people - not family - my age and younger, and they adore him and he treats them with courtesy and interest and all I can do is shake my head in wonder. Sometimes parents and adult children are too close for comfort.
    You have my respect. I am sure this was not an easy decision.

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    1. Sabine-- Such an interesting observation about your father. I think not having ancient emotional history and baggage can be quite freeing. Interestingly, this decision to move was announced to me after the plan had already been made. Surprise surprise!

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  5. This had to be a hard decision but it seems both sides agree it is the best. I personally would thrive in an assisted living arrangement. It is comfortable to be surrounded by those with similar interests. Most have great programs. My step mom was in one that was a blessing. I use to enjoy visiting her and partaking in the activities. She enjoyed having every care met and she made some great friends.

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    1. Arkansas Patti-- I think it must have been a hard decision, and weirdly I wasn't part of the process at all. I think that helps to explain in some ways how we got here. I think I would like an assisted living facility too. I read about a place in France called Baba Yaga. It's all women who do a lot of stuff for themselves. I've always imagined living out my old years in the "ashram of my dreams." My mom living in an assisted living facility for four years, but it had its down side for her. I'm hoping she makes the effort to reach out socially and make the best of this choice.

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  6. A friend managed to keep her father out of a nursing home because her brother lived very close and when the father became cantankerous and uncooperative and angry with her, they'd move him to her brother's house. When the father began to give attitude to the brother, back he went to my friend's house. She was fortunate to have a helpful brother near her so they could do the switch easily.
    Dementia sucks big time. It can make the sweetest parent ornery. I'm glad you have time with your mom there, and I am sure that in time you will remember the good parts and forget the bad. Bless you and roger for doing your best.

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    1. CCorax-- I think if I had any one of my three siblings living close by we could have made this work. Unfortunately that's not what we have. My twin brother offered to come up for a while and give us a break, but really that wouldn't have worked either. We needed quiet time in our own space, not a trip on the road looking for solitude. I'm hoping that this move doesn't send my mom in a downward spiral. We are ready to try again, though, if this doesn't work. Sigh.

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  7. I can only imagine how the experience of bringing an aging parent into one's home, then finding that the hoped-for "right fit" in fact doesn't fit. My folks never reached the point at which either living with their children or in an assisted living facility were considerations, but if they had, I don't know how any of us would have coped. I hold you and Roger in very high regard for trying so hard to make it work. I hope the return south is good for your mom and that you know it's better than trying to make a poor fit work.

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    1. JS-- It's sad to watch a parent age like this. I remember reading an anecdote a while back about someone who was celebrating his 90something birthday. He was asked about getting to that very old age and if he had any advice. He said, "Yeah, don't." I see why. It is very hard to be a caretaker when it is generally not in my nature. It's why I never had children. Big challenge with an open heart. Very sad.

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  8. These are difficult years and I have heard many sad stories involving when the parent becomes the child. I'd never believe there is one answer for that age. We were lucky as my mother could live in the mobile home on our farm with minimal help from us. Paul's mother had chosen assisted living years earlier. It seems like the best thing is to be flexible and make sure the assisted living places treat them kindly. I only hope when I reach that age, if I do, that I can make choices that help my kids not end up feeling they failed or that they aren't being fair to me. I'd not like living with my kids despite loving them fiercely.

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    1. Rain-- Yes, kindness is absolutely essential in an assisted living facility. That, and good food. We've been reminding my mom that her brain needs to be exercised. We tell her that expression: USE IT OR LOSE IT. She understands. She reads voraciously and keeps up with current events. It's the sitting around for hours without stimulation that knocks her down. I like that you are contemplating how your aging self will have an impact on your children. That is the kind of awareness and consciousness that will make things much easier for the next generation.

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  9. Robin, you have my sympathy. You do what you can, until you can't. All bets are off when cognitive issues develop or worsen, and if the family can afford it, a good facility is the answer, where they have had plenty of practice with people in this part of life. We found that things can get bad so fast - or, as Phil put it, "The wheels came off." - that it will damage your health trying to take care of them. I learned why people decline and die after caring for a loved one to the end.
    Maybe some people actually experience a warm cozy caretaking situation, but I think they are probably few and far between.
    Very best thoughts to you guys.

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    1. isabelita-- It is absolutely true about facilities where they have plenty of practice and hopefully plenty of patience. We've been busy today planning the move, and things seem lighter and easier. I am feeling less like I've failed her. That really helps. Thank you for your kind words.

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  10. "It is very hard to be a caretaker when it is generally not in my nature. It's why I never had children. Big challenge with an open heart. Very sad."

    Sending love to you and roger and your mother. We are kindred spirits doing the best we can.

    Our father didn't live with me after our mother died. He did move to Bellingham, though, and had an assisted living apartment. Even so, I broke down physically and emotionally, under the strain of being the only family member involved for the 7 years he lived here before moving to Seattle for the last 1-1/2 years of his life. I am grateful to my sister and brother-in-law for arranging for an assisted living apartment for him in Seattle, when I told them I was physically and emotionally exhausted and could not help our father further. That is just the way it was. I, too, had great expectations and great disappointment. Thank you for writing with such honesty about your ongoing experience. Your experience can help others.

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    1. am-- When you write about the strain and burden on you, it make me worry about my sister who will be the primary family member available to my mom there. My mom does have three grandchildren in town and a great-grandbaby on the way (one of the pulls to move), it still will fall on my sister to shoulder the emotional burdens. My twin brother said he can be there once every six weeks or so, to stay and offer support. So maybe this new arrangement will work. I can't tell you how much I appreciate the comments here. It has been heartwarming and enlightening. Thank you.

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  11. I'm sorry to read about your mother, but, unfortunately, I can't say that I'm surprised -- not for your family specifically, but in general. I know how hard it is to handle the aging of a parent. My mother never lived with us, but the relationship was definitely strained at time because of the role reversal. My mother stayed at an assisted living facility for several months before she died (at home, thanks goodness), and she did not like it. She (and my father) were never particularly social. They did things outside the home, but I think they could have lived without it. So she never socialized at the assisted living facility. She ended up pretty much living alone there. I hope your mother is happy at her new place. I know you will be if she is.

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  12. Mark-- My siblings and I all plan to assist in any way we can to make sure my mom's time at the facility is good for her. We all wanted this to work out, after her three months at my brother's in Virginia didn't. We've learned some sad lessons about aging and old family relationships. Our hearts are good and strong, and my mom is very well emotionally supported. We so hope this will be good in every way.

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  13. Robin Andrea: Kali's mom could no longer live alone and had to either move into an assisted living facility or move in with Kali and me, or with Kali's brother. Because Kali's brother was retired (and Kali was not), she moved in with brother--a situation that lasted for about two years until her dementia got so bad she had to move to assisted living. It's a good thing that Mom didn't live with Kali and me because Kali and her Mom did not get along well--to put it mildly. Kali's Mom, like yours, also needed constant interaction, conversation and attention; she couldn't occupy herself quietly. Visiting with her was exhausting.

    You gave this a fair trial, but the outcome sounds like it will be better for everyone.

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    1. Scott-- These are the stories I have been hearing so much of lately. Such times we are living in, each family trying to figure out how to manage the lives of elder parents. Sigh.

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  14. I am sorry to read about your mother, but I hope all will be ok with her. I
    know you do your best, for sure.
    Many hugs to you and to your Mom too.

    PS: I could not visit you more times because my computer have been with many problems... I must to buy another one soon.

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    1. Sonia-- Thank you so much for your kind words. I am so glad you stopped by. I always love hearing from you.

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    2. Thank you so much Robin Andrea. Me too, I always love hearing from you.

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