So, my mom.
Widowed almost ten years ago, with my dad having been the outside-facing part of that marriage – my mother is almost a proverbial hermit when it comes to social interaction, keep this in mind it will become important later – my mother has been living alone in what had been my parents’ condo unit since August of 2013 (when my Dad died. With him gone, it was me who took up the slack – my mother lived in a neat little protected bubble – she was self sufficient enough for a while but then she developed macular degeneration and her sight deteriorated (and she had to stop driving), she was getting physically frailer (there were falls…), and with mental changes that were becoming steadily more evident. She lived – and that was all she had to care about – I don’t think my mother knows how to write a check (she’s never needed to) and she had maybe one good relationship with a neighbor during those ten years that she lived there on her own. Once she stopped driving I was the one doing it all – running two households (hers and my own), grocery shopping for her, keeping track of medical appointments and prescriptions and transportation, ALL of it. And I would frequently get greeted at the door having hauled five bags of groceries containg things from A to X in them with an annoyed reproach that I didn’t get her Z (which was something she never said she wanted or needed and I am not a mind reader…) In winter things could get iffy because I would get snowed in and couldn’t get to her and then I would have to resort to emergency grocery delivery which was both pricey and also sometimes it woudl change things out for a different brand that she was used to or a different packaging and she would reject it as not-food… oh, things could get interesting in a hurry. Trying to feed her anything remotely healthy became a constant battle as she ceased to be able to cope with cooking anything for herself – she lived on soups and on almost epic quantities of bread (honest to god I buy a loaf and it lasts me a week I buy her four loaves and by the end of the same week she is calling me tot wail that she doesn’t have a CRUST of bread in the house…)
I was doing it all, and getting more and more exhausted doing it. In the last two years, since I lost my own husband, things spiralled downward hard because I no longer had even that support – I was on my own, and wholly responsible for her in almost every way.
Let me nutshell the last year or so.
My mom and I have somewhat fractious relationship and we do squabble and then she sulks – so when, one Friday night in November of 2021, I tried to get her on the phone and got no answer, I did debate with myself as to whether or not I should go over there but then I decided to err on the side of reason and didn’t because we’d had words that day and I thought she was just doing the sulking thing. WHen I still couldn’t raise her on Saturday morning I went over there and discovered her on the floor where she’d been all night and mostly delirious. I got her into her bed and then took her to a doctor to check up on her just to make sure she hadn’t broken anything or to see if there was an underlying reason for that fall. THAT appointment was on a Friday, they took x rays and found her bruised but whole, but they also took blood for bloodwork and on Monday morning I got a call from the doctor’s office telling me to take her to hospital because she was apparently in kidney failure.
At this point I called in hospice to help, and they came in and took over her care. They were pretty magnificent, taking on pain management, helping with personal care on an everyday level, and it took SOME of the daily weight off because at least I knew that someone else was aware of her needs and would help where they could. But as far as the diagnosis that got her there went, that stalled out – if in fact there was a kidney failure involved it was the slowest, most benign kidney failure I had ever heard about… and hospice was supposed to help people who were dying, not on a longterm care basis. Still, they kept extending her, which was a blessing.
Back about a month and a half ago or so she sent away her bath aide because she said her hip hurt too much to move. One thing led to another and they took her into Hospice House for a “Respite stay” so that she could stay in bed and they could deal with the hip situatiuon – but everything came to a head here. She was getting better (re. hip) but she was also rallying from her diagnosis to the point that hospice care was deemed to no longer be appropriate, andtherefore she was “Graduated” (read “disharged”) from hospice care. At the same time she was told that there was no way – because she was now really unstable and using a walker and she was also functionally blind – that she could live by herself any more and no less than four different social workers got in on the game of trying to find my mother a placement somewhere where she could be cared for.
The one thing that everyone agreed on was that she could not live alone and needed care. But every time I thought we had something solved, somebody moved the goalposts, and it got to the point where I was holding onto the last knot at the end of the rope trying to figure out what to do next. THere was one adult family home that she visited and seemed to be content to go to – but she either didn’t qualify financially (this kept changing) or there was no space and that dangled us for a while. Another family home offered up interest to take her but I looked at the room she would have been living in, and sharing with a complete stranger, and deemed it both unsafe in a physical way and also something that would have put my intensely private mother on a suicide watch within a week of living there. But at the same time there was no going back to the condo and this had now been standing empty for at least a month – and it was really not an affordable thing to keep paying the condo dues and the utilities bills for a place that nobody was living in or using. So I called in a company specialising in this kind of transition to help me wind the place down so I could start thinking about selling it (and by the way do you guys know how expensive it is to SELL property…?) and the woman who runs the company turned out to be an angel sent straight from God. In less than a week she – and at least one other person on her staff – made phone calls to facilities, talked to people, and within days I had leads on three different assisted living facilities with immediate vacancies who could take her. I went to one of them,w was shown a spacious studio apartment with a private bathroom which would have HER OWN FURNITURE in it and which she would not have to share with anyone, and it took literally just days from a hopeless placement situation to the morning that my mom moved into that studio as the newest resident of the place.
And I feel guilty as hell for leaving her there. But she stayed with me in my place (cats, stairs, and all) for four days before she could move into her studio and it was pretty clear that being here on a permanent basis would have destroyed us both in short order because my mother is simply not capable of letting control go when she has the bit between her teeth and the woman who was deemed to be too unstable and too frail to live alone insisted that she needed to mop my kitchen floor and upended all my own domestic routines to the point where the cats were upset and confused but everything swirled around her, like a rogue star which had swirled into a system and disrupted the orbits of every other body already there. I could not settle to something for ten minutes before she was off again doing something she shouldn’t or couldn’t insisting that she both could and must. My house was too cold and too dark for her (the heater was running in the room where she slept at full blast for the entire time she was here). I was not feeding my cats right. I was away from home too much (this while I was running ragged trying to get her move organized, all the paperwork done at the new place of residence, dealing with a million small fires which she would neither understand nor be able to do anything at all with or about if she did because she is simply not up to dealing with all that mess – and I was thrust into full adulting mode, setting everything up to the best of my ability, dealing with six companies doing eight different things on a daily basis, either on the phone or racing around trying to fit at least two different appointments into the space of a couple of hours because I had to leave her alone at home while I was out, and like I already said, cats, stairs. I don’t think I slept more than about seven hours in the last three or four days. Exhausted, cranky, miserable, and guilty as hell because here I was literally trying to institutionalise my own mother while every instinct instilled into me screamed that this was or should have been my responsibility and it was my own failure to not pick it up as I was supposed to.
My mother finally entered assisted living mid-March of 2023. Like I said before, she is not a social person and I have a horrible feeling that the “Activities’ part of the whole program are going to be a lasting trial for her. But to balance that out… she has her own space, she has her own bathroom, she has privacy and comfort and her own things surrounding her, she has breakfast lunch and dinner provided and her laundry done and her apartment cleaned on a weekly basis and visits from a podiatrist for her feet and even a beauty salon on the premises if she should choose to patronise it. I have really done the best I could, I think I lucked out with finding a place where she could be kept safe if not wholly happy, I think I found a small miracle for her, and yet I feel racked with anguish and guilt and when I left her in her studio on the day I brought her to that place I sat in the reception area and shook and cried for fifteen minutes.
Adulting just got very real. I am doing the best I can, but this is a hard, hard thing. And it’s going to be tough on both of us… but I really couldn’t do any better than what I found for her and secured for her. She is 87 years old and even if she wasn’t dying fast enough for hospice to keep her on she is still a frail old lady who desperately needs assistance in order to lead any kind of a decent life – and I found a place where at least the practical aspects of that will be covered. As for the state of her mind and her spirit…and my own… well. Adulting. Someone has to make choices, at the end, and has to live with every bit of baggage that comes with them. I made what choices I could, as the functioning adult in the family now, and I have to live with their baggage.
But this is hard. This is so hard. This is harder than I ever believed it would be. Adulting needs surviving, by the nominal adult – it’s a situation of first putting on your own oxygen mask before assisting others except that I have been flying without oxygen masks for a while and the air is getting very thin up here. I need to get some sleep. There are still things I need to do at her condo. And then I have to brace for the storm when I go back to see her, for the tales of how miserable and unhappy she is, the inevitable pitiful questions about what she has done to deserve being punshied like this and why do I hate her and why why whyyyyy can she not come and live with me in the house of cats and stairs and be allowed to rearrange my house and my routines at her will and whim. But I am putting on an oxygen mask. I desperately need one. For twenty years I have been a caregiver – to my husband after his stroke and then at the end of his life for unrelated reasons, to my dad when he was dying of cancer, and now for the last exhausting decade for my mom. The last best thing I can do for her is find her a place that will keep her safe and warm and fed. And then – if I can – I need to see if there is enough of my own self and my own life left to salvage out of the ashes of it all, and find a place where I too can continue to exist on some kind of useful and acceptable level in my own right.
But those last twenty years are going to be hostage. To the enormous guilt that I will carry to my own grave because I wasn’t able to carry her myself, to fulfil that last filial sacrifice that is expected of the daughters in my culture, to immolate myself in the ancestral fires, to find a way to erase myself selflessly until such time as she no longer needed me. I feel like I failed her by putting her into assisted living despite everybody assuring me that I did all right by her and that it was the right choice for her. but *I* feel like I failed her somehow. And that feeling is only going to get worse in the short term while she struggles to accept a new reality.
I feel so many conflicting emotions – guilt, relief, sadness, frustration, fear, defensiveness, an aftertaste of bitterness and also of sweeter memories – that I am rapidly getting overwhelmed to the point where I am not sure I feel anything at all, that I am just feeling numb and frozen and waiting for something that I don’t even know the nature of – that something is still to happen, and it’s going to be something bad, and there is a coiled dread at the heart of it just waiting for disaster. Joy and even contentment I have mislaid on the wayside somewhere and I may have to learn how to build somethuing like that from scratch all over again because the original versions have been well and truly lost to me, for years now.
Maybe, on the far side, I can begin to write again. But first there’s the penance to do. And there’s forgivness I need to earn from myself ( even if I never, in this lifetime, get it from my mother ever again). But Adulting just got very real indeed, and I think I am going to be reeling from that for a while…