Archive | January 2013

In the Moment

I just got off the phone with my mom. She’s really enjoying life in assisted living. She told me her roommate is becoming a good friend and that she’ll pass on moving into her own one bedroom for a while because she’s comfortable where she is. “It’s a whole new lifestyle,” she told me. “There’s always something to do here. If you’re not doing anything, it’s because you won’t get off your butt!” She’s been sampling a variety of activities, trying to find things that she will enjoy and meet people with whom she shares common interests.

Yesterday she showed up for something called Chime Choir, without having a clue what that was… and now she’s going to be IN the chime choir, which is rehearsing a song to perform for the rest of the residents. That made me smile. Mom grew up in a musical family and some of my fondest childhood memories involve singing around a campfire. These days her voice isn’t very strong and she’s forgotten how to play the piano, but I know she still loves music. When I was packing up her apartment I found dozens and dozens of cassette tapes – Big Band music, gospel and homemade cassettes labeled “classical FM”. I think making music will be good for her.

I’m trying not to worry so much. When I was in school Mom used to tell me that I wasted too much time worrying about things that might never happen. A lot of what I worry about now will happen – my mom will continue to lose her memory and her faculties as time goes on and eventually she will die. Worrying won’t stop that from happening, it will just sour the time we have left together. She’s safe. She’s eating well, taking two showers a week, getting her medication on schedule. Most importantly, she’s enjoying her life. “Don’t sweat the small stuff” is one of my New Year’s resolutions this year. I’m also working on living in the moment, appreciating what I have now and dealing with what’s right in front of me. That’s plenty. I don’t need to borrow trouble from the future. Mom can teach me something about that, I think. She’s so “in the moment” that she often can’t remember what she was doing an hour ago. If I talk about the future, she gets confused and sometimes agitated. So we’ll just stay in the here and now. As long as her moments are happy, that’s what counts.


Today I picked up my mom at her new place and took her to play Scrabble with her friends at the old place. She’s been playing Scrabble with the same group of ladies every Saturday for four years. She’s been asking me about it all week. We got in the car and started out, talking about picking up something for lunch and eating it at the clubhouse before the game. A few minutes into the drive, she asked me if we were going the right way for the church. “No, Mom, it’s Saturday. We’re going to play Scrabble at the Legacy, remember?”

It’s so bizarre to me that she can lose track of what we’re doing that fast, yet once we sit down to play Scrabble she’s as sharp as she ever was – keeps track of whose turn it is, counts up her points accurately, plays great words. We played four games and her score was higher than mine every time. And yet, in the space of ten minutes she’ll sometimes ask me four times what we’re doing.  I don’t know what’s happening to her mind, and it scares me.

I worry about leaving her tomorrow. I don’t have the confidence I’d hoped to have in her caregivers at the assisted living. They’ve dropped the ball enough times in the four days since she moved in – enough mistakes have been made, enough promises unfulfilled until I got in someone’s face about it – that I worry she won’t get the care she’s paying over two grand a month for if I’m not there checking up on them. She’ll never know if they’re not doing what they’re supposed to do, so how am I supposed to know if I’m not there?

I keep telling myself that she’s where she’s supposed to be for right now and that means she’ll be all right. I keep reminding myself that she’s safer here than she was living on her own, that at the very least she’ll get better nutrition and get her medication on schedule. I keep hoping that once she gets into a routine at the new community, she won’t be so confused. But it’s still very hard to leave her.

This morning I was celebrating being finished with her move. Tonight I’m realizing that, while this was a big step, it was only the first step on a long road and my job is far from completed.

Moving Day

We moved my mom into the assisted living community today. All in all, it went very smoothly. We took Mom over in the morning with her clothes and personal items, met her roommate and spent about an hour with the nurse getting her care plan worked out. Then Mom stayed at the new place while we went back to get the furniture. It was all done by 5:00, so I was able to eat dinner with her in the dining hall and relax for a bit.

As I write this from the half-empty “old apartment” — surrounded by packing boxes, the only sound the hum of the central heating — I am grateful for so many things. I am grateful that Mom agreed to stay at the new place while we moved the furniture and that she agreed to go to the Ladies Tea just down the hall while we got everything moved in. By the time she got back, the furniture was in place and I’d even had time to make her bed. I am grateful for my mother’s easy-going nature and her ability to “let go and let God.” She doesn’t get freaked out about things, even something as major as this.

I am deeply grateful for her health… thankful beyond words that she is still Mom and hasn’t lost any of her essential nature, that she’s still active and engaged with the world. Her new roommate, Margie,  is very frail and receiving hospice care. She has congestive heart failure and is legally blind as a result of macular degeneration. She spends about 80% of her time in bed, according to her son who was visiting when we first arrived. Talking to him, I got a tiny taste of how much worse it could be and how very lucky I am right now. He essentially told me that he’s been expecting his mother to die for the last three years — that every time she takes a turn for the worse, he braces himself and thinks “this could be it.”  I don’t know how I would cope with a situation like that. Not well, I’m sure.

I’ve been seeing how much my mom  has changed, seeing her increasing confusion and occasionally childlike behavior, her difficulty managing the daily tasks that used to be easy for her. After meeting Margie and looking around at the other residents in the dining hall, I had a shift in perspective. I watched the two old men at a nearby table, one slumped so low over the table that I thought he’d fallen asleep and the other dribbling food out of his mouth onto his bib. I watched a woman who didn’t look a day over 55 move at a snail’s pace with her walker. Compared to them, my mom is a spring chicken!

I love the nurse there, who took plenty of time with us to go over her medical history and assess her needs. I feel confident that she’s in good hands. And I was relieved that medication management and “stand by” shower assistance twice a week puts her at only Care Level 1, which is very affordable. I suspect that with the right care and daily socialization to keep her mentally stimulated and emotionally engaged, we’re going to see a change for the better.  I think she’s going to thrive in this environment.

It was hard to leave her for her first night in a strange place. I dawdled getting ready to go, kept giving her one more hug… until she finally laughed and said “You don’t have to babysit me!” Although the roommate situation isn’t ideal (the bathroom especially is not well designed for two  people), I’m glad to know that she’s not alone in an empty, silent apartment tonight. She’ll probably sleep better there than I will here. At least that’s my hope.

New Years

I’m superstitious about New Year’s Eve. You know, that old tradition that what we’re doing at the stroke of midnight will set the tone for the rest of the year.

This is my third New Year since my husband died. The first one was pretty miserable. I spent that New Year’s Eve sick on the couch in a friend’s apartment, crying because I didn’t want “sick and alone” to be the theme for the coming year. Looking back on it, I’d say the theme for 2011 ended up being Healing – both physical and emotional.

Determined to start 2012 on a different note, I splurged on a trip to Las Vegas with one of my best girlfriends. At midnight we were dancing to a live band, drinking, laughing… It was a great night. And 2012 was a better year. I started dating again, spent a lot of time with good friends and discovered that I can still feel joy.

I spent the last night of 2012 watching old black and white movies with my mom. We watched a rerun of the ball dropping in Times Square, and at the stroke of midnight I was still trying to pop the cork on my cheap bottle of sparkling wine. I don’t even want to know what that portends for the coming year. Instead I’m focusing on the theme of Togetherness and on appreciating every minute I get to spend this year with people I love.

I still wish I’d had someone special to kiss at midnight. Maybe next year.