Archive | May 2014

Coming Home

I saw my mom this evening for the first time in a full week. The last time I stayed away that long was probably sometime last fall, when I had the flu. I was out of town Thursday through Monday and felt under the weather yesterday, so I stayed away… just in case I was coming down with something contagious.

So, anyway, I saw her tonight… and I was brought up short by how thin she looks, how very frail. She’s 5’7″ and weighed in at 167 the last time she got on a scale at the doctor’s office, and “underweight” is not a word that I’ve EVER associated with her. She’s still got some heft to her hips and thighs, but her arms and hands look like skin and bones. When did that happen? Is it just more noticeable since I’ve been away for a while and missed the day-to-day changes? I’ve been told she’s eating better at the new place… so why is she still wasting away? It was very disconcerting.

She lit up when she saw me and gave me a tight hug. I took her back to her bedroom so that I could plug in my laptop and do a slideshow of the pictures I took in Colorado, taking time to tell her the stories behind each picture. She seemed to enjoy them. I talked about the graduation events, brought her up to date on the latest goings on with her grandchildren, and also shared about the really special time I’d gotten to have with my sister, Mary Lou.

Then, since it was a very pleasant evening, I took her outside to sit in the back yard. Maria, the head caregiver, came and put blankets on the patio chairs for us and brought my mom a light sweater. We sat there for a few minutes, drinking our bottled water and talking, and then Mom asked if I would take a walk with her around the edge of the yard to look at the flowers. Her walker doesn’t roll well over the grass, so we left it behind and walked slowly, arm-in arm, Mom leaning on me for support. She showed more interest in the various bushes and flowers than she had in the family pictures, asking me numerous questions about the types of plants (which I could never answer). When she leaned forward to reach for a blossom and overbalanced, and would have fallen if I hadn’t been holding her arm, I decided it was time to go back to the patio… via the porch, so she could hold the railing on one side and my arm on the other. We sat for a while on the patio, listening to birds and watching the changing colors of the evening sky.

back garden

“Who lives here?” Mom asked me suddenly. “Is this Mary Lou’s house?”

I tried not to show my surprise and just answered calmly, “You live here, Mom.”

“I do?!?” she exclaimed. “Who else lives here? Someone must…”

I started to explain about the five other ladies who live in the house, and how Maria (who brought her sweater) is one of the helpers who take care of them. She knew who I was talking about, which was a good sign, but said “I haven’t been here for a while, at least a week. I’ve been staying so many different places, and my memory is so bad these days…”

(She’s been at this home for a month now and she hasn’t gone anywhere else, except for brief outings with me – to church or to get her hair cut or to the doctor. In fact, I’m pretty certain she hasn’t left the house for a week.)

I squeezed her arm and told her that I was sure it would all be familiar once we went back inside. And sure enough, she recognized her bedroom and the TV room where her friend Georgia was waiting for her to come watch Wheel of Fortune. She settled into her recliner and seemed perfectly content to be there, so I took my leave… and walked to my car feeling pensive and sad, wondering how much further she had slipped away from me in that one week I was gone.


I was feeling selfish and a little guilty about making this trip to Colorado for my niece’s graduation without Mom. But over and over in the past three days I’ve found myself feeling so grateful that I listened to the people who told me the trip would be too much for her and didn’t try to bring her along.

First there was the flight, which was three hours late due to severe weather that forced an unscheduled landing in Colorado Springs. We didn’t land until 8:00 p.m. and didn’t get dinner until after 9:00. (To say nothing of the hassle of getting on a crowded train to the Baggage Claim building with an elderly traveler in a wheelchair.) My nephew’s flight, scheduled to arrive in Denver at 7:00 p.m., was also late. We didn’t get back to my sister’s house until 11:00 p.m. It was exhausting for me, and it would have been WAY too much for Mom.

The very next day was graduation day. The ceremony started at 7:00 pm, but we wanted to get good seats so we left at 5:30 to arrive at the auditorium at 6:15. Sarah, my niece, was the fourth or fifth person across the stage to receive her diploma – out of a graduating class of 110. The ceremony lasted two hours, then there was a reception with photo opportunities, and then we FINALLY went to dinner at 10:00 p.m. I was delighted to be there and share in my niece’s excitement on her big day. But Mom would never have made it through all of that. She has the attention span of a toddler these days and would have been restless and bored through most of the ceremony. By 9:00 she’s usually getting ready for bed, so I would have needed to take her back to the house and would have missed all the post-ceremony celebrations.

And if we’d stuck with the original plan, we would have been on a plane first thing this morning to travel to Ohio for the annual Memorial Day family picnic, which is tomorrow. I was so tired today that I slept until noon. I was deeply thankful NOT to have to get up and get to the airport. Mom would have been so exhausted from all this hectic activity, I doubt she would have had the energy to enjoy the family reunion even if we’d made it there.

No, it was definitely for the best that Mom stayed home – with her new friends at the board and care and her comfortable routine. I’m not feeling guilty anymore. And I no longer feel selfish because I’ve been able to help my sister in myriad small ways while I’ve been here, which I would not have been able to do if my focus had to be on taking care of Mom. My sister and I had a deep heart-to-heart talk today that I think did both of us a world of good. All of this made possible by me making the “selfish” choice to take this trip alone. I’m so glad I did.

Peace of Mind

I’ve been anxious about telling Mom that I can’t take her to Colorado for her granddaughter’s high school graduation or to Ohio for the annual Memorial Day family reunion. I almost brought it up when we were talking in her room on Sunday, but I was afraid it would upset her and I didn’t want to end Mother’s Day on a sour note. About half of my therapy session this afternoon was devoted to planning how I would tell her when I visited this evening.

As it turned out, both the anxiety and the careful planning were for naught. I kissed her hello when I came in and handed her a card that had arrived from my cousin in Maryland, addressed to “Aunt Dot” c/o my address. After she read the card (out loud), Mom asked me “Are you going to be able to help me go back to Ohio for Memorial Day?” I took a deep breath and said “Well, we need to talk about that. Your doctors would prefer that you didn’t travel quite yet. They want to get your blood pressure and the swelling in your legs better under control first.” I suggested that we postpone Ohio until later in the summer or perhaps in the fall when we could see the changing colors of the leaves, something she has told me she misses. She nodded thoughtfully. “Memorial Day is kind-of the special reunion time, but that’s OK… It probably is better to be cautious.”

I told her that I didn’t want to risk that a big trip might be too much for her and cause her to get sick again, just when she’s finally feeling healthy and chipper after not feeling well for such a long time. She understood and agreed. She was sorry about missing her granddaughter’s graduation, but she understood the reasons (the high altitude being a bad idea for someone with her specific health conditions) and accepted it with good grace. I promised to take lots of pictures and told her that I would bring over a graduation card for her to sign. She squeezed my hand and thanked me, and that was that.

I am, as ever, so grateful for my mother’s trusting nature and easygoing disposition. She doesn’t dwell on problems or get anxious about things. I could take some lessons from her on that! And I am deeply grateful that I found a place where I know she is safe and well cared for and has pleasant company – so that I can leave for a few days, to celebrate my niece’s high school graduation, without worrying about her.

Everything I’ve been through the last eight months was worth  it to arrive here, to have the peace of  mind that I have tonight.

Mother’s Day

This is the first year I’ve been able to spend Mother’s Day with my mom in… well, longer than I care to think about. It wasn’t a particularly spectacular day. I took her to church, as usual. I opted not to take her out for a meal today, since I can no longer take her to fancy places and crowds are problematic with her mobility issues. Besides, we just went out for dinner on Friday after her follow-up with the cardiologist. So I brought her home to have lunch with the other ladies, while I ran to Trader Joe’s to pick out flowers. That’s our Mother’s Day tradition, if we have one. I’ve sent her flowers every year for the last decade.

When I stopped by with the flowers after lunch, I saw that the living/dining room was already filled with flowers and Happy Mother’s Day balloons – one for each of the residents. I arranged the flowers in a vase I’d brought and set them on the dresser in Mom’s bedroom. I found the perfect card, one which said everything I wanted to say. (Belatedly, I’m wishing I had taken a picture of it to post here.) In essence, it expressed my gratitude for all the things she did for me when I was growing up and my happiness at being able to repay even a fraction of that love and care to her now. She loved it. And the flowers were a hit, even though I was joking with the staff that the house was starting to look like a flower shop.

(Speaking of the staff, I really feel blessed to have found this place. They are so attentive and so sweet. When I came to pick up Mom for the doctor on Friday, she asked me if I had a nail file because she’d broken a nail. One of the caregivers immediately brought out her nail clippers and file to take care of it, offering to give her a manicure the next day. When I brought her back after dinner that evening, Maria answered the door with a warm smile… and Mom hugged her. In that moment I knew for sure that I’d found her the right home.)

I spent the afternoon with her. We played Scrabble with her pal Georgia, which was a lesson in patience for both of us. Georgia didn’t know how to play and didn’t seem to grasp the rules well — she kept wanting to play words upside down, or make a word that didn’t connect with other words, and we had to keep reminding her to wait her turn. But at least it got them to exercise their brains for an hour instead of just being parked in front of the TV. When we finished the game, Georgia retreated to her recliner and I took Mom to her room to look at the flowers. She stretched out on her bed for a nap and I sat beside her, holding her hand.

At one point, she looked up at the portrait of her and Dad (taken when I was in high school) that hangs on the wall beside her bed. She commented on Dad’s smile in the picture and said that she lost him too soon. “It’s always too soon,” I said. “But you had a lot of good years together.” How many? she wanted to know. “Let’s do the math,” I said. We worked out that they were married for 44 years before he died. “It goes by so fast,” she said. Then she wanted to know how old he was when he died. I told her that he died eleven days before his 82nd birthday, reminding her of how we had birthday cake for him while the family was gathered for the memorial service. This led to talking about her birthday coming up next month: 86. I told her we’ll do something special. She rolled her eyes and said “Turning 86 is nothing to celebrate.”

“Hey,” I said. “Celebrate that you’re still here, that you made it through another year. Even if YOU don’t want to celebrate that, I do.” She smiled and squeezed my hand. “I’m sure glad that you are here,” she told me. “So I guess I can understand that you’re glad that I’m still here too.”