Last week’s events included my California family moving our elderly aunt to another care home-where hopefully she will get a better level of care. At nearly 90 years of age, she is getting to the point of losing her discernment and her ability to truly care for and defend herself. It is a sad state for those of us who can see the deterioration. With no other family, my aunt is reliant on nieces and nephews to see to her care.
Enter two of the most incredible women I know – my sisters. Yes, and some amazing cousins – but the point of this post is what these folks are willing to do to make sure those who cared for us while we were growing up are cared for in return. I could not be there in person so one of my sisters put me on FaceTime while they sorted and cleaned through our aunt’s remaining earthly possessions.
For hours, they sorted and cleaned through piles of hoarded tissues and napkins, assorted bits of fancy jewelry, partially eaten snacks, carefully written notes that were tucked in between pages of books, coins, and a host of small things that could be easily tucked here and there. They also had to sort through clothing, bedding, and linen – the dirty with the clean, some unwashed and soiled beyond belief. They had to wear gloves and I am sure they probably should have worn masks.
Despite the unpleasant, but necessary chore, my sisters remained good-natured. Instead of grumbling and fussing, they chose levity. From the outside looking in, one may judge the hullabaloo, joking, and laughter as cruel, but it wasn’t. They did their best and our aunt is better off because of their selflessness, but so are our hearts. There was no begrudging undertones, no tallying of accounts, and no finger-pointing. They became my heroes that day because I’m not sure I could have done what they did.
My love and admiration for my sisters swells in my heart. They are my new heroes.
P.S. I have a pretty awesome brother-in-law too! All he would say is “Pshaw! – we do it for love“.
Mom is now “home”. She is in the house she has lived in for the last 20 years – the place she knows the best, where all her things are. We made the trip a week and a half ago. My next few posts will be about the preparation for the trip and all the experiences we had in that short time.
My heart is stuck though. I have written about needing to hear words of affirmation from the woman I know of as my mother, but none will be forthcoming. I wanted her to miss me even a little. I wanted her to hug my arm or touch my face. No. Nothing.
Yet, I had an “aha” moment the night before I got on a plane to go back to my house. We were piled up on my sister’s bed just having a girl chat when she quipped, “I don’t want to live in California!” For the next few minutes, neither my sister or I could redirect her. Mom was adamant, argumentative, spouting nonsense, and downright angry. She got her geography mixed up and actually asked me, “Where do you think you got your brain?” – meaning where did I go to school. Her question had nothing to do with genetics.
Her rant was eye-opening. As we tried several times to redirect, I got a revelation. Mom was trying to tell me she loved me! She was trying to communicate her dismay over the fact that I was leaving. My mom could not find the words to say nor could she express the feelings roiling around in her heart. Though she was dismayed for a few minutes, I ended up understanding that she may not be able to say the words, but it was there – buried under her inability, almost disabled by her condition, but it was there. She loves me!
Today, my focus shifts a little. Because I want to share what life is like in our household as we care for a loved one with dementia – it includes us. The intent is not to whine nor is it to glory in our efforts, but simply to open our front door so that we are not only transparent but truthful. Too many times in my life our family has put on a facade of happiness and well being that did not reflect the true life of a family living together and I think that did more harm than good.
I am grateful that mom is still physically strong so the challenges don’t include those that might require us to help her with tasks such as bathing. Mom is still able to contribute to the family by doing simple chores. As a side note, I am struck by the way mom’s dementia has taken away her ability to remember points in her past and present, but has not diminished her capacity to do rote housework such as washing dishes or vacuuming. For what seems like routine activities for us like cooking or setting the table, I have come to realize that each has differing requirements for processing hence mom’s ability to do some and not others.
So, back to my point – making sure we as caregivers take care of ourselves is just about as important as caring for our loved ones. We need physical rest, leisure time, activities that stimulate our creativity and learning, and of course good nutrition and exercise. We are not alone in our care for mom – this is a family enterprise – still with many challenges that create difficult decisions to make. But some folks don’t have such resources. I know there are well meaning and truly valuable programs run by local, state, and national organizations as well as non-profit and for-profit companies, but sometimes it just takes a friend or neighbor that notices and stays to chat at the mailbox or drop off some banana bread or send a care package with “fun” stuff in it for everyone. Next post? A list of a few of my favorite things and my address….just joking!