1 day into my new job, back in February, I realized that Mom was in some pain. She'd probably been sick for a few days, but I'd missed the cues. If I questioned her about her suddenly grasping her abdomen, she'd merrily respond, "What?! I have no pain." How do I call the doctor and ask to get her in right away...because I'm not sure why?
Of course, if you let some things go, they worsen and it was suddenly terribly obvious that she needed to see her doctor. I cut out early on the 2nd day of my new job to take her to Convenient Care. Her illness, thank God, was treatable with antibiotics and painkillers, but they still took a few days to kick in.
I got up at the buttcrack of dawn to tend to Mom before starting Day 3 of my new job. I arrived to find a gargantuan mess. Her bed was wet and soiled, she was wet and soiled, the floors were wet and soiled. I set water running, and stepped out of my sweater and blouse, to keep from making a mess of my own clothes, and got Mom into the shower. I settled her in warm jammies with a cup of tea, then stripped beds, started laundry, washed floors, cleaned carpets. Then I raced out the door to try to get to work on time.
Of course, I realized that I'd left my phone at home, so I had to head in the opposite direction. As I approached the house, I realized that my clothes were still in Mom's living room. I found another outfit, grabbed my phone, and hit the road to my new office where I was going to arrive late and have to explain that I had to leave early today. Frazzled and stressed, I decided on the spot:
It's enough. I'm done. I've done a good job. I'm proud. But I'm done; I can't do it any more.
I called a case manager that mom had been assigned to ages ago, and, without reservation, told her "I need help. Today."
Within an hour, I had a call back, with news that there was an opening at Champaign County Nursing Home, 1 mile away from her home, 3 miles away from ours. In Garden View Court, a unit set up specifically for Alzheimer's patients. This was looking good.
I took care of Mom through the weekend, and the following Tuesday, I loaded her and her baby doll, "Savannah," into the car. I told her we were going to go somewhere that there would be nurses to take care of her all while I'm at work, and she would have lots of girlfriends to talk to. She was excited.
Mom and Savannah
It was harder on me than it was for Mom. It's kind of like dropping your kid off for her first day of kindergarten...but not. I didn't know how it was going to go, and you know...it's still a nursing home, with nursing home sights and nursing home smells, and nursing home nurses, and it's intimidating on your first day.
I was teary, and worried, and anxious, but instantly comforted when we arrived: The staff was waiting with open arms for Mom...and a stroller and a blanket for Savannah.
Mom got her settled, and took off like she'd lived there for years. Several staff members stopped to admire her baby.
Her bedroom overlooks a walking path (good for pushing strollers on), in the midst of a garden tended by Master Gardeners.
There's a small aviary, and this is her favorite bird:
"Oooo! Pink and purple!," she says.
8 weeks later. You can see by the pictures that she's pretty content in her new home. She sometimes asks to go home, but she imagines a home in which she is a child, and there are friends and family around her. When I remind her that she would have to sit by herself all day until I get off of work, then she agrees, that she likes it better where she is.
I focus now on paperwork and the exorbitant out-of-pocket costs for Alzheimer's care, while I adjust to living a life that doesn't rotate around tending to Mom. I have been amazed to discover how much of my time, energy, and money have gone into taking care of her, but I'll save that for a different post.
It is a new life for both of us.
I am damned proud. I am proud that I took care of my mother as long as I could and as good as I could. I made a few mistakes, and I know I was criticized along the way by a few friends and family that felt I should have put her in a nursing home earlier.
Ahh, but they weren't there, my armchair critics. I don't move blindly through my life. The decisions I made were the right ones, for us. I kept my mother happy, safe, and healthy for as long as I could, and took action when it was beyond me.
Yes, it's made for hectic schedule in my life, at times. So what?
I have, for years now, wondered at people that "console" me with the words "it's as if you've already lost her." Really? Because things have changed, and she is not the same woman that she once was, I have lost her? She no longer IS? I bristle, darlings. Would you think that of your spouse, your best friend, your sister? Your child?
Let me explain that her pronouncing "Jingle Bells" as "Bangle Jells" doesn't make her dead. I have not lost her. She is a beautiful little girl that wants to sing Bangle Jells and Jesus Loves Me. She likes babies and birdies and shrimp and bacon. Not a day goes by that she doesn't tell me I'm beautiful, thank me for all that I do for her, and tell me that she loves me so much.
And she is safe and happy, and I rest easy, these days.
Life is good.
*Shout out to my new employers, Jennie & Paul Edwards, who never blinked an eye over my sporadic first weeks in their office, reiterating only "Mom comes first." You guys just dropped right out of heaven!