By Francine Van, Guest Contributor
“Well te rusten,” was our nightly gesture, a Dutch phrase translating to “rest well,” and the only ritual practiced daily that brought peace to my inner world.
Two years, two people, and two very different relationships endured between a mother and daughter. A lifetime of personalities had settled comfortably, and required new vigor for a caring role reversal, as we merged lives.
The light bulb idea was mine as I suggested mom move in with me. I offered an extra bedroom at the condo I purchased for my retirement at a small lakeside community. I found her increased needs entailed exhaustive attention when she lived alone, and required daily visits to bring food. I cleaned, arranged appointments, paid her bills, and became her taxi. More seriously, reminders of regular routines like bath time, med-time, mealtime, and locking her door were also necessity.
Mom had difficulty with the decision; one day she ruled favourably in the choice, but then the next remained non-committal. She unfortunately forgot her final decision to move with me.
This trek with mom began with hope, a journey of love, and seriously railroaded off the tracks days after we moved. A nasty transition ensued, as I unpacked and she sat staring out the window.
She was vocal about her unhappiness, but silent in her retreat with this disease. My sense of hopelessness surfaced, not understanding how I was capable of providing the essentials of life, yet could not fix this situation for her. I knew she could not live alone.
I grimly noted my loss of privacy and social life. Resentment simmered, knowing she was not at fault. I never realized the encompassing work caring for a loved one, who became a disgruntled, unrepentant guest. Sorting my emotions became a dilemma, and feelings of suffocation arose. My lakeside dream crumbled, and my retreat changed into a prison.
A day-away program was a Band-Aid in assisting with her care, or was it for my care? Support was the goal, but the ultimate result attached me to their schedule. Respite care was exceedingly difficult to obtain, if at all. My freedom nevertheless diminished.
We weaved our existence around each other, but the oppressive energy in my home radiated. I became her total support system, yet wondered if I was helping her at all.
“What day is it?” was her morning question, this habit repeated every day, and it would not be an exaggeration to mention it could reoccur again a few hours later. Groundhog Day, the movie, once had me laughing at the repetition, but now the regurgitated theme troubled me, this reality inferred in my life.
My questions multiplied with lessened expectations of mom’s capabilities. Her mental functions deteriorated with no known navigation, and living with this disease of dementia, presented the most confusing, non-patterned survival. Each personality piloting this brain maze will live it differently, and the love givers live this same life!
“It takes a village.” is a common saying for raising children and I have learned the meaning also holds true for elder care. No one can go it alone.
Two years passed and my quest for additional help towered. I fell deeper into my misery, depression lurking for both of us. How could I make life decisions for another human being? She is here to live her own unique journey, so I struggled with this challenge.
The call came at four p.m. on New Year’s Eve. A bed at a long-term care residence was available immediately for her. No time to worry, we were rushed through the preparations, instructions, and tests. She appeared to understand, had wanted this move, but I still wondered if it was all clear to her. I felt grace in action the way the universe fell into place that day.
I felt both anxiety and relief.
She explored the new surroundings without hesitation. She was back in the city she had called home.
She now seems content residing across the street from her old apartment. A new slice of life sprouted in this nursing home, mom unfolding with a re-energized spirit, and choices of a manicure or bingo her only concern.
Long-term residence care survives criticism by various standards, yet continues to provide elder care housing, as society searches for improved, alternative options. I must end with a shout out of thanks to this village currently supporting mom’s needs.
A fresh relationship surfaced for us too, and I am pleased we have recreated a new, old friendship. She has taught me endurance and adaptability.
Love overwhelms me again.