Last week my sister, brother, and I placed our mom in an assisted living facility. We did our best to help her remain independent, but when she began confusing the TV remote control with the cordless phone and was found watching a movie put on by the wee folks living in the terrarium….well, that sort of made the decision for us.
Mom’s adventures of the mind may not entirely be a result of typical dementia issues. She is currently detoxing her body from 13 years of using heavy pain medication for severe headaches – a bonus left-over from 4 brain surgeries nearly 30 years ago, 2 of which saved her life. This particular drug can take about six months to release from her system and we are mid-way through Month Two. Although she wanders through some rather metaphorical dimensions, her travels are not as extensive as they once were. Generally, she can carry on conversations about our lives, such as, remembering I went to a reunion last weekend or that I have a tendency to undercook/overcook/burn dinner. When it comes to following instructions or understanding a new procedure, her mind takes a turn. Although her mother had dementia, the doctors aren’t entirely certain about what may come next given all the variables. Not a lot to do but hope for the best…. and pray a bunch.
My siblings and their families are amazing. They did the hero’s work of caring for mom in their homes – first my brother, then my sis. They watched her personality diminish as pain seeped in and overtook her joy. They watched her body decline from using the only bandage available which, by the way, offered little relief at a terrible price – addiction. I’d talk to my mom often, but did not have to see this daily. My stint was early on in the process – the initial discoveries, the doctor visits, endless tests, surgeries, hospitals, more surgeries to correct the first (and didn’t), and the recoveries. Mom was still on her own at that time, but my siblings have been in the trenches with her and I’m incredibly grateful.
Mom is the type of person others go to for help, for counsel, and for encouragement. She is sweet and gracious and genuinely believes we are all born pure and good. She gardens, writes poetry, and would draw if it didn’t cause her pain. Over the years, mom has done her very best to stay positive and hopeful for a solution – not just for herself, but for the plights of others who have similar issues. This recent challenge has been tough. I keep reminding her (and myself) that we are taking it one day at a time… but sometimes this scales down to one moment at a time. We are not without alternatives: neurostimulation; new, less addicting drugs; even meditation have the ability to help in some fashion – a precarious teeter-totter of possibilities, yes, but possibilities nonetheless.
This section of my life feels strange. I am in a parent role with my parent, making decisions I don’t want to make, contrasted by the fact I’m an actual parent doing my best to stay at least three minutes ahead of my child. At first, thoughts such as “this shouldn’t be happening” and “I don’t have enough time” and the very lovely and talented “why me” routinely popped into my head. Throw in a few thousand chocolate covered raisins and the picture is complete.
Little by little, however, I find myself accepting this scenario, this story I’m involved in right now. I still have times when I want it all to just go away, to go back to normal – but what “normal” am I comparing it to? When have things ever been normal and what is that anyway? They say change is the only consistently normal thing in life – and this feels simultaneously true and odd. Experience tells me I’m learning to turn on a dime whether I’m up for it or not… I probably better relearn how to roller skate, as well.
I have one small request. If you see my mom and I sitting in front of the terrarium with rapt attention, give us a little tap on the shoulder before you change the channel…it may take just a little getting used to.
© 2012 Beverly Belling – all rights reserved