The clouds may be making a comeback, but inside the house, sunlight is breaking through.
What started out as something pretty awful, led to a major breakthrough on the home front. The day was mostly typical, although Mom did seem largely confused in the morning. At noon the caregiver arrived, and she and my hubby made a lot of headway getting things out of the living room. The home visit by the supervisor was postponed until four pm, and by the time she got here the house didn’t look quite the disaster that it was. The trouble came after everyone else had gone. Mom decided that if she wasn’t allowed to smack the dogs off the couch, she would take her ire out on them every time they passed by. She would strike out at them as they passed, or kick them if they came close enough. I asked her why she was being mean to them when they hadn’t done anything, and she fell back on “I don’t want them on the furniture.” I protested, “But Mom, they don’t know what you’re punishing them for if you just do it all the time. It doesn’t do any good.” She cast a jaundiced eye my way. “It does me some good.” She mumbled. So, when she got up and delivered a particularly hard kick to Newton-I lost it.
When I got up and approached her, she drew back the hand holding her coffee, ready to let fly. So the first battle was to make her relinquish the mug, no easy task, but I wasn’t willing to take another coffee bath. She started swinging, and I started holding onto whatever appendage was currently employed. I finally had her pinned and just held her, careful to avoid teeth. Mom holds nothing back when she’s angry. When she finally agreed to stop, I let go and we retreated to our respective corners, both of us thoroughly miserable. Mom went into the bathroom to collect herself, and when she came back out, I was waiting with a fresh cup of coffee and an abject apology. In tears, I hugged her and told her how much I hate it when we fight. I asked her to please just hang on for a little while longer, that we were working hard on a solution to the problem. For the first time, she seemed willing to talk about the move. Armed with fresh coffee, we sat at the table and really talked, and she was completely there for the entire conversation. I told her that we wanted to find a place for her where she could be active, engaged, and happy. I revealed to her that I didn’t feel like I was providing enough for her in activities and interests. I said that my goal all along has been to make her last years not just comfortable, but fulfilling. I told her that my goal was to find a place that she liked close enough so that I could see her every day…and the thunderclouds in her eyes cleared, the stubborn set of her jaw melted away, and she heaved an enormous sigh of relief. And just like that, I had my mother back.
I believe now that she feared we were going to do what we used to call in long term care a ‘granny dump’. It’s where a family puts their parent into a nursing home and just abandons them. When she realized that wasn’t the case, everything changed for her. The suspicion and resentment has been laid to rest, along with some careworn lines on her face. We snuggled and giggled together on the couch while we ate dinner, and the rest of the evening was warm and pleasant. She did say that she could be happy here, but she listened as I explained to her that my health hasn’t been the best and that the stress was passing through me to my husband, and his health was impacted as well. She expressed understanding when I said that Kevin and I needed time together, just the two of us, husband and wife. I admitted that it was becoming harder all the time to keep up with all her needs, and confessed that the whole conundrum was making me grouchy and distant. I swore to her my love and concern, and she gracefully embraced it. My heart remembered a time at the end of my high school years, when she and I lived together like sisters, sharing everything in our hearts. I cannot fully express my gratitude at feeling that way again…no matter how fleeting it may be.
I know that this window of clarity will not last forever, and that we have many more struggles ahead, but for the moment we are companions, not combatants. Her caseworker will be here on Wednesday, and will reevaluate her needs, taking us out of the equation as caregivers. This will raise what they call her ‘daily rate’ which then determines how much Medicaid will pay a facility. Her daily rate at the moment is quite low, because we do most of the caregiving. Armed with that, Mom and I will start visiting various facilities and checking them out. I told her to not hesitate to tell me if there’s something she doesn’t like about any particular place, because we want her to be completely comfortable. Taking advantage of the atmosphere, I broke the bad news. In my experience, most long term care facilities do not have bathtubs. This can be hard for a bath person, which she and I both are. It’s more than getting clean, its therapy. Mom used to watch television while she bathed, I prefer a book to read. Usually at the most they will have a whirlpool, which is cumbersome and time consuming-and thus rarely attempted by overworked staff. Before yesterday it would have been a deal breaker. But I think she realizes that there are compromises to be made, and she said we should just keep looking for the best available place. All in all, although my shoulders are stiff and sore I feel unburdened, and even Mom has more bounce than shuffle in her step. It’s a good day.