That photo above was taken the day my mom moved in with us, moving her from California and a senior center, into our home in Alaska. It was momentous, to say the least. Her Alzheimer’s had progressed so much so, that she could not care for herself, nor live alone. And because the situation was what it was, she was brought to live with me. It was the first time we had been under the same roof in more than 40 years. It was a rough adjustment, to be sure. Mom was so confused that she was living in my home, and not that I was living with her, in her home. That I was the homemaker and not her. That the kitchen was my domain, not hers. That I cooked the meals and cleaned the house, and did the laundry. She declined fairly rapidly and now that I look back on it, I think it was because she was so confused. So out of her element. And the arrangement grated on her. So she sunk inside herself. We had days where I could not get her into clothes. Days when she would sleep almost the entire day, and then was able to sleep the entire night. I was getting concerned. She was very angry and the situation was becoming untenable.
One of the smartest things I did, at that time, was I admitted I needed help. I could not continue to have her live with me and someone needed to step in. Someone needed to give her the care she would not allow me to give to her. I needed a strong intermediary. And there are absolutely some amazing people out there who know exactly how to do what I needed. Through the Alzheimer’s Resource Center here in Alaska, I was able to get the education I needed to know how to deal with my mom, some wonderful resources to get mom into the community, and also a place where she could live. And so, with a heavy heart, we moved mom into an Assisted Living Home. I know, deep in my bones, that God guided me to where He wanted mom to be. She is happy, she is well cared-for, and I don’t worry about her. Not one sleepless night. The staff is kind, the home is clean and so very sunny, and the owner deeply cares about all her clients. It was truly a blessing.
Mom found joy in being with people her own age. She attended the senior center programs. She painted. She laughed so much. And she made friends. It was so cute to see the two of these ladies above hold hands across their recliners as they watched TV together. It warmed my heart. And my mom is happy. I have only seen her frustrated and unhappy a couple of times these past few years. Overall, she is a happy person there. We visit every other week or so. At first, as she was declining more, it would make her sad to have us leave. The staff said she would talk about us, but when we visited, she sought a connection and did not seem to find it. She slowly wasn’t upset when we told her we had to leave. She was ready to get back to her day.
Mom has since fallen twice. Breaking a different hip each time. The first time, she came back and was so happy and easy to help recover. The second time, after the surgery, she languished for a couple of weeks in the hospital. She has never come back quite the same since. She has lost so much of herself. In her mind, she is not 91. Nowhere near. She told me the other day she has plans in place to re-visit her parents in New Zealand. She has no memory of ever being married, nor of having children. This last visit was hard for me. She used pronouns for me: she, her, that lady…not her daughter. She hasn’t known my name for awhile, although she would sometimes say it in passing, but not as it belonged to me. My visit this past week sort of undid me. And I chastised myself for my behavior. I kept talking about my dad, or her 2nd husband, Frank, or my brother. My children, my grandchildren. My home and my dog, who she just loves. None of it resonated with her. I showed her photos and she did not recognize herself in them. And I realized as I was driving down the highway, that it was a waste of time. She has lost those memories and I think I did it so she could feel a connection to me. Because even though I am almost 65, I still need my mom. In my head, sometimes I am still her little girl. Only now I can never be that for her. All I can be is a friendly stranger who comes by now and then. We can chat, but it has to be superficial. I cannot expect more out of her – it is not fair to her. Because when you try to make them remember, it only frustrates them, because their brain just isn’t connecting to memories. She forgot I had brought her some clothes and shoes, and that had only been minutes.
For my mom, this word describes her longing for New Zealand. She has lived in America far longer than she lived there, but the heart of her youth was spent among the green of New Zealand. It’s the place she felt the safest and most loved, and it was years before she was married to my dad; she was living at home, and living a pretty carefree, and very simple, life. She can no longer relate to her life now. She has no concept that she is 91 years old. Time holds nothing for her. I see it when she searches my face, and I know she is looking for something that will connect the two of us. She feels a kindred spirit with me, but has no idea why. And she just cannot make that connection. I saw it particularly this time, when her eyes changed and she stopped trying to figure me out. And I cried inside. Because I realized I would never have my mom back. Not ever.
I shared this photo with mom. I had just graduated high school. Her comment was, “That’s a nice photo. Who are they?” And it made me sad because it was a pivotal moment in my life. I remember the day so clearly. And how we laughed and cried because I was growing up. LOL. I had plans to move out to attend college, and little did I know that I would never live under a united roof with my parents, again. I stayed with them when I was between roommates. I visited. But it was no longer my home.
I have been blessed with the marriage of my dreams. Are we perfect? Heck no. Who is? But we are in love, even after 36 years together. My home is with my husband and wherever it is we live. And we have lived quite a few places! As I was growing into being a wife and mother, my mom and dad had divorced and both had remarried. Mom and Frank moved quite a lot and we did not see one another very often. Birthdays, holidays, events, and the occasional weekend together. We did not even talk that much. I would chat every few days with my stepdad and my mom would just yell “hi” in the background and tell him to keep talking to me. Ha-Ha. So not seeing my mom daily is not a new thing for me. I was busy raising and homeschooling our kids. We lived on farms and that was not exactly what my mom was used to, nor did she prefer it. They lived in senior, master-planned communities with golf courses. We lived in a lot of dirt. Ha-Ha. At first, I felt guilty when we moved her to the ALH because it’s about a half hour drive away. And in the beginning, every Sunday we saw her. But then “it” happened and the world shut down. Churches closed so we stopped driving into town to attend with our kids and grandkids. We live-streamed God. Whoever would have thought it???!!!
We got busy. And so the time in-between visits lengthened. And computers and media, FaceTime, all that just passed mom by. It confuses her to see you on a phone. Once or twice we tried with one of the worker’s iPads. She just did not connect. Because of restrictions inhumanely placed on senior centers, I can not enter the facility. I can stand, fully masked, in the storm door entry, with mom in a wheelchair, in the house. And that is how we communicate. She does not understand the face diaper thing, nor why we cannot enter and have a “proper conversation.” This last visit, she grew uncomfortable at the cold coming in (I totally agreed! It was all of 14 degrees outside, even if the sun was blazing away. I was cold, too) and so she did not want to talk long. I realized that my visits don’t affect her too much. I explained to the owner of the home that mom and I have not been particularly close and we did not see one another a lot prior to her Alzheimer’s, so not seeing her often probably works for us both.
When all is said and done, I miss my mom. I ache and there is not a thing anyone can do about it. But I cannot allow it to cloud either of our lives. She is happy. Her attitude is good. She is not in pain. And she enjoys her days. I cannot ask for more for my mom. I can’t take this disease away. There is no cure. And I have chosen to not think about it. Perhaps tomorrow I may delve into all of this miasma that is Alzheimer’s disease and how devastating the affect is on everyone around the person who has it. Today? Well, today I am trying a new barley beef soup recipe, and I have some garlic bread to have with it, because my husband has been gone for a week and it’s cold and I wanted to warm him up a little bit, and to welcome him home. Mom? I’ll check on her and perhaps visit her weekly, but I am not going to worry. It adds nothing to my day and it does not change a thing. I love the woman who was my mom and I miss her. That is never changing.
I love you, mom. I am sad. I am mad. But I am always your loving daughter. Always.