I am back from my wanderings and my 98 year-old mother has not wandered off with her husband, Al, much as she might like to. He is still in Virginia and will not return until October if then. Or so he told my sister.
There is little doubt now that Mom has reached the point where she needs a caregiver. She slips in and out of logical thought. It is always a surprise to me when she suddenly appears cognizant of her surroundings. At other times, her world has become hazy and unclear.
Me: Have you eaten breakfast yet?
Mom: I don’t know when meals are.
Me: I’ll be back in the morning to make sure you get to breakfast.
Mom: I’m not senile, you know! I can get to breakfast!
Caregivers are not all the same. Some are kind and gentle, others impatient and angry. Family does not necessarily mean that love and good will are the order of the day. In fact, it is often family who can be irritable and cranky. I find myself growing impatient and angry when she can’t seem to remember something I’ve just told her. In our case, we have been fortunate with Mom’s caregivers and I can learn a lot from them.
While I was gone, Juanita checked on Mom several times a day. Juanita is a sweet, gentle slender African-American woman in her fifties, who cares for another woman (the term inmate, prisoner, convict, leaped to mind) at the Retirement Community. I paid her to stop by and see how Mom was doing.
For whatever reason, Mom wasn’t getting up or dressing for meals. When she was up, she lost track of where she was. On a wandering trip back from the front lobby she got into the dry-goods food closet thinking it was the bathroom. The resulting splattered disaster included hiding her dirty underpants behind the boxes like a naughty child. It became Juanita’s to clean up. She did it without complaint.
My sister, at a meditation retreat, learned of the catastrophe. Knowing I was gone, she gave up her meditating and came to stay with Mom. She sat with her during the day, both of them quietly reading, went to meals with her and spent the night on a pallet in the living room of the apartment. She became the ultimate caregiver, kind, patient, helpful.
Upon my return, I began checking into the Assisted Living part of the facility. In addition to costing another $2,000 a month, the facility happily provides a list of options for care. At the minimal cost of $400 a month, a caregiver will come in once a day to make sure Mom bathes, changes her clothes, gets to meals and cleans up after her if there is an emergency. In progressively larger amounts, reaching a high of $1,600 a month, a caregiver will come in as many as five times a day or stay all day and night, as my sister did, to monitor Mom.
From friends who have family in other facilities around the country, these prices are low. I’ve read the books and articles about Family Caregivers having to take care of themselves. But when the option is another $3,000 a month, there is very little option, cranky and impatient though I may become. Assisted Living was out.
The problem is that Mom is not quite there yet. She can dress herself, feed herself, and entertain herself with books she no longer truly comprehends. She can remember to get to meals on her own, sometimes. She can remember to go out to the lobby to listen to the music and even get up to dance, sometimes. She can even remember to make it to the bathroom on her own, most of the time. It’s those other times that become the problem.
Since I live here in town, it is easy enough to work her into my schedule. (So I tell myself) Load the dogs into the car, drive over to the facility, let the dogs out to run in the empty lot next door, go in and get Mom up and to the dining room, or bring her food back to her. Load Mom up with the dogs to go run errands at the bank or the post office, walk Mom and the dogs to the far end of the facility and back. Take Mom back to her room, and the dogs home again. And repeat for the afternoon. The dogs are getting used to it and so is Mom. And so am I.
It may take a village to raise a child, but it also takes a village to care for the elderly.
I have learned that the Residential Community is very much a village. The residents have become caregivers themselves. For the most part, they care for each other. Some are blind and crippled but still mentally alert. They offer to help Mom find her way. Others are completely physically capable but their minds have slipped. They sit and talk to Mom for hours, unsure of who she is or who they are, but willing to chat.
Without the help of the other residents gently (and sometimes not so gently) telling her she is headed in the wrong direction, or helping her find her way in the maze of halls, I would have to be there all the time. I am grateful for the help from these other kindly caregivers.
Slowly, grudgingly, I am learning patience. I keep telling myself, aren’t we all, in the end, caregivers for each other?