My Blog

May 25, 2017

Elderly Mothers and Retirement Communities # 3

“Happy Mother’s Day. You’re in Lock-up!”
Her mind may be slipping but she knew full well what we intended when Sister and I bundled Mom’s clothing, and few possessions from the trailer and into the back of my car. I tried, at first, to brush it off as just taking some things to a church garage sale, but when we entered the “FACILITY,” her future was obvious.

She doesn’t cry much, in fact I have never seen her cry, being of the British ‘stiff upper lip’ school and all that. Mostly she was furious. She wanted to call her husband, who is off in Virginia somewhere and not available. She wanted me to drive around the area so she would know where to escape. She was not going willingly.

“You’ve brought me here to die,” she said. And as I thought about it, yup, that was probably true. Guilt, of course, consumed me. In another day, another age, I would have stayed home to care for her. She would have remained with me for however many years were left to her. At 97, surely not many. But, no, it was off to the retirement community.

The facility is lovely, elegantly decorated, clean and spacious. It is also expensive but my siblings were willing to come up with the big bucks to pay for it. The place is well worth the money. The staff is kind and caring. The waitresses in the dining room (the front line of contact) know everyone by name and are certain to ask after someone who has not eaten. The rooms are cleaned weekly and the bed linens changed and washed for her. In the Independent Living side where she is, it is usually the other residents that keep an eye on each other.

The one-room apartment consisted of a bedroom and spacious living room with kitchen. By good fortune, it was close to the dining room. My husband, who is just finished with his open-heart surgery, let her have his red “Rollator” walker. To differentiate it from the dozens of others parked outside the dining room, I decorated it with purple silk flowers and her name tag.

I realize now that I should have been there with her for her first few days and nights. It was not a smooth transition.
Her first morning, she wandered into the dining room in her bathrobe and pajamas. She was quickly removed and told to go back to her room and dress. Most of the residents dress elegantly and wear make-up and jewelry. When she finally arrived, she sat down in someone else’s seat. Like church pews, although seats are not assigned, people by habit tend to sit in one specific place. Resentment boils when someone usurps a personal space and some of these ‘old ladies’ have no qualms about letting you know about it.

By that evening, she had had enough. As she had threatened to do, she made the ‘Great Escape.’ Using her flower-bedecked walker, she shuffled her way out of one of the side doors. Her mind is plenty agile enough to find a way out. She made it all the way around the 20 acre property. It is ringed by a road, parking areas and a fence. No way out except onto the road in front of the facility.

She made it back around to the front, and this time she was in tears. The night staff found her lost, confused, lonely and feeling abandoned and forsaken. It was 9 o’clock at night. They called me. I am within 15 minutes of the facility and arrived to find her back in her room. In her mind, a cell.

It took a while to calm her down and get her back in bed. I assured her things would get better. And they have.

She still can’t remember which way to turn in the hall outside her room, but she can get to the dining room with the help of other residents. She is not making friends yet but hopefully she will. Like crows on a telephone line, they all sit in a row outside the dining room and talk while waiting for meals. She has found her ‘personal seat’ in the dining room with Diana, Neva and Joyce.

Encouraged by the staff, she grudgingly attends the chair exercises, plays Bunko, and joins the ice cream socials at 2 pm, when she remembers. She does love the musical presentations they provide. She even “leaped” to her feet to dance during one song then promptly fell, to the dismay of everyone. No harm done. She got back up and continued dancing. She didn’t care for the Red Hat luncheon and can no longer remember how to play bridge, but she is adjusting.

Still feeling guilty, I check on her three times a day to make sure she has made it to meals. So, how is the facility better than being at home? She is with other people. She gets three nutritious meals a day. She is helped and encouraged to participate in activities. And when she falls, the staff is there instantly to help her.

I take a deep breath. Yes, it was the right decision.

About Caroline Castillo Crimm
Retired Professor Emeritus from Sam Houston State University, interested in writing novels and speaking about topics such as the history of Latin American. Would like to share the AMAZING world of the 18th century in Northern New Spain, that's Spanish Texas and Mexico!
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