Yesterday, I had the opportunity to have lunch with a dear friend and colleague. Like me, she too has a 98 year-old mother. She cares for her mother at their home and has given up her entire life to caregiving. We spent lunch comparing notes on our parent. It is a challenge no matter how we look at it.
I am indeed fortunate to have brothers and a sister to help chip in to keep Mom at the lovely facility that is @CarriageInn. My friend does not. I may have to check on Mom three or four times a day, but my friend cares for her mother all day every day. While I am in and out to see Mom, I am still constantly on the go. My friend, on the other hand, only occasionally gets a chance to slip out while her mother is sleeping or watching TV, but never for long.
Like so many at our Residential facility, the ailments vary. There are those whose minds are sharp at 80 or nearly 90 while their bodies are failing them. For others, it is the reverse. Their minds have failed while their bodies, at 60 or 70, are still hale and hearty.
My friend’s mother is blind from a relatively recent accident. She can listen to TV but as she gets deafer, the volume gets louder. She can no longer fix her own food or dress herself or take a shower alone. Her mind, however, is still active. She remembers the ball teams and roots for her favorites or follows the plot of TV programs. She understands what is going on.
Mom, on the other hand, can still see well enough to read, more or less. There are several books on her bedside table that she is “reading.” With her mind slipping, however, she can reread Hamilton, her favorite, or one of her Lee Childs endlessly, never remembering what she read. She can understand Ellen and Wheel of Fortune, but has no clue what else is going on. She, too, is nearly deaf and the TV remains at an ear-piercing volume.
And then there is the heat. To stay in the room with our parent is to quietly roast, dripping sweat like basting on a Christmas turkey. The temperature always hovers around 84 or 85. Since it is summer outside, her mother dresses in light garments and refuses to wear a sweater. Mom, while keeping the temperature at 78 or 80, wears long sleeves and a thick jacket, and keeps a blanket on the chair to wrap herself in. My friend and I are forced into nearly going “commando” while we sit beside their chairs or remain in the room.
Personality traits that were acceptable or bearable before, become exacerbated as our parents age. Anger and vicious attacks have no filters anymore. Ask the staff at any nursing home. They will tell you horror stories of being bitten, pinched, screamed at and having things thrown at them. Not surprising that it is hard to find people willing to work for low pay or that they will sneak in a revenge pinch or two.
As daughters, however, we have no choice. We must accept the abuse. Her mother yells. My mother, fortunately, is the passive aggressive type. I remember all of us, my father included, tiptoeing around the house to avoid making Mom angry. Now, however, Mom sits, silent and sometimes sullen and angry, resentful at being at the facility and my guilt escalates.
As my friend and I shared stories, we wondered which would be our fate—lose our minds or lose our health? Neither of us have children. We have no one to care for us or concern themselves for us. The benefit of not having children is that our fate is in our own hands. Even those who have children can’t always count on them to care for them but we, at least, can choose.
Do we warehouse ourselves, watching our wealth disappear into the great maw of the Health Care industry? Do we wait to see which deteriorates first, our health or our minds? Or do we choose to “go quiet into that good night”?
Watching from the bedsides of our mothers, we can’t help but wonder.