It’s November 7th and Mom is 84 years-old today. I pinch myself when I look at her looking at me and recall how last year at this time I thought it would be her last birthday. It’s been over three years now since Mom broke her hip. She’s been in hospice at home in the livingroom, ever since .
My purpose in starting this blog back in 2010 was to keep others posted on the events and emotions that come along with a caregiver’s journey. In the beginning, it was fun as Mom was full of energy, wit and a delightful sense of humor. Even in the midst of Alzheimer’s she still managed to be an accomplished artist. I regret that I haven’t been keeping up with that as much as I’d hoped. I thought it would be cathartic but, for so many weeks at a time, I’ve felt totally blocked. Maybe it’s because the feelings I have are too powerful—or perhaps I can’t even access them or find the words. What’s happening (at least for me) is that a mind numbing routine has set in.
My day revolves around when Masonicare will be sending an aide over to help with Mom so that I can get out of the house and try to check off a laundry list of errands in under two hours. Mom sleeps much of the day but, when I get her up for a meal, I use a contraption that takes up most of our living room called a “Hoyer lift”. Her arms and legs are so contracted that she can no longer stand. She still has an appetite and can chew and swallow but eats her food very, very slowly. I spend nearly an hour at each meal spoon feeding her every last bite. I’m sure this is why so many fail in a nursing home as no one but a family member would have the patience and time to feed someone for as long as it takes to finish their food.
Two months ago, Mom stopped eating and drinking on a Labor Day weekend. I thought maybe it was the unseasonably hot weather or maybe… this is how it ends? I was overwhelmed with emotions I did not expect like: “What will I do when Mom is gone?”I’ve been taking care of her for so long that I’ve forgotten what life used to be like. “How will I fill my days? “How will I earn a living like I did before the world and my profession changed?” I felt like an astronaut who has been floating for years in space waiting to return to an earth that moved on without them. I remember giving Mom a kiss on her forhead as if to say “It’s OK to go” but my mind was racing with the thought “Not yet– I’m still not prepared!”.
And sure enough Mom began drinking fluids for a whole day straight. The next day she started eating again. My routine returned to autodrive and I was given more time to adjust to the inevitable. For now we share another milestone, another birthday together. Our bond has always been so strong that it’s hard to explain to those who were never quite as close to their mothers. I guess that’s where a caregiver’s dedication comes from. For me, it slowly began to take over my definition of who I am. My past fades as I reassure myself this is what I do best. I’d like to think Mom keeps hanging in there because “mother knows best”. On a spiritual level, I feel she’ll know the best time to go in peace and I’ll find peace in that.
What worries me most is that these last three years will be the only ones I remember and that the amazing woman and role model I called Mom will fade away. I’m still struggling with which kind of grief is worse: sudden loss and painfully vivid memories of your loved one or a slow farewell where even their face seems fuzzy and far in the past, like an old photograph thats been sitting in the sun.
I guess I’ll think about that tomorrow– For today it’s Happy Birthday Mom! We love you!
(My brother, Bill, with Mom)