Writing a past blog, It’s Easy To Get Faked Out, reminded me of how hard it was for Mom and I to break our familiar routines after I moved her from her home of 52 years into her apartment at Emeritus Assisted Living. (To avoid confusion; the facility is terrific and has gone through 3 umbrella ownership's since I moved Mom October 2013. The names have changed from Emeritus to Brookdale, & now The Seasons. Depending on when blogs are written, know I am always referring to the same terrific facility and staff).
Upon her arrival there, and for quite a while afterward, Mom kept up her usual daily routine she had been following for years, one of which was she had her morning coffee while reading the newspaper. Because of this, it meant that she skipped breakfast in the dining room. She also ate her lunch, afternoon snacks, and wine and crackers before dinner in her apartment. The only meal she would eat in the dining room was dinner.
Because of her routine, I would keep up my routine of food shopping for her, filling her fridge with all the familiar items she likes. The only exception was I would not buy her anything that required cooking on a stove because her apartment didn’t have one thankfully.
It took over 8 months for Mom to gradually fall into a different pattern of going to the dining room for all her meals. She grew to like the social aspect of eating there. She liked her table mates, and it helped immensely that the food was delicious. Soon, she learned when she wasn’t feeling well, rather than call me to bring her soup, she could have the kitchen bring soup to her apartment, which not only freed me up, but she was able to get it much faster than having me bring it to her.
Today, Mom is away from her apartment more than she is in it. She reads her newspaper and does her puzzles after breakfast in the lobby, or outside in the garden. She participates in stretching classes, movies, lectures, and celebrations. This is a far cry from how she lived before I moved her to this facility. Before that move, when she was living in her own home, she became more and more isolated. There were times when she never even got dressed but would remain in her bathrobe throughout the entire day.
Breaking a routine is difficult enough, adding dementia to the mix makes it almost impossible. As soon as Mom started going to the dining room for all her meals, I chose to stop buying her groceries, thus making this transition an easy one for her. Out of sight, out of mind instituted the change.
What Is True For Me
Yes, of course, I could have told Mom to go to the dining room for all her meals and snacks in the beginning. It certainly would have made life easier for me. However, this move was traumatic enough for her – for both of us, actually. Mom and I were each in our own private hell at the time; however, even then, I did not feel it was right ripping apart another aspect of her routine any further. The move itself to Emeritus was about all either of us could manage. To start telling her right away to change her routine; i.e. where she should eat, what she should eat, and when she should eat, was, in my opinion, too much for her to handle, and truly, in the scheme of things, not that “necessary.”
Yes, of course, guilt was a factor for me, along with every other side-effect grief and exhaustion brings on. Contrary to popular belief, a huge weight was not lifted from my shoulders, or psyche, when I moved Mom to Emeritus as so many people, unknowingly, assumed and remarked. And I might add, it had nothing to do with whether or not I went grocery shopping for her. It went far deeper than that.
It came down to a few basics. One was following my own conscience by doing what I felt was right for Mom. Secondly, I wanted to do the best I could for her because I never wanted to look back and say I should have done something differently. Caregiving is hard enough without carrying the burden of regret.
However, with caregiving, there has to be an element of being realistic and being kind to ourselves. We are capable of giving and doing only so much, though I didn’t know that for the first several years. Had I been better equipped with ideas about guilt and/or knowing my limits as to how much I could carry on my shoulders without totally losing it, I would not have wound up facing the statistic that 67% of caregivers die before their loved one. It is why I created Forgive & Forget, and Brick by Brick within the site to address all the different emotions and logistics we face like “guilt,” “knowing our limits,” “boundaries,” etc.
Now I weigh everything before I do anything, keeping in mind the cost to me physically and emotionally. This, by its very nature, is different for each one of us. We all have our own barometer of what we feel is the right thing to do in any given situation, caregiving or not.
Therefore, my suggestion is to navigate this on your own terms. Always go with what you feel is the right thing to do. Then, if needed, modify your actions so you don’t compromise yourself to the point of your cheese sliding off your cracker.