When I rang the doorbell to the Memory Care facility where Mom lives, it was like I pushed a button to the past. I was suddenly back to that first day when Mom and I walked together through this same door nine years ago.
Back then, she and I exchanged a look where words were unnecessary because the message was crystal clear, “Please, God, don’t let it get to this point.” Yet here we are, and here I am, two and a half years into Mom living in Memory Care, only now waiting for the locked door to open so I can visit. Since I moved her to this residence in 2013, Mom’s dementia has deteriorated to the point where she can no longer live in the “assisted living” part of The Seasons facility/residence.
As I was waiting to go in for my visit, I thought I heard Mom just on the other side of the door yelling. The door opened, the staff smiled and welcomed me in. She gestured a few feet away from where Mom was struggling with the drawer of a large cabinet. Yes, I had heard right, she was yelling.
I walked over and said, “Hey, let me try that, Mom. What are we looking for?” She tried to describe a serious matter that I could not understand. My responses, as always, were supportive as I was opening two of the drawers. “Nope,” I said, “You’re right, Mom, they’re not here. Let’s head to your room, I want to take off this mask.”
The trip was slow, her arm gestures and verbal expletives going right along with her anger. She spat on the floor, zeroed in on another resident who was staring blankly at us, and cried, “Don’t you look at me like that! If you knew what I was going through …” then she trailed off. I kept her moving along.
I stopped my urge to apologize to the other residents, remembering these flare-ups are short-lived. I reminded myself, too, that this is normal behavior for everyone here so there really is nothing to apologize for.
“Where are you taking me?” Mom shouts at me. “Just to your room so we can visit,” I say. Her door is open, I wheel her in and over to her bed. “This is my room? When did this happen?” she asks. “You’ve been here for a bit of time, not long,” I tell her. She says nothing. “Here,” I say, “Crawl up and lay down, and I will too. Let me take my boots off first.” She did as she was told.
We lay down looking up at the ceiling, my feet at her head, her feet at my head, and we take each other’s hand. She explains how she doesn’t remember anything anymore, how she used to “rule the world.” She doesn’t blame God but doesn’t understand what’s happening to her either. Her explication is interrupted by howling and tears, but then she calms down again. I squeeze her hand and continue listening.
Today she calls me by my name. I haven’t heard her say my name in years. Then she asks, “Have we heard anything from Suzie?” (my estranged sister). I do not skip a beat and say, “Nope, still no word,” and move the conversation in another direction.
I left about an hour later. Dinner was being served so I got her to her table, kissed her forehead, and said I’d be back in a little while. She was calm and perfectly fine when I left. Her tablemate was the woman she yelled at, yet they both smiled at one another and ate their tomato soup.
As I walked to my car, I couldn’t stop the tears, nor could I take another step. I bent over putting my hands on my thighs to steady myself. After a bit, I could finally stand up and make my way to the car where I sat for another 5 minutes before I could drive towards home. Even the dogs were silent.
What Is True For Me
“If all you can do is crawl. Start crawling,” is a quote from Rumi. Well, I’m crawling. And if crawling is all I can do today then so be it. There are no rules in my caregiving journey. None. There are no rules for any of us caring for our loved ones. Some days are better than others as far as being able to handle the harsh reality of their decline. For now, I am crawling….and that is just going to have to be okay for this day.