Things I want to keep in mind.

Month: June, 2015

Get up and write

I went to bed thinking about writing and woke up bright and early with my mind buzzing and whirling. I will try to capture those thoughts in some semblance of order.

Naturally, my thoughts are dominated by my mother. Everyone I see asks me how she is doing. The truth of the matter is that she is about the same – even though she is now staying in assisted living. Yes, she has mentioned wanting to go back to her house but she was talking about that when she was at home. I have to keep reminding myself of that. It is a strange place for her but it is providing some extra stimulation for her too. Everything is new. She isn’t locking herself up in her room, she is eating in the dining room and will wander around the halls when she gets curious or bored. She sleeps a lot just like she did at home.

We are all wounded. Each of us in different ways. We will recover from our wounds differently and in our own time. Our scars will be as different as our wounds were.

I miss my mom and I wish that things could be different. But I’ve wished for that my whole life. The disparity is that now I have to accept that it never will be. Things can never be resolved. I may never understand in a way that makes me feel better about not having a relationship with her.

The final stage of grief is acceptance. The catchphrase “It is what it is” comes to mind.

In spite of our fears, feelings, struggles, and confusion, we understand everything is okay even if we lack insight. We accept what is. We settle down. We stop running, ducking, controlling and hiding. And we know it is only from this point we can go forward.     Melody Beattie

I am not quite there yet. I am somewhere between “bargaining” and “depression” with little snippets of “denial” for good measure. For most of my life, I’ve been holding on to the hope that one day, we would turn the corner. We would cry and rail and talk about the pain of the past and then we would look to a brighter or, at least more peaceful, future. The likelihood of that ever happening was always very tenuous but now it is lost.

With any luck, we can have a more peaceful future. Perhaps I can sit with her and not feel the need to leave, to run, to get clear of the hurt. It is the guilt, the loss, the anger, all rolled into one. It will take practice and I will have to feel some things that I don’t want to feel. It will require letting go.



Being a father is a difficult thing. How could I know – being a woman? I have a lot of different fathers in my life to observe. From what I have seen in my lifetime – you can be a good father (or mother) EVEN IF you didn’t have a good example as a child.

My own father grew up in an era when dad’s just worked to provide an income. Mom’s did everything else. They came home at the end of a long, hard day in the field or in the woods and expected dinner on the table and children to be seen and not heard. And when the boys were old enough (8 or 9) they started working too. Girls pitched in with the cooking, cleaning and childcare. And if the need ever arose – the women would work alongside the men and still have dinner on the table at the end of the day. Those were harder times.

I don’t have many memories of my dad from my young years. He worked as a logger and was gone a lot, usually working out of town and coming home on the weekends. Eventually, he got a steady job close to home and was home during the week. As he aged, he became more of a father. He still had those old expectations of my mother but he took a little bit more interest in what his children were doing. As was typical of the day, he would take my brother hunting and fishing in his free time. Eventually, he would take us “girls” places too (my brother was away in the air force) – horseback riding, getting firewood, camping, etc. He taught us about things that usually were only taught to the “men” of the family. Of course, this was during the 70’s when the women’s movement was in full force. My dad wasn’t thrilled about the “women’s lib” stuff but he wanted his daughters to be capable of changing a tire, changing the oil in a car and knowing how to chop wood.

Anyway, by the time we were in high school, my dad was much more involved and proudly attended all of our school functions. He never missed an opportunity to tell us he loved us and how proud he was of his family. When his grandchildren came along, he was in the height of his glory. They were his very special joy in life.

My husband describes his father as “busy”. He worked a lot but they spent most weekends together as a family. His family was large (8 kids) and it was a hectic household. His dad died at 40 and my husband has realized that he didn’t really know him very well. He respected him and he idolized him but had very few memories of a relationship with him.

My husband was a very strict father. In our early years, we struggled because he had such strict rules about table manners and discipline. As the kids grew older, things relaxed a little but he could be really cranky. He wanted what was best for them and for them to be well-mannered. For the most part, I did the majority of the rearing but I always had to gauge his reaction to different things. Usually, if I had a chance to talk to him first about some issue, he could temper his reaction. He now regrets the harshness of those days. He is much more relaxed and is much more caring and loving. He has always been very helpful and strong as a dad – he would do anything for the kids and they knew that. And he also is a good “Papa” – even though, at times, he can be a little more harsh than the grandchildren are accustomed to.

My brother is a very loving dad but I think he left most of the childrearing to his wife. He was more helpful than my dad – in that he would help clean house and would hold the kids more often when they were younger. He was more of the activities coordinator in the family and planned hikes and trips with the whole family. He attended all of their activities and was a proud father. They always knew they could depend on him. Like my dad, he is a great “Papa” to his grandchildren.

My brother-in-law was very involved with his children, he attended all their events, spent lots of time with them – coached their sports teams when they were younger. As adults, he talks to them on the phone all the time. He knows all the details of their lives. He is a loving uncle and grandfather.

My son just became a dad. He is very hands-on. He takes turns with night feedings, he changes dirty diapers without complaint, he loves to take his son for walks in the mobi or jogs in the stroller. He genuinely loves to be with his son and knows all the details about his care.

Some men are born good fathers. Some men can evolve into being good fathers. Whether it was something they observed from their upbringing or whether they DIDN’T but want to do better than their own father’s did – doesn’t matter. The truth is – as difficult as it is – all men have the capacity to be good fathers if they want to be.


Sometimes we run. When there are hard things to face – it is easier not to face them. We set them aside and find something more important to deal with – like doing the dishes or a load of laundry. We simply close that door and run.

I’ve watched my mother’s decline for the last two years. There are snippets of the “old mom” in there but they are fewer and farther between. Just about the time you think she is totally gone, she will come back. Just a phrase or a memory of something in her past. She may chuckle at something you’ve said or she may say something ridiculously funny and join your laughter. But then she will wander around the room in a state of confusion.

I know in my logical heart that placing her in assisted living is what is best to keep her safe, to give her some stimulation and to have someone watching over her. She needs more care. Seeing her in her new room is heart wrenching. She doesn’t ask about her home or her dog. She doesn’t ask to leave. She doesn’t really talk much other than occasional comments about the wild bedspread on her bed (at least she doesn’t think it is stupid anymore) or that our phone numbers are on her white board.

I want to run. I don’t want to see that she is so different. That we have lost so much of her already. I don’t want to realize that she is no different than everyone else in the memory care facility. I want her to come back.

Stupid bed

It was hard to gauge what mom was thinking as she arrived at her new residence. But that isn’t anything new – we never really know what she is thinking anymore. She was apprehensive and walking very slowly as she tried to process what was happening. Initially, she would say that she didn’t want to stay here and she wouldn’t live here. My sisters and I tried to make it seem like a positive change – but she would have none of that. She noticed that the bed and dresser were similar to her own — they WERE her own. Then after a few minutes of silence, she said, “That is a stupid bed.” We laughed and asked why it was stupid and she said, “The blanket is stupid and it is ugly.” (So much for bold, bohemian colors.) We laughed again and she smiled.

By the time we left, she wasn’t refusing to stay. She was tired and a little confused. We told her we would visit soon and she said ok and goodbye.

It will take time for all of us to adjust. I suspect she will be the first – not only is it hard for her to remember much anymore but she is pretty hardy. She may have moments where she believes she would rather be at home but she was thinking that at her own home anyway. Now, she isn’t alone so much. Now, she will have regular showers and someone to make sure she is hydrated, dressed and eating regularly. If she falls, someone will know right away. She is safe.

Still, it feels odd. I feel edgy. Its hard to sit still – I know this is the best thing for her care and I do feel relieved knowing that she is in a safe place with someone watching over her. It is weird to think she isn’t in her house just down the road. That house is empty, except for all of her stuff. In a few months, that house will be sold. Someone else will be living there – making their own lives and memories. And so we begin that process – cleaning, sorting, remembering.

Moving day

Today, we move mom into assisted living. My sister will take her to the senior lunch and then will drive her to the home. Several of us will be moving her bed and dresser into her new room and getting it ready for her arrival.

If there is one thing I have learned in this process, it is that we all deal with it differently. It makes sense – each of us had a different relationship with our mother. Each of us approaches it from our own point of view. It hasn’t been easy but we didn’t expect it to be.

It will feel very strange to drive by her house – knowing she is no longer there. She hasn’t been for a long time, not the mother we once knew, but parts of her were there on occasion.

She has lived in that house for 22 years. Before that, she lived in an older house on the same land since the 1970’s. They bought the land in the early 60’s and the house, at that time, was very old. They had three different homes on the same land. So many memories on that little two acre spread.

Her dementia has progressed rather rapidly over the last couple of weeks. She no longer believes this is her home. She wanders through the house a lot more – looking out the windows and the front door. If you ask her, she will tell you that this is not her house and these are not her things. She has said that her house is blue – the house she lived in before this one was blue. She must be remembering that house. Unfortunately, she can’t explain what she is thinking or remembering.

We are all hoping for a smooth transition into her new living quarters. It will be confusing but, with any luck, she will eventually develop a routine and feel comfortable. Her room is very nice, with a nice big window. There will be much more stimulation in the course of her day. She won’t be alone quite as much. She will be clean and safe – someone will be there to watch over her.

We’ll visit her as often as we can. Again, that will be handled differently by each one of us. It is sad and hard. We’re doing the best that we can.

Too much to think about

Packing. What to pack. How will we get in – which door will we use for moving the furniture? Which chair would be best? What should we put on the walls? What clothes will we bring? How will she react? Will she even know?

Moving day approaches. So many details.

We have to mark her clothes with her name – just like back in preschool.

For the last several nights, I’ve been dreaming about my mom and dad. In the dreams, they are younger – they are whole. No heart valve to be replaced – no dementia. They are not fighting – they are taking care of each other. I don’t know if that is wishful thinking on my part or if someone, somewhere, telling me they will be okay, eventually.

The journey

As the sun comes up over the mountain, the house starts creaking and popping as everything warms up. It is like the house is waking up and stretching for the day. I can’t say it enough – I have the best views from my office window! Truly God’s country.

Our journey begins today. We have a meeting at 10 with the administrator’s from the assisted living home. They will assess my mother to determine if they can serve all of her needs. If so, we will move her some time next week. We’ll have to decorate her new room with photos of family, her bed and dresser. She’ll need a new comfy chair and a new TV.

And on that fateful day, when we’re ready to move her, we’ll have to tell her. What will she say? Will she be upset? Will she know?

She has been much more confused lately and she doesn’t believe she is staying in her own house. She stands and stares out the window or the front door. I wish there was a way to know what she was seeing. I suspect the new surroundings will be difficult for a time, but they won’t be much different than her surroundings now. She’s at that stage where there isn’t much familiarity with anything. Her biggest difficulty will likely be not being able to bring her dog with her. She will miss her little “diggity dog”.

And so, we go. We will struggle more than she does – we will cry and feel awful. We will feel as though we are abandoning her – even knowing that this is the best way to give her the care she needs and to keep her safe. We will feel guilty because, deep down, there will also be a sense of relief.

Living to serve

She stood staring out the window. Her mind was churning – trying to make sense of what she was seeing. She could not verbalize what she was trying to understand and what little she could express, made no sense to me. We both felt silly and frustrated – me trying to guess what she was thinking and her trying to find the words to explain. Finally, we both gave up and watched Family Feud instead. Until 5 minutes later when she got up and went to the window again – to stare and ruminate. This is my mother’s life now.

The other day, mom’s priest came to visit her. He was there to perform the Annointing of the Sick ritual. He called in the morning and said he would be in the area and would like to stop by. My mom poured her heart and soul into the church – she played the organ every Sunday at the old Jocko Church, taught Sunday school for years, cleaned, cooked food, brought communion to the home bound, served on the parish council. Mom has been homebound herself for the last year and a half – and this is the first time she has seen the priest. Granted, he has a large parish but she was at the church at least three days a week for the full length of time that he has been in this parish!

I sat with them while he visited. He kept asking her questions that she couldn’t really answer. She was pretty impressive – to the untrained eye, she looked like she was her usual self. I can imagine what my mom would have been thinking, had she been her old self. “What on earth is he going on about?” But she sat very quietly, with a vacant look on her face and the priest was oblivious. He performed the rite and gave her holy communion. She could recite some of the prayers from memory. I think by the end of his visit, we were both secretly thinking, “When will this be over?”. He left as cheerfully as he arrived – how can a man in the role of priest be so egocentric? Aren’t they supposed to think of others first? That’s a post for another day…

The minute he drove away, she laid back on the couch and quietly fell asleep. Worn out by his drivel? At peace after receiving the rite? Or just plain tired?

Mom was raised in the Baptist faith. When she met my dad, her family was disturbed by the fact that he was catholic and he could commit any sin and then go to confession for absolution. To add insult to injury, he was a Mexican and he came from an Indian reservation! I’ve never heard the story as to why mom decided to convert to Catholicism. Perhaps because there was no Baptist church in the valley, or to appease his family, or because she needed the fellowship of a church — any church. In any case, she threw herself into it – wholeheartedly. It was her one passion and outlet. I’ve read a couple of her journals – she often wrote about her purpose in life being to serve God.

So many things about her that I just don’t know, she just never talked about her own life. She placed herself in the background and even though she resented it – that is where she stayed. I wish I could talk to her one more time when she could comprehend what I was saying. I would ask her what she wanted out of life. Did she have regrets? Did she have joy? What would she do differently, if she could? What would have given her peace in her lifetime? I will never know.

Down the path

Yesterday, my siblings and I met at a memory care facility and talked about placement for my mom. We answered a lot of questions and described my mother’s daily activities and abilities. The facility is very clean and secure, the workers all seemed friendly and nice. The rooms are large with a private half bath. It was a nice place. We will begin the process of moving her.

First, she has to be assessed to determine her level of care. Then, there are admission papers to complete and sign. Within two weeks, we should be able to move her in. We will move her bed and dresser – so that there is something familiar in the room when she arrives. We will get her a comfortable recliner and a new TV. We will buy her some new clothes. In the room, we will put pictures of family on the walls. That is the easy part.

Telling mom we’re moving her will be difficult, for us. Packing up her stuff will be difficult, for us. Leaving her in that place will be difficult even though we know she will be well cared for and will have more stimulation and company than she has in her own house now.

In many ways, we are reaching the end of the path. We all know it though we don’t say it. Because we see her all the time, we’ve become accustomed to her dementia. We have almost forgotten that woman who used to call and stop by several times a week; the woman who played the organ at church every Sunday; the woman who delivered the mail; the woman who taught early-release classes each Wednesday for many years; the woman who rode a bicycle; the woman who made the best banana pudding (with vanilla wafers). It will be hard to leave THAT woman behind those doors.

Sleepless nights

Normally, I have no trouble sleeping. Lately, however, I can’t quite get to sleep and I wake a couple of times a night – tossing and turning. Is it the hormones of menopause? The worry of the day?

I worry about my mother and the days to come. We are looking into a home and are considering moving her some time this month. Just writing that causes me a dull ache in my chest. This truly is a difficult undertaking. I try to avoid thinking about it but those thoughts are always riding right under the surface. The situation has put a strain on our family – we all view my mom’s care in different ways and we are all in different stages of grieving. So much to think about, so many memories, so many lost wishes.

Her new home is clean and she will have a private room. She will get a regular shower and three meals a day. Someone will be there to make sure she drinks water and makes it to the bathroom in time. There will be someone to talk to at any point during her day. We will still visit her. She will be safe and cared for. She doesn’t believe she is living in her house right now – so the transition may be easier than we think.

There is no easy way to do this or to feel good about it.

More sleepless nights to come.