In June of 2015, we placed my mother in a memory care facility.
Before that, she was living in her own home. My sisters and I took turns bringing her meals and checking on her. She slept a lot and watched TV when she could figure out how to turn it on. We would arrive to find her in a mess of one kind or another – half naked or with excrement on her, the couch, the floor. The dog would eat her food and there would be a trail of wrappers and containers strewn about. She remembered who we were, most of the time. She didn’t offer much in the way of conversation other than answering questions. Unable to dial the phone and sometimes, unable to remember how to answer it, she was cut off from everyone and everything. Because she was unable to drive any longer, she spent long hours in her house looking out the window, thinking about how she needed to go somewhere. In the end, she thought she needed to go “home” even though she was already home, and she started going out of the house, half-dressed and in disarray. We knew the time had come to get her in a safe place.
Before that, she was retired and at home taking care of herself. She had moments of forgetfulness and confusion but we didn’t realize it. Our family had suffered a break and we were estranged from each other. Her visits with us were strained and less frequent. She worked at her church and drove herself to town to run errands. She spent a lot of time with our younger sister. We knew that she was having trouble with her memory and we were concerned about her ability to drive but because of the discord, we were unable to address those issues with her. Our first try with offers of assistance were met with defensiveness and more dissonance. She believed she was doing fine on her own.
Before that, she was working at the post office. She had a small mail route in a small country town. Despite her difficulty with her knees, she worked any time she was needed and enjoyed feeling useful. Very devoted to her church, she taught catechism classes and played the organ every Sunday. She was also a eucharistic minister and took communion to the elderly and shut-ins. My mother was a “gallivanter”, if she was bored, she would jump in her car and go visit one of her children or grandchildren or her good friend, Evalyn (or all of the above). Losing the ability to drive in her later years was devastating for her. Her vehicle was her mode of escape. She would also call to check in with us once or twice a week and if there was a function at the school, she would stop in to see if it was something that might be of interest. She attended any function in which her grandchildren participated. She was a widow but she still had her family, friends and church.
Before that, she was living with my dad. She worked at the post office part-time and devoted a lot of time and energy to her church. In regular contact with her children and grandchildren, she made every effort to attend any activity they were involved in and always brought a treat of some kind. At this point in their lives, my parents’ relationship was difficult, at best. They were at odds with each other over many things. They rarely rode together in the same car to any of the family functions. My mom had a habit of leaving without saying goodbye – suddenly you would notice that she was no longer there. I think she often felt overshadowed by my dad and unappreciated for her efforts. She loved spending time with her grandchildren especially when she could have them to herself.
Before that, she was working as a home health care worker, taking care of the elderly who needed assistance with cleaning and errands. She had several clients and she was very devoted to each of them. My mother was always a very hard worker. Her church and her grandchildren took up most of her time. She traveled to Texas once or twice a year to visit her family. She also did a little traveling as part of her training for the eucharistic ministry. I don’t know much more about this time period of her life because I was busy with my own.
Before that, I am not certain of the details of her life. I have only snippets of memories of interactions with her. Mom was not one to express her feelings or desires. I have had a lot of time to think about her, about this illness and about losing her. I’ve thought about having to help write her obituary and feeling totally inadequate to do so. I will have to seek assistance from others if I am to do her justice in that endeavor.
When a parent has dementia, there are so many layers of loss. You lose that person that you have relied on all of your life. The one MAINSTAY we all have, our mother. You also lose the opportunity to repair or rebuild a broken relationship – or to create one where there wasn’t one before. You have to give up on that dream. And far worse, you see this person slowly disappear and you still remember who and what they were…before that.