My sister moved my mom into a memory care facility this week. It’s been a rough week. I didn’t get to see my mom before it happened. The nurses thought that it would be too upsetting to have me see her while she adjusts to the new environment. I felt a duty to go see her and make sure she knew that she wouldn’t be left alone. She’s my mom, it’s the least I can do.
This past year, we’ve watched as my mom slipped into dementia. As it turns out, it was much worse than anyone thought. My mom is a pretty solitary person, and it looks like she’s been hiding this from everyone. Plus, since she’s been hallucinating, the stories she’s been telling about her family have her neighbors protecting her. It’s been surreal, that’s for sure.
She kicked my wife out of her house after two days, just a few weeks after telling me in tears that she wanted me to “send my little wifey” to spend some time with her. That was in May of this year.
Making all this worse is California’s laws. In order to move my mom into a place that can offer her 24-hour care, we had to get power of attorney. California won’t help if the person isn’t a danger to themselves or others. My mom has been walking around the neighborhood at night giving her belongings away. She ran away from my brother’s house in the middle of the night and went missing for several hours. There was a “silver alert” for her in the Palm Desert. Still, California didn’t think she was a danger to herself.
Her doctor at Kaiser wouldn’t give her a dementia diagnosis, further making the progress difficult because you can’t move someone into a facility that specializes in memory care if the doctor thinks they only have “mild cognitive difficulties.” We’ve come so far away from reason and logic that it’s difficult to understand how we got here, and even more difficult to explain how frustrated I am over how we treat the elderly in this country. Big companies and/or big government making decisions that affect our elderly is a bad call.
This has been an emotional week. We’re a pretty standard Irish-American family. We are close, but not loving. Until my first marriage to a much more emotional South American, I had heard my mom say she loved me only a few times in my life. It wasn’t that it wasn’t shown, I think we have always just been able to understand that actions speak louder than words.
I know very little about my mom’s upbringing and family. I met her father once when I was very small. She wouldn’t talk about her family, and if she did it was brief and very derogatory. I know her father drank a lot. I know she didn’t care for her mother at all. I know her sister threw a plate at her and chipped her front tooth when she was a teenager. I know she lived with my grandparents at one point before my dad and her were even dating. Her home life was crazy, to be sure.
When I was growing up, especially in my early teens, I always had a sense that there was something she was holding back. That some tragedy was lurking right below the surface. She would lose her temper with me, and I wouldn’t argue with her, knowing that there was a reason she was so overprotective.
After I moved out of the house when I was 21, we got closer. We started going to lunch together, and we had a lot more in common than I had ever thought when I was growing up. That’s because I changed. I started to chase a real education, and as I became more educated, she brought out more and more of what she had studied in college. She was a liberal arts major in UCLA in the early 70s when I was just a small boy. The more I read and started to talk about topics that were exciting to me as a young man, my mom expanded those discussions around books she had read. I was amazed. My mom was not only quite educated but exceptionally well read as well. More so than I was as an English major in college.
I earned more and more respect for her and her thinking, as well as more insight into who I was and where my predilections came from. I had always operated under the belief that I was pretty much a 50/50 split between my dad and my mom when it came to my personality and my likes and dislikes. Turns out, I’m much more like my mom than I thought.
It’s been tough to watch my mom slip away. The last time I saw her, my sister and I were talking about literature, and books we enjoyed, and my mom commented that she couldn’t believe these were her children talking like that. She had forgotten that she’s read all the books we were talking about. The books she treasured and made me give back to her a decade ago, are gone from her house, with no idea where they ended up. Each book with traces of my mom’s thoughts in the margins. I should have fought her to keep hold of those books before she inevitably gave them away, or threw them away. We’ve caught her throwing quite a few things away.
To say this has been heartbreaking doesn’t even begin to cover how I feel about losing my mom. The fire that she always had is mostly gone. While she still recognizes me, she’s forgotten more about me than my siblings, because I’ve been the one who moved out of state 18 years ago. Most of her most recent memories are about other people than me.
But since I’m not around all the time, I also have been spared the ugly side of dementia. She’s been brutal to my sister, and I’ve only had to hear about the episodes second hand, not witness them myself. I still hold onto my romantic belief that my mom would never be mean to me because I’m the baby. I’m completely full of shit. She’d be mean to me now if it got her what her now-self wanted. It just fits my narrative better to tell myself that she’d be better if only I had been around more. Plus, that plays better into my feelings of guilt for not being a good son.
I know that’s not true but the truth doesn’t keep the thoughts at bay when I start to mourn the loss of her mind. I look forward to a world where we’ve figured out dementia and its causes. And hopefully a cure. My biggest fears are losing my mind and dying alone. Since I don’t have children of my own, I always fear that I will have no one there for me as I get older. If something happens to my wife, my stepson will follow his brother, and go his own way, even though he considers me more of a father than his biological father, he was damaged early in life, and I don’t think he’s ever gotten over it. But at 24, one doesn’t get over those things. It takes another 10 years of life to realize that shit happens to people that they can’t control.
I’ll be scheduling my California trips to make sure I have time to go see my mom from here on out, but I’m honestly not looking forward to the first one. I know that her appearance will be much worse since she won’t be able to keep her hair dyed, or her makeup on, this will be a person I barely recognize, not the mom I grew up with.
The hardest part of all this has been to accept that this is all for her benefit, not for mine. I have to do what’s best for her, not what I want to do. I want to see my mom. She’s my only parent left. But I need to make sure my wants don’t supersede her needs. This is a tough time for her, whether she’s aware of it or not. This move has already made her better, more happy, and more stable. She hasn’t had an “incident” since she moved in, and I hear she’s been pretty happy there. I can only hope that’s the truth. I can’t call her because it turns out the phone is a “trigger.” I have to fortify my feelings when I go see her for the first time, not knowing what to expect, I am fearing the absolute worst. It will probably be a month before I get to see her. I just hope nothing goes wrong before that happens.
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