Moving Mom

Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.” — Maya Angelou

Yesterday, while labeling my mother’s clothing and underwear, I had a surreal moment in which I felt as if I were moving another kid to college. In reality, we’re getting ready to transfer Mom to an assisted living residence, where she’ll soon have her own studio apartment.

Doug and I spent the past week moving pieces of Mom’s furniture (her apartment comes with some basics) along with decorative accessories, photos, clothing, TV, microwave, and toiletries. We also shopped for a bedspread and items for her kitchenette.

The new apartment looks traditional and beautiful — the style my mother is accustomed to — yet we know, deep down, that all the elegant things in the world won’t fool my mother into thinking this other place is superior to the condo she’s grown to love so much.

When Doug and I aren’t consumed by the moving process, I’m usually on the phone with a social worker or a physical therapist at the nursing center where my mother is undergoing rehab now. The social worker is concerned about my mother’s delusional behavior this week. Mom doesn’t believe there’s anything wrong with her health — nor does she remember last month’s visit to the ER at Beaumont Hospital, which ultimately led to all of this. Sounding like Dorothy on a broken record, she just keeps asking to go home. To her real home.

While I know this move is inevitable and right, I still feel twinges of guilt for uprooting my mother from everything that matters to her.

And I don’t know how I’d survive the stress without Doug, the world’s absolute-best husband. It breaks my heart a little, too, when I remember that Doug plowed through a similar scenario less than two years ago when his late father (who had Alzheimer’s) had to be moved several times until he and his mother found the right nursing home. (Ain’t midlife grand?) Doug’s experience with lease agreements and medical/legal paperwork alone has been invaluable, not to mention his willingness to sit with me and write my mother’s name on dishtowels and socks with a permanent marker.

The big move from the nursing center to assisted living is scheduled for Sunday. What a long and winding road it’s been. While I’ll be relieved to get my mother in a safe place, finally, I know there’s a boatload of emotional work ahead of me. Mom will need time and patience to adjust. And so will I. –– Cindy La Ferle

— Top: Our family with my mom on Christmas night, at Woodward Hills nursing center cafeteria. My mother has been recovering at Woodward Hills following a week at Beaumont Hospital last month. Bottom photo: A detail from Mom’s new apartment at a local assisted living residence. —

 

 

 

New Year’s newsletter

Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right.”  ~Oprah Winfrey

Though I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions, I’ve always loved how January nudges us toward self-improvement and encourages fresh starts. The month, after all, is named for the two-faced Roman god, Janus, who’s always depicted looking backward and forward. Janus seems to remind us that we should pause long enough to consider the events that brought us to the present moment before we start something new.

My father-in-law died of Alzheimer’s in June. As you probably recall from previous posts, the months preceding his death were especially tough on Doug. There were grueling decisions that involved finding the right nursing home for his dad as well as helping his mother with the changes in her household and finances. In retrospect, I was so involved with the upheaval in my own mother’s situation, that I don’t think I offered as much emotional support to my husband as I should have.

And isn’t that always the case when we are preoccupied with our own stuff? We turn inward and neglect others who need us — especially when the others who need us appear to be handling things well enough on their own. That’s something I need to remember and work on in the year ahead. Because people who have strong arms sometimes need a helping hand, too.

Meanwhile, this week, we completed the last of four appointments for my mom at the Beaumont Geriatric Evaluation Clinic. Offering health-care and lifestyle consultation for the elderly and their caregivers, the Clinic put my mother through a series of tests (including a neuro-psychological interview) in addition to a complete physical. The good news: My mother’s memory loss was re-diagnosed as vascular dementia, not Alzheimer’s. Regardless, dementia is dementia, no matter which label you paste on it.

My mother is in the milder stage, and still capable of caring for herself in her condo with minimal assistance. Even so, I’ve been told that putting Mom in an assisted living facility would make things much easier for me. But Mom loves her home — it remains one of few things she’s genuinely enthused about — so I’m honoring her wish to stay there as long as possible.

The bad news: Once a patient is officially diagnosed with any type of dementia, there are serious liability issues when it comes to allowing that patient to drive. So, early in the evaluation process last year, the doctors suspended my mother’s driving privileges. She never drove very far, anyway, but she’s nonetheless freaked about having her wings clipped. The final verdict will come after Mom completes an official driving test to be conducted at another Beaumont Hospital facility in a couple of weeks. Ah yes, more appointments.

Even when we’re adults with kids of our own, and even when we uphold our most noble intentions, most of us secretly struggle with the idea of becoming parents to our parents. For the past two years, Mom’s doctors have asked me to show up at her appointments, oversee her medications, and supervise her health-care decisions. I haven’t minded that half as much as I’ve mourned the loss of my real mother — the strong, capable woman she used to be. These days she’s like a surly teenager riddled with anxiety. It all makes me sad and angry and, mostly, emotionally drained … which is another thing I need to work on this year.

It does get better, though …

When I tally up some of the year’s happiest moments, I recall the good friends who’ve been at the ready with a listening ear and a willingness to meet for lunch, dinner, or drinks. Or heartfelt conversations on the phone. As an only child, I don’t have much of an extended family to speak of, so having longtime friends who function like a true family has been more valuable than I can express in words.

And in the fun department, Doug and I continued the recreational foray into background acting we began in September of 2009. Between the two of us, we’ve been in 14 different film and television productions to date. We continue to support the film industry in Michigan, and hope our new Michigan governor will see the benefits of hosting Hollywood here.

Writing-wise, I didn’t start many new projects. Like the dormant plants under the snow in my garden, my muse was sleepy, or maybe she was deliberately giving me extra time to focus on my mom’s health care. I did manage to get a new essay published in Victoria, and several of my previously published essays were chosen for national anthologies. Guideposts gift books, for instance, published a Christmas piece (from Writing Home) in The Heart of Christmas. It was a thrill and an honor to see my work in a collection containing writings by Sue Monk Kidd, Pearl S. Buck, Marjorie Holmes, and others whose work I’ve admired. And in the fall, I was hired to write a weekly column for Royal Oak Patch, one of AOL’s hyper-local online newspapers.

After a long day with my mom earlier this week, I came home and crashed with a book in one of the big chairs in the living room. Doug and I had taken down the Christmas decorations the day before, and it was a relief to see the mantel and tabletops cleared of elves, angels, pine boughs, and other holiday doodads. I was reminded once again that, when life gets more complicated than usual, the sanest thing you can do is to clear some space, cut back where you can, and focus only on the essentials.

Wishing you all a wonderful, healthy New Year. — Cindy La Ferle

— Winter garden photos by Cindy La Ferle —

Keeping the flame

There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” — Zora Neale Hurston

hestiasnowFor several years I’ve kept a small garden statue of a woman by our side entrance. I named her Hestia after the ancient goddess of home and family. In Greek mythology, Hestia’s role was to keep the flame of the hearth burning. This week she’s dressed in snow — and looking a little overwhelmed by the onset of winter and the challenges ahead.  I can relate.

It’s been a mixed bag of a holiday in our household. My husband and I have been enjoying a week-long visit with our son, who flew in from Chicago for Christmas last week. We’ve shared some cozy meals at home together — I love to cook with my family — and we’ve made time to visit extended family, old friends, and favorite haunts around town.

Meanwhile, real life also paid us a yuletide visit. On Christmas Eve, my mother (who was just diagnosed with early-stage dementia last month) came down with another serious infection. I spent most of Christmas Eve morning at the doctor’s office with her, and the rest of the holiday bringing meals to her.

At times it felt awkward to celebrate with the rest of the family while my mother stayed in bed in her condo, watching television.  And so, with regrets, I canceled out of several parties and gatherings, all the while feeling guilty for lacking the social energy and enthusiasm required of the holiday season. I know I disappointed more than a few people for not showing up in one way or another.

My mother’s doctor asked me to come in with my mother for a consultation this afternoon. As the doctor put it, we need to determine the next step for Mom’s ongoing care. I’m guessing, from the doctor’s tone on the phone, that 2010 will be a year of changes. But there’s hope too. Mom agreed, after several arguments, to take a new medication prescribed for her dementia. She adores her condo — keeping house is the thing that gives her life meaning, shape, and routine. So I’m hoping she’ll be able to stay in her own place as long as possible.

At this point in the holiday season, I’d usually be drawing up a lengthy list of New Year’s resolutions. In the past, most of those resolutions would have included ambitious career goals and pie-in-the-sky dreams of self-improvement. This year, I’m asking only two things of myself: To sustain the energy I’ll need to keep the fire burning — and to find the patience to ride out the changes ahead. — Cindy La Ferle

— “Hestia” garden statue photo by Cindy La Ferle —