The day Mom moved to her senior living community left a mark.
“WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME?!?!” Mom screamed through a waterfall of tears as I pulled into a parking spot at her new home. She was speaking fast but the words seemed to register with me in slow motion, each one feeling like an angrier bee sting than the one that had come before.
I knew she didn’t mean the words and I didn’t resent her for saying them. I couldn’t blame Mom for not wanting to move. Who would when they didn’t have a choice? It was her condition, not her–but the words still had bite.
A senior living community and a finish line
This day was a finish line of sorts. Or so I thought. The years leading to this point were long, emotionally draining and surreal. As Mom’s dementia declined, I went back and forth from New Hampshire to Cape Cod and pieced together support for when I couldn’t be there–medication, rides, appointments–to help Mom remain independent in her home. Over time she was becoming more isolated, spending more and more time at home. Alone. This duct tape and baling wire solution was no longer sufficient. Or safe.
I’m an only child and my father passed away suddenly from a heart attack when I was young. Mom did the best she could from there…and she did amazing. I always had what I needed, a lot of times had what I wanted, and always felt loved and supported. Now, I felt like I wasn’t reciprocating.
Fast forward 25 years and in that moment, I couldn’t respond to Mom. I tried but couldn’t come up with the words. Instead I just sat there holding her hand and listening to her sobs (and the squeak of the windshield wipers that needed to be shut off because the rain stopped). I was now the parent and I thought I’d done everything right–yet felt a brand of awful that I’d never felt before.
If I did it right, why does it feel so wrong?
I’d started the conversation about moving to a more supportive environment a couple of years prior, about a year after her initial dementia diagnosis. Her life was on Cape Cod with all of her friends and she understandably didn’t want to leave it–which ruled out moving in with us. A senior living community was the only option.
I provided options and had tried, as much as I could without causing her angst, to enroll her in the process. We discussed it often and in those conversations my primary goal was to listen. Looking back, the task seemed impossible. Keep an exceedingly emotional and important discussion topic fact based (for my part) and give her the space to release any and all feelings.
And release she did, with a combination fire, fury, defeat, and sadness that I’d never seen from Mom. Her words made those conversations painful, but I knew it was her condition and the circumstance talking, not Mom. And the superficial pain of her words was a mere flesh wound compared to the anguish that ran through me when I tried to imagine how this all felt for Mom.
But the facts were the facts
Her dementia was declining.
It was no longer safe for her to live alone.
She was adamant in her refusal to move-in with us, 2+ hours from her friends.
Moving in with her brother was not an option.
She thrives on social engagement and isolation kills
A senior living community was the most logical–and best–option. For her.
We’d figure out a way to afford it.
Mom’s friends and brother were kept up to date on all of our discussions and asked not to shy away from discussing it with Mom if she brought it up. It was hard at first. She was still relatively high functioning and Mom wasn’t having it. She’d shut down the conversation immediately. It’s not her. It’s her condition.
As her decline continued, it became easier to talk about. By the time the rubber was meeting the road and I knew I’d have to make a decision, she seemed to be onboard. I believed that she knew it was the right thing, even through the more frequent fog of her dementia. Yet here we were in the car, sobbing and not wanting to leave. All that was left to do was walk through the door.
Time to walk in
What seemed like an eternity passed and her tears started to slow down. “I’m not mad at you Matt. It’s the situation. I’m mad at the f%^king dementia.” A few more tears kicked up. All I could do was hug and hold her. Like she’d always done for me when I really needed it. Always. I’d been slowly taking on more responsibility for her affairs since her diagnosis, but this was different. More official. I wasn’t prepared for the emotional stew accompanying the moment.
Seeing Mom sad like this was heartbreaking. I truly believed this move was the beginning of a new chapter as opposed to an end, yet my attempt to frame it that way in this moment seemed futile. For Mom–and for me. Her sadness was so tangible and it was soul crushing to see. On the other hand, I had a sense of relief. The senior living community we selected felt like a salvation–for both of us.
Two years of emotional drain and lots of work were coming to a head. The walls of her condition seemed to be closing in on us. We’d finally found a way to make it work financially and while I wasn’t 100% positive I was making the right decision, there was comfort knowing I’d done all I could to make the most educated decision I could.
After a few more minutes in the car, Mom turned to me and said in what sounded like a whisper “Ok, let’s go”. With that, we gathered her things, got out of the car and crossed the chasm into her next chapter.
Not looking back
Mom (mostly) hasn’t looked back since. I won’t ever forget that day or that moment. Something about that particular combination of sadness and relief left a mark.
It’s still there (and always will be I think), but it has gotten less painful over time. Eighteen months in, it looks like it was the right decision for Mom. Her senior living community “isn’t home” as she tells me, but she seems genuinely happy, is socially engaged and is getting the care and support she needs to live her best life in spite of her dementia.
For Mom, I think the mark was worth it.
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