On August 20, we moved my mother into a care facility.
Logically, I know this was the right thing to do. Her confusion is increasing and while she’s still able to do a lot of self-care (wash, dress, brush her teeth, comb her hair, make breakfast), there’s a lot she can’t do. She’s weak and tires easily. She forgets there’s food in the house and goes all day without eating. She forgets to take her meds. She spends a lot of hours alone while others in the family are at work, spending her time bored and withdrawn. We were concerned for her safety. There are evil people in the world who take notice of the frail elderly. She’s already been preyed upon once, by a man who tried to bilk her out of $350 to “fix” a chimney that didn’t need fixing. What if he’d been the sort to force his way into the house, beat her up, kill her? So we made the decision to move her. It was the right thing to do.
So why does my heart feel like shit?
It would be easier if she were so deeply in the clutches of Alzheimer’s that she remembered nothing. Don’t get me wrong; her memory is bad, although sometimes I think it’s not a case of memory loss, but her brain’s refusal to give her the information she requires and sliding something else in its place. She’s increasingly frustrated by her inability to have a common conversation, to hear the flow of words from her mouth and have them be the correct words, the words she wants.
She remembers just enough for this situation to be Hell for her. The facility is a lovely old refurbished mansion. Her living area is not what I would have preferred (her own little “apartment” with a living area, bedroom space, maybe a tiny kitchen when she could at least make toast and tea, and a small bathroom), but a single room done in cream-colored paint and a floral wallpaper. (The bathrooms are currently being redone, but hers — shared with the woman next door — looks like something out of a bus station, institutional and chill, ugly as hell.) Mom hates it there and has said as much. Her world has been reduced from an entire house to one room, a life-time of possessions to a few things on her shelves and in her closet.
And we have done this to her.
It doesn’t matter that we went over this again and again. It doesn’t matter that we wracked our brains trying to find a different solution (an affordable solution) that would allow her to remain at home. Home health aide is expensive and we (my sister, niece and I) have all heard stories from friends of the horror of being bilked by people brought into a home to care for the elderly. (The dying father of a friend of my sister’s was induced by his aide to sign his social security checks over to her and the family could not touch her because the signatures were his own. And in my work with Hospice I saw several aides who spent their time watching television while their patient was ignored.) Did fear come into the mix? Sure it did. We wanted to do right by her. We wanted her safe. We wanted to know that if we couldn’t be with her, she would be okay and looked after.
To Mom’s mind, she’s perfectly able to care for herself. She doesn’t realize that she forgets to eat. Or leaves the stove burner on after making tea. She doesn’t remember that she’s fallen at least twice (once straight backward into my arms, the second time into her chair; but how soon before she takes a tumble down the basement stairs in her quest to do some laundry?). She rails against my father, who she believes left her without anything and worked behind her back when just the opposite is true. She rails against my sister, who controls her funds, though she’s beyond the ability to balance a checkbook or pay bills. She mourns the weakness in her legs, her loss of independence, and who can blame her for that? We did the right thing.
And yet two images play through my mind. The first is when I walked away that day after moving her in, and looked back to see her sitting so small and frail and sad and (in her mind) forgotten, her world diminished to four walls and a schedule of when she might shower. The second is from just before we left to take her to her new home. I knelt down to speak to her and she looked at me with flat, unhappy eyes and said, “I would rather die than go there.” Her grief is enormous, monumental, as is her feeling of betrayal. And we have done this. Doesn’t matter that it’s the right thing to do. We have done this.