Double Edge Razor Blade

Home "Slice"

Home “Slice” (Photo credit: JD Hancock)

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  She spends a lot of hours alone while others in the family are at work, spending her time bored and withdrawn.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.


About Melissa Crandall

Longer ago than I care to admit--although I will--I cut my writing teeth on fanzines and media tie-in novels. Since then, I've moved on to narrative nonfiction, speculative fiction, and essays. I write to explore and understand the world around me, the things I see and experience nearby or from a distance. If I shake myself up, cool. If I shake you up, even better. Not gratuitously--what's the point in that?--but to set what I know, or think I know, on end and realize, "Well, doesn't it look different from this side!" My work is neither sexually explicit nor graphically violent. Let's face it - your imaginations will come up with things far worse than anything I could write, no matter how descriptive. Besides, it's just not my thing. I live in Connecticut with my supportive husband Ed, a cat named Ruby who might just think she's a dog, and an epileptic Australian shepherd named Holly who isn't quite certain anymore who she is, except she knows she loves her mommy.
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8 Responses to Double Edge Razor Blade

  1. Linda McGee says:

    My heart goes out to each of you, I wish I had had someone to talk to when I had to do the same for my mom. There is no right or wrong way, you do what you have to. But one thing I have leaned, be mindful that one day you will be where they are and try to think how you would want it done for you. As or me I am planning on how I will do the deed myself, ahead of time, so that it will not fall to my children, making it less painful for both of us. God bless all of you

    • And you, Linda. We all need to reach out and connect at times like this and I’m so glad you wrote! I, too, am thinking long and hard about the future and hoping I’m graced with the time and mental ability to make my own choices so others won’t have to.

  2. s.b. says:

    Sometimes despite all of our attempts to do good in the eyes of others we care about, we fail, as we are human; imperfect creatures. We try to do the best we can for those whom we love and whom loved us. Perhaps trying is all that can expected of us…

    • Our difficulty lies in the fact that no matter how much we may love Mom, because of her Alzheimer’s we cannot make her understand the reasons behind what we do. Hence she feels like a castoff shoe, shoved aside because she is a bother or inconvenient. Nothing could be further from the truth…but there’s no convincing her of that, and so we must deal with not only her pain, but ours as well.

  3. There is no easy way to deal with a situation like this. You do what you have to do but it hurts all the same. Hopefully your mom will settle into her new place and come to accept it as her home. I know how upsetting this must be for both of you.

    • Thanks, Sue. My hope is that as Mom’s Alzheimer’s progresses, she will forget enough to be able to settle where she is and think of it as home. Apparently a few of the ladies already in residence have taken her under their wing, and the administrator told me that when she came in to check on Mom the second morning, she found her still asleep, with one of the residents asleep in her chair. Mom has never been a social sort of person, but I pray that at this late stage in her life, she will find some lasting friends.

  4. Larisa Van Winkle says:

    I hurt for you, and I understand to a lesser degree. We hospitalized my 82 year old mother at the beginning of July, and finally brought her home last weekend. Her mind is sharp, but her body is failing her for many reasons, some of that being her own making.

    But she’s also a terrible hoarder and while she was helpless in the hospital, my brothers and I threw away so much from her home. A thousand pounds of trash from her kitchen alone… 20 more bags from her bedroom, where the clothes were old and stained, and the elastic gone all crunchy. All of it was necessary so that she might safely move around her home with her walker. All of it we did, trying to be mindful that this was HER home, not ours. But she still feels that we took advantage of her weakness to wreak havoc in her life, and that also is true.

    It’s so hard when the roles in our lives change, when we must make decisions based on what is best for our parents. It feels like a betrayal of the roles that we’ve played all of our lives, this reversal. But we’d be less than loving to pretend that the necessity doesn’t exist. So we do it, all of these small betrayals. And we hurt for hurting them, much like the way that they didn’t like hurting us as they guided us safely through our childhoods into our own independence.

    I hope that your family takes comfort with each other, and I know that you will do the best you can for her – even if she doesn’t understand it. Always feel free to talk – to your friends, to a therapist, to the professionals.

    The right thing, as you noted, is rarely the *easy* thing. ((hug))

    • Oh, Larisa, thank you. You really do “get it.” We, too, have gone through possessions, discarding what we must. I refused to send any clothing along with my mother that was stained or worn threadbare (including pajamas that I swear were over 40 years old). We bought her new jammies, some new shirts, etc., and sent all good stuff along, but it won’t make much difference, I’m afraid, at least not to her. There will still be things she misses and wants.
      I so understand about that desire to be mindful that it is their home, even while having to remove the mess, and agree that even the best of intentions can be a betrayal and (as you so beautifully put it) a case of wreaking havoc even when one did not intend to.
      I do talk about it, and that has been a saving grace courtesy of good friends like you. A strong hug back to you and know that I have a willing ear if you should ever need it.

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