I have to tell you, this past week has been a blur! Fortunately, it started off and ended on a ‘high note’ as the week began with an offer on my/our home and ended with successfully finding a home to move my mom into. I feel like I’ve been on a wild amusement park ride or possibly a combination of three (the Jungle Cruise + Indiana Jones Adventure + Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey). The thing is, there’s no way I could have achieved the positive results I did without the help of others, especially when it came down to finding a safe, loving home for my mom. And it all happened so unexpectedly! If you’ve read any of my posts in the last few days, you’d be aware of the drama involving my mom and her current living situation. The best way to sum it up? My mother’s dementia has significantly worsened since we placed her in an assisted living facility, so much so that the nursing staff (where she lives) is no longer able to provide her with adequate care. We were advised (my brother, my sister-in-law, and myself) at a meeting last week that we needed to be ‘actively pursuing’ other accommodations for her. The words ‘safety risk’ were mentioned.
At the conclusion of the meeting, I felt like I was in a free fall. In fact, I think all three of us felt that way. I recall looking at my brother’s face when the interim director made her wishes clear, and he appeared completely stunned. Imagine someone’s face when they’re leisurely skiing down a mountain, and then find themselves buried under 20 feet of snow after an avalanche is triggered. That’s what his face looked like. He was taken by surprise and totally unprepared to deal with any more ‘bad news’. His life, in a nutshell, has been consumed with looking after my mom. When he’s not working, he’s running to the store to pick up her supplies, or he’s taking her to the doctor, or he’s collecting all of her soiled pads and diapers and hauling them out to the dumpster, or he’s counting out her pills and placing them in her weekly pill dispenser, or he’s laundering her clothes, or he’s shampooing the carpet in her apartment (for the umpteenth time) after she’s clogged the toilet, or he’s calling her to check on her well-being. He’s got two full-time jobs, his regular job (which rewards him for his time by paying him a salary), and taking care of my mother (a job that pays nothing and involves a lot of headaches and heartache).
My brother got a raw deal when he became my mother’s POA (power-of-attorney). All he’s dealt with since stepping into that role is one set of hurdles after another. He continues to leap over them as he encounters them but the poor guy is exhausted. Despite the fact that he has little strength left, the hurdles continue to grow and multiply. Honestly, I’ve never seen my brother looking so frail. Physically, he appears worse than he did after giving me his left kidney. I am worried about him! In fact, I try not to interfere with his personal life but I felt like an intervention was in order after spending a handful of hours in his home. It was like a scene out of Kramer vs. Kramer, except there were no minor children involved. The tension was palpable and it was the first time I’d ever witnessed my brother shouting (at his wife). It hurt my heart to see them at odds with each other because they’ve been together for over 36 years and I love them both. They’re good for each other and I don’t want to see them split up. It would be a real tragedy. For these reasons, I felt compelled to ‘check in’, and when I spotted him (alone) seated at his desk in his home office, I took the opportunity.
“Do you mind if I pull up a chair?” I asked as I approached. “No, not at all,” he responded, “I’ve got an extra one in my bedroom.” After retrieving the chair and placing it beside his, I took a seat. “How are you doing?” I inquired (cautiously). “Not so good,” he answered, “My wife is about to leave me.” He went on to share a number of additional things about his personal life, and none of them were good. It broke my heart to see him in such turmoil. Throughout his life, all he’s done is give and give and give, and all he’s received is very little in return (apart from grief). After he got everything off his chest, I felt it necessary to speak my truth. “You’re drowning,” I told him, “It’s like one of those stories when someone is standing at a river’s edge and notices a person flailing about, trying to keep their head above the water. In an effort to save the person (who is flailing about), the other one jumps into the water and gets swept away by the current. Ultimately, they both drown.” “You have been carrying this load too long,” I expressed, “You’ve been trying to save mom but you need to save yourself before it’s too late.”
As it turns out, regardless of the fact that the interim director at the facility (where my mom was staying) had expressed that my mom needed to go, my brother couldn’t seem to accept it. He kept trying to come up with ways to extend her residency. “I talked to a nurse and she said that if she worked with mom and changed her behavior, mom would be able to stay longer,” he reasoned. I knew what it was all about, he was trying to ‘preserve’ her money. That’s why instead of paying to have the staff handle her medication management, and laundry, and hygiene needs, and a number of other responsibilities which came at a cost, he chose to take care of them himself. The problem was, it was costing him (mentally and physically). “Mom needs to go,” I told him firmly, “She needs to be in a home or facility that has the ability to handle her needs. And you need to be able to step away from all of this and get your life back.” At one point, his wife stepped into the room and he asked for her opinion about our mother’s care. Before she angrily stormed out, she barked, “I don’t even know why you’re asking me a question because you never listen to what I have to say anyway!!”
My brother and I continued to talk and I urged him to take into consideration what his wife had to share about what was best for our mother, as my sister-in-law was as much a part of our mother’s life as we were. Let me tell you, my sister-in-law is no dummy. She is exceptionally bright and insightful. Thankfully, when my brother and I finished talking, he took my advice and sought out his wife (who was seated at her desk in their office/dining room/livingroom). Initially, based on the volume and tempo of the conversation I overheard, things were pretty tense and intense. Eventually, the ‘boil’ became a ‘simmer’ and the tension eased. Thank, God! Things weren’t perfect but it was a huge improvement over where things had been. If anything, it was progress! The next time I saw them together, she was seated at the kitchen table, reviewing a brochure from one of the memory care facilities in the area, and he was standing at her side. “What do you think?” he asked her gently, as she flipped through the pages. I can tell you what I was thinking, “What a relief, those two are finally on speaking terms again!!” As they reviewed an assortment of brochures, I started researching adult family homes within a 15-20 mile radius.
My sister-in-law was vehemently opposed to the idea (she was concerned about a lack of oversight) but I encouraged her to give them a chance. “It might be a better fit for mom than her current living situation,” I offered. Once I put together a list (based on positive Google reviews), I started making a bunch of calls. When someone would answer, I’d begin with a scripted, “I am calling to see whether you have a private room available for my mom.” Most of the time, the calls went directly to voicemail. When they did, I left a message. A few people answered when I called. In most cases, there weren’t any rooms available, however, I did end up with 7 possibilities (5 adult family homes that had a private room available and a couple of ‘communities’). The process was exhausting but I thought it worthwhile. I wanted to do as much as I could to assist my brother and sister-in-law in their quest to finding our mom a new place to live. They were in no condition to do the research and make the calls, they were barely surviving. Anyway, I hate to do this to you but I’m not quite halfway through the story, and it’s terribly late, so I’m going to have to make this a ‘two parter’. I haven’t even begun to discuss the ‘blessings’ I mentioned in the title. If you’d like to know ‘the rest of the story’, please return on August 7 for ‘Part Two’.