My mother, always proudly independent, leads a contained life. The only thing she can now do on her own is feed herself, that thankfully due to her being right-handed, her arthritic left hand sits useless in her lap. Even her speech has become an exhausting effort and words come haltingly and with great struggle.
Standing, sitting, walking, dressing, bathing, and all things in between are now done with help. While she can still read, her most beloved pastime has become a chore. Keeping her mind focused, her holding hand steady, and her memory of what’s been read all on task is daunting for her.
My siblings and I have often remarked that it seems cruel. Cruel that when Mom could finally relax (Dad, with his intense needs and demands, gone) her body has literally gone to pieces. Her mind is sharp though showing the characteristic aging-in-place signs of a confined person.
I asked her, this trip, “So, Mom, when you are sitting there in your chair all those hours…what are you thinking? Are you pondering things or remembering or just “spacing out”?” Mom looked at me and without a pause said, “Just “spacing out”. I never wanted to get to this point, needing help to go to the bathroom, to do everything…” and her voice trailed off.
This brings me back to an oft considered subject: how can we deal with our aging loved ones with dignity and honor and love? In an age where extended family is often, well, extended all over the country, how can we take their needs into account and keep watch over their care?
It’s a well documented fact that good care correlates to watchful, involved family. In my mother’s case, she is extremely fortunate to have two daughters intimately involved in her life at her nursing home. Mom planned well and has long-term care, but now that she’s using it she understands the shortcomings.
She and I talked briefly about her living situation. In the past she always staunchly held that she would never live with her children and burden them. Now, now that she has arrived at her old-age-reality, she can admit she’d consider it. We spoke of a time when the family might put Grandma out in a rocker on the porch, checking on her through the day…grandchildren blowing dandelion seeds for her to see. Funny thing, my mom, my independent mom, isn’t laughing about that vision anymore.
I’m so grateful to have sisters who live near Mom and carry the bulk of the responsibility. I do feel a long-distance guilt. The best I can do is pray, visit as often as I can, and bring her my yearly batch of her apricot jam.