Monday, August 31, 2009

A Little Background

My Mom always asked me to write about her. She was a super unique individual in her day -- she had her first child at the age of 42 and a second at 44.
After I became a journalist, she hounded me every Mother's Day to tell her story. When I moved out of state she'd even send mother/daughter photos to accompany her pitch and recall stories about being the only Mom with gray hair when she took me to kindergarten, or how people asked if we were her grandchildren during shopping expeditions. I focused solely on breaking news in those days -- murder, corruption, destruction... I always understood that she was a pioneer in her day, I was always super proud, I just never got around to telling anyone about it -- until now.

Sadly, the story today isn't so much about her glory days of being a late in life mother, but my adventures of taking on the role of mothering her.

My sister and I both had always been close to both my mom and dad. Having us late in life, they cherished family time and spent oodles of quality time with us. They never missed a dinner hour, listened endlessly to us recite homework, volunteered at school and when Mom left us with kitchen duty, Dad would start some pretty big soap fights that trailed through the entire house. (Mom always said she had 3 kids.) The quality time remained well into adulthood but stretched to other more "important" interests like playing golf and having beers.

Never having children of my own, I handled the regular visits to Florida when their health began to decline. My Dad's story is equally remarkable to my Mom's. At 92 he still played golf, drove a car and played sole caregiver to my mom who was in her 6th or 7th year of Alzheimer's at that point. Stubborn and independent, he refused (okay, fired) anyone we hired to try and help with the task. Ultimately, the stress led to heart failure. He literally wore himself into the ground caring for my Mom. He waited for my arrival one Friday, then permanently snuck out during his sleep.

That's where my journey with my Mom began. I came into the bedroom in the morning to find my father had passed away and my Mom laying alone. It was clear he had handed her care off to me. It was literally like having a toddler left on my door step. She's been with me basically 24/7 ever since.

I packed her key belongings in the car and set out for a full out adventure road trip from Florida to Michigan. Trying to create a memorable journey, we attempted a number of side trips as we made the trek up I-75 -- each one a bust. That's when I discovered what my Dad had always tried to tell me -- 65-70% of my Mom was still there, you just had to be around consistently enough to witness it. Quick witted, she'd have some hilarious one-liners when my attempts at sight-seeing would flop belly up. I never thought I'd laugh that hard with my Mom again. The side trips that should have been a huge waste of time, really helped us reconnect.

The first few weeks at my place included big attempts at getting her properly nourished and hydrated again. Then we went to work at building physical strength and increasing mental stimulation.

We saw so much progress in just two weeks, my sister and I eagerly planned to find a phenomenal facility with memory care. We knew she'd thrive with proper exercise both mentally and physically. Our premise proved to be a great idea -- reality proved much more grim.

From the biggest to most humble of facilities we found one common denominator -- not one of the memory care units housed a single person that resembled my Mom. Universally we found memory care units filled with invalids. Literally men and women strapped to wheel chairs, on respiratory equipment, not capable of participating in a single activity. My Mom was too far gone for traditional assisted living, but certainly not ready to mingle with comatose people either. We labeled her a "tweener" -- and she came to live with me!

I'm 46, divorced, no kids and lead a super active life riding horses, socializing and traveling. I have two horses, two dogs, a cat and now, a Mom.

I've become a stay at home Mom to My Mom -- and this is our story!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Mary, for sharing your story with us. God bless you for caring for your mother so. Having been through this trial myself, although not as the sole caregiver, I truly commend you on your selflessness and love.

    God Bless,