excerpt from: the little girl with a bow in her hair
One, if not the most, draining and difficult decision a caregiver can make for their loved one is to admit defeat and place them into a long- term care facility. Friends and family will offer their support and say things like ‘you had no choice’, ‘your Mom will be safe’, and ‘you can rest a bit knowing that she is being cared for’. But the caregiver may feel that they have failed their loved one. The emotions run the gamut and usually shift to guilt and shame, with a slight pang of relief. I was no different. What I did not anticipate at the time was being introduced to an entire set of new and unique challenges, along with another form of the ‘roller coaster’ ride.
I remember the decision vividly. The pots and pans over the balcony was the tipping point. I could not care for her full-time and did not have the means or money to do it. I called ‘my angel*’ and explained the situation. This was nothing new to her as I had put off the inevitable for quite awhile. I had done my due diligence by visiting different facilities in close proximity to my apartment. Although, she was placed on a waiting list with my top 3 choices, the situation now had become critical. There was no ‘room at the inn’ so to speak. My only solution was to admit her into ‘respite care’ and wait patiently to see if one of the choices I had made for her care would become available at the end of her short-stay. The explanation and transport for her would be difficult. Mom could and would not comprehend there was a problem. I was ‘kidnapping’ her and taking her to a strange place. I realized I could not do this alone. ‘My Angel’ found a short-stay bed a 20-minute drive from my home. Now the deception and struggle would begin. It was decided through many phone calls and conversations with ‘my angel’ that I would explain to Mom she had a doctor’s appointment. I would drive Mom to the facility where ‘my angel’ would meet us. Once we walked her in the door, she would not be free to leave. A staff member and ‘my angel’ then would take her up to the room, and I would wait outside in the car. It may not have been the best arrangement, but it was the only one at the time we could come up with to secure Mom’s safety. I couldn’t believe my life had come down to this one ‘critical’ choice. I couldn’t believe I had to make a decision on behalf of someone I loved wholly and unconditionally. I couldn’t believe this was happening.
‘My Angel’ returned to my vehicle following 20 minutes of paperwork and admittance. She tried to re-assure me that Mom would be well taken care of and safe. I had a small sense of how Mom must have felt dropping me off at school for the first time. Strangers would be caring for Mom and I had lost all control. Not only would this be the start of ‘letting go’, of the Mom I once knew, it would be the ‘dawning’ of a new me.
I drove the 20 minutes back home and broke down. I felt I had let everyone down. Dad, 3 days before his death, who said ‘promise me you will look after your mother’, Baba, who was willing to care for Mom while she could barely care for herself, Stephen, Aunt Helen, myself, but most of all, Mom. I felt like the worst person in the world. All those years Mom cared for me and I couldn’t reciprocate. What a monster I had become! I cuddled my cat ‘buggs’ and sobbed uncontrollably for hours.
The next day, swollen eyes notwithstanding, I called the facility to check in to see how Mom was coping, as I was advised to give it a couple of days prior to visiting.
I was redirected to the nursing station, where after 3 rings it went to voicemail. “ah…Hi this is Paula Bilz and I’m checking in to see how my mom, Anne Bilz is, she was admitted yesterday into respite care’, I said without conviction, as deep down inside I knew what Mom was like now with this rotten disease, called Alzheimer’s.
After leaving my message, ‘Good Mother’ by Jann Arden began to play on the radio. My tears flowed again as I got up from the dining table to turn it off, (who knew I had that much water in me?).
Time seemed to pass like an eternity as I literally cried my eyes out, then the phone rang and it was the nurse from the long-term care facility to give me news on Mom.
‘Things are not going very well’ she said.
While she spoke to tell me that Mom was not settling in, I could hear mom’s voice in the background yelling,
‘Get the fuck out of my room, who do you think you are bitch! Get ooouuuttt!!! Fuck off!!!’
‘Maybe I should come in and talk with her’ I said.
‘Give it another 24 hours and let’s see if she settles down a bit’, the nurse said. ‘We would like to have a doctor come in and assess her for medications, do we have your permission?’
At this point I had no idea what my response would be, as I couldn’t believe those words were coming out of my mom’s mouth. In over 30 years I have been with her, never and I mean never, has she ever used any swear word. The worst word she ever used, and that was sparingly and infrequent, was ‘damn’. Shocked, broken, and sad were only some of the words to describe my feelings at this point. What could I do? I had no choice but to have the doctor assess her situation as she was disrupting the entire floor. I felt for the other residents, staff, and of course, I felt for mom. She could not continue this tirade and on this path. I feared for her health as I had visions of her ‘stroking out’ due to the stress. I hesitantly agreed to have someone come in and try to fix her. Fix her… really could someone ‘fix her’, because I would give the world for that. I was breaking and wasn’t sure I would come out of this unaffected. My life was always filled with optimism and positive vibes, but now I searched inwardly for the good, and came up empty.
* my angel – social worker for the Alzheimer Society