As a professional in the field of aging, Sara had seen it all—until her own mother broke her hip at the age of 88 and became profoundly confused, unable to live in her own home. Join Sara on her journey through the strangeness that is dementia while trying to make sense of it all and finding humor in the details. [Editor's note: Sara no longer contributes to Silver Planet, but we have made her archived blog entries available as a service to our readers.]
A strange-looking woman, she (I’ll call her Ivy) is tall and lean, with
an almost athletic posture. She wears a large neck brace that was
probably designed to keep her head from totally flopping over. In fact,
without the brace, it looks as if her head might fall off. At one time
in her life, Ivy was probably very attractive, but not now. I heard it
had something to do with a medication reaction.
Ivy’s behavior is odd. I think she suffers a kind of deteriorating neurological condition that leaves her wordless, although not soundless. She is almost aggressive and walks right up to you, nose to nose, trying to lead you off somewhere. (To be honest, she kind of frightens me, and that's embarrassing because I see myself as somewhat of an expert in most things aging.) Ivy’s ability to get around and feed herself has deteriorated a lot in the past year.
Ivy has a son. I often visit my mother at lunchtime, and there he is, gently, quietly, carefully feeding his mother. He doesn’t have to help his mother eat. The staff would do it.
My friend John recently got a call from his family back east to let him know that his mother was failing. Last rites had been given. John’s sisters told him to wait and see. Maybe his mom would pull through. John’s wife wisely advised her husband to go see his mother, which he did. It made no sense to try to time a visit with imminent death; rather, it seemed wiser to see his mother while she was somewhat cognizant. Home from his trip, John is glad that he went.
One of my brothers came to visit our mom last July (Saintly Behavior Witnessed in Seattle). He wanted to stay overnight at Mom’s assisted living home, in her room. He made a concerted effort to visit with her, not for an hour or two, but for a full 24-hour day. That amazed me.
My point in writing this: sons are often less involved in the long-term care of their mothers. Yes, I know, some men are hands-on caregivers, but the job mostly falls to daughters and daughters-in-law. So why should sons get involved? I think that it is not for the mother—it’s for the son. Being there, being present. It is so that he knows that he did what he could to demonstrate his love—in person.
I have another brother. He often asks, “Do you think Mom knows I don’t call? Would she recognize me if I visited? Do you think she would like a card ?”
I always say the same thing, “Do what you need to do to feel like you are there for Mom. Do it for yourself, not for Mom. She will die soon, and you will need to feel that you did your best, whatever that means to you.”
By Sara Myers
A Good Enough Daughter Blog