clouds

When we start thinking about how we want to live our lives, most of us seem to wish for the same thing, to live life to the fullest, to be able to take care of ourselves and, when the time comes, to simply pass from this life. In recent weeks I have learned one doesn’t always get that wish.
My 93 year old mother was hospitalized with pneumonia. Whatever the frustrations and difficulties of that experience, they pale in comparison with her new reality. She is not able to return to assisted living where she lived more or less independently and participated in a full range of activity designed for those with cognitive dementia. She is in a skilled nursing facility which appears a nice way to say nursing home. It is a top rated facility with a seemingly professional and caring staff, but it breaks my heart to know this is where Mother will live out her remaining days. A nursing home is the one place she has always said she didn’t want to be, and I was optimistic enough to think that wouldn’t happen.
As she looks around and realizes she is in a place where nothing is familiar, her eyes fill with tears. “What’s wrong?,” I ask. “I’m so afraid,” she answers. “Of what?” “I feel so unsafe.”
I can’t begin to process her feelings, how it must feel to suddenly realize that nothing is the same but not be able to connect the dots that help understanding. It is hard to look at the diminished person whose needs more closely resemble an infant’s and see the person who was my Mother. I have done things for her in recent weeks that I could not have imagined. I hope I have done them gently and with love despite having occasional bouts of revulsion.
If there is a good to this experience it is that she is not aware of all that is wrong. Ask how she’s doing and she answers fine. Ask how she feels and she says good. The doctor says that her belief that all is well is likely what has kept her alive through a bout of illness that has sapped her reserves. How long this will continue is part of the mystery, and I have to believe there is some purpose to her current condition though I am not sure how much of that is for her and how much for me. Perhaps there is more I have to learn.
This experience has opened my heart for all of you who have already walked this road. I share your tears, the emotional drain, the physical exhaustion, the fear of the unknown, the ability to meet unexpected challenges.
For those of you who have yet to deal with aging parents, my heart goes out to you. It is not easy. My advice? Claim the good times now. Don’t dwell in the past or wonder about the future. Be here, right now taking advantage of all that life has to offer.

9 thoughts on “It Comes to This

  1. This touches my heart. My mother-in-law had to go to a memory care facility for a few months before her passing. Before that, family had to help her in ways they never dreamed they would be able to do. When it comes right down to it, we willing do as much as possible for those we love. I have lost my own parents, one to cancer & one to “ARDS”, due to complications after open heart surgery. The past 8 years have made me much more compassionate than before, & I willing reach out to those having to deal with aging parents. Remember the good times with your mother, and as much as you can, enjoy the days you have left with her,. I also found that it helps to keep humor in your daily walk…along with a personal walk with Jesus. Best wishes…

  2. I have been there. My mom died at 83 on my 50th bday. 10 years earlier she was still driving herself from NY to Fla alone. She had bee a widow since she was 49, and had a child in a wheelchair to care for. Always strong…and then?
    My prayers for you.

  3. Nothing in our lives prepares us for this part: saying goodbye to those who gave us life. My Dad’s long goodbye in hospice care afforded me a chance to learn things about him that I had never known, for example, the fact that he had aspired to be a doctor. I never knew it and would have never learned it if not for those long hours spent at his bedside as his life seeped away. I’m glad I got that opportunity. Mother died very suddenly after what should have been routine surgery. I’m so glad I got to spend those last few days with her and that she was not alone at the end. I’m sure you will be grateful for the time you have spent with your Mom. I’m thinking about you as you travel through this painful period.

  4. Having just lost my mother three weeks ago after a ten week stay in the hospital, I really understand what you are going through. My mom had her full senses and as she became more weak and started failing, I too had to help her with things that were downright embarrassing for her. Instead of making her uncomfortable, I joked with her and made her see the humor in our reversal of roles. I actually slept at the hospital for the entire 10 weeks! I am so glad that I had this time to be with her and to care for her. Enjoy every minute you have with your mother.

  5. Linda, though I have not experienced this personally, my mother lived through this when her mother was dying of pancreatic cancer. Your line “I have done things for her in recent weeks that I could not have imagined” was pretty much the feeling for her as well. I guess we never think about those things when all is well. I appreciate your honesty in this post. I wish all of you peace.

  6. I am so sorry that you have had to walk this path, it is so difficult and heart wrenching to be with our parents at this stage of their lives. Your mom is lucky to have you and I am sure somewhere in her heart she is aware of the comfort you are to her. My thoughts and prayers are with you. Much love.

  7. Your mother is so fortunate to have you there to monitor and help with her care. My sisters and I helped Mom with end of life care for my father. It allowed all of us to become closer to him. It was a great example for us to watch him face the end of life with courage and humor. I will be thinking of both you and your mother during this difficult time.

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