These years have been an emotional roller coaster. Tears, struggle, anger, humor, sadness, frustration, loss, laughter, reflection, love ... all mixed together like multi-colored confetti.
And through all my ups and downs, mom's own emotional responses seemed a bit flat. Yes, sometimes she would show frustration, laugh at the antics of one of the dogs, anticipate an event, show interest in a hobby, but it was short lived. Was this an aspect of her mental decline, or depression, or something else? I started to second guess myself.
Was this related to her shrinking social circle?
I worried that I had made a poor decision by inviting her into my home. Five years ago I firmly believed I was broadening her life. She would have daily company, my kids dropped in a lot, my grand-dogs and cats were always under foot, my neighborhood had stability with an eclectic mix of people. Surely that was better than sitting alone in her apartment with only TV for company. But maybe a better choice might have been assisted living where she would enjoy the company of new faces, make friends and participate in planned activities. She would stay socially connected to life within her own generation.
But the realities of assisted living, beyond the social benefits, were a concern. Her financial resources would not have sustained her for the long life that she is leading. I also wondered if her medical problems would have been captured readily. And now the subtle symptoms of her chronic illnesses raise questions for me. Would they be noticed and medicated promptly to avoid hospitalizations? Would her connection to family have been as frequent? Or would the "out of sight, out of mind" mentality eventually become the norm for all of us.
While the choice of assisted living would have been easier for me, I don't believe it would have been best mom. Maybe in the future we will be forced into that option. But five years ago I don't think it was the right choice.
Certainly a senior apartment with less monitoring would have been a terrible choice for her in light of her hidden medical conditions.
Looking back I know I made mistakes. For example, it is true that I didn't check in with family before I moved mom in with me. There was no family meeting to discuss our options. Mother and I discussed her options for years, but it wasn't a conversation that included others. I have apologized for this omission several times. When I heard that criticism, I started to second guess myself again.
I tried to think back to determine exactly when that meeting should have been. Should the meeting have occurred after her auto accident, or possibly after she proved so indecisive, or maybe when her rents went up, or was it most appropriate after the first hospitalization? And based on my concerns about senior apartments and assisted living, would our choice of residence for mom be any different than it is today?
As an observer, it is easy to say "I would have done things differently." But I wasn't an observer, and I know I would not have done anything differently.
Like a glacier, mom moved steadily in one declining direction. She lived closest to me. I was a steady presence in her life. My actions were not made with any selfish or ulterior motives. At the time, I was the one "connecting the dots" of mom's decline. I was the one who took action.
Unfortunately, it is true beyond all measure ... that you can take the right actions for the right reasons, and still you will not please everyone. You just have to move on and listen to your own conscious.
I think this care giving journey unconsciously began for me in 1997 while staring at that crushed Honda Civic. I was alone that day standing in the tow lot with my horrifying thoughts and emotions. If I had been with other family at that moment, would they have had the same reaction, the same protective step forward for mom? Would my actions from that day forward have been more of a partnership ... if we had shared together that first glimpse of what could have been a tragedy?
I still doubt myself at times, but I believe I have made decisions I can live with.
I haven't caused harm ...
I've made carefully considered decisions on her behalf ...
I've made one elderly person's life better ...
I've gained a new respect for the difficult road ahead in my aging ...
And, most importantly, I have learned to be grateful for having spent this time with mom.
You see, while I am walking through this care giver life with its twists and turns, frustrations and difficulties, it is easy to forget that -
... I am lucky she is still a part of my life.
... I love her dearly.
... and I can give back when she needs it the most.
In my "travels" with mom, I have met many people. Most people whose moms are gone feel compelled to share. Frequently they say -
"I would love to walk in your shoes - even for just one day!"
I am lucky, and there is no second guessing about that.
Care Giver and Daughter