Although it might not seem so, we had many joyful moments. Maybe these little jewels were more brilliant because the time surrounding them was so hard. Like stars in the massive night sky - those joy filled times were intensely bright.
Her discharge from the last hospitalization in December was one such dark and brilliant time. I blogged about some of this in December 2010. (Posting Title: That which does not kill you.)
Two hospitalizations nearly back to back during December had seriously compromised her strength. Coming home was impossible at that point, but I avoided thinking beyond the hospital walls. When the social worker approached us at the end of the second hospitalization, she launched into her regular speech recited hundreds of times before:
- prepare a list of 3 nursing facilities,
- prepare this list very soon since discharge can happen quickly,
- visit the facilities first before making decisions,
- do not delay!
Handing me the list of local facilities, she finally looked at me. I think my face told the story. I was desperately tired, worried, and anxious, and I knew mom wanted to go home. I wanted her to go home. I knew she couldn't. I stared at the list. I would have to explain why she couldn't go home after the social worker left. And I had to be able to do this without letting mom see how upset and sick I was at the thought of taking her to a nursing home for rehab.
The social worker immediately took a softer, more interested attitude, but soon left. It was 4:00 in the afternoon. Time was short. I needed to leave right away to see some of these places.
Facing mom to explain the situation was the hardest thing I have ever done! Until that moment I had never prayed for strength. I always found it within me. Always. But in that moment, looking into mom's disappointed eyes, I made a silent prayer.
I hoped someone was listening.
She took the news as well as could be expected. I promised her I would be back in time to spend the night. I left with the list keeping my emotions in check until I reached my car. It was a terrible feeling leaving her alone for the first time in all her hospitalizations ... alone with her thoughts and the uncertainty of what was happening next.
I can't even imagine what she thought about while I was gone. Mom fears nursing homes. I knew this. I consistently used the label "rehab center" rather than nursing home. She never caught on to the difference. And maybe there wasn't a difference in her mind. When nurses would do their routine mental awareness checks - one of the questions they ask is - Do you know where you are? Sometimes mom would answer - in my daughter's home. Sometimes she would answer - in a nursing home. Those were the only two realities she had - and she didn't want to be in a nursing home. Unfortunately in our area, rehab took place in nursing homes ... and that is where I was going to place her. My heart was desperately heavy.
The ride home was hard. Crying and driving is not safe. I called my husband and explained why I was coming home. Would he please come with me tonight to see these nursing facilities because I sincerely didn't think I could do this alone.
Now I know it sounds odd ... most normal marriages you wouldn't have to ask. It would be assumed. But my husband has failing eye sight. He seldom goes out after dark because his night vision is so very poor. It was December, and by 5:00 pm we would have darkness. This would be hard for him. He responded immediately - of course he would come! I knew he would say yes, but I hated to ask. I wanted to be able to do this on my own but I couldn't. I hated putting my husband in the uncomfortable position of appearing disabled, but I had to. After a month of terrible happenings, I discovered there was nothing left inside me. I needed help!
We selected several places, called for appointments and mapped out our route. I will never forget how much better I felt with him beside me. He did have problems each time we left the car and walked through the darkness to the entrances, but he was there - I could cope with this distasteful task, if he was there.
The nursing facilities we visited ranged from bad to acceptable. One place was so terrible that I thought about walking out without completing the tour. But the good manners my mother had instilled in me prevailed, and we stayed. I asked all my questions and acted as if nothing was wrong. We left as soon as possible. As we were leaving that facility my husband jokingly said, "So ... I guess this place isn't on your short list." There was no humor in my response. "This place is a big, fat NO. It isn't on my short list for a dog." Apparently I still did have some fight left in me - if you dig deep enough, it is there. But I was sad for the poor souls who were receiving care there. I remember thinking, if this is my only choice, mom will be discharged to my home. I will figure out how to handle her debilitated condition then.
I believe my silent prayer was heard because many times that evening, as we looked at places I didn't want to think about, I could feel strength returning.
After the evening tours, I had 2 places selected, but I needed 3. And truthfully, there was only one place where I could take mom and be able to sleep well at night myself.
I guess the prayer I uttered so silently earlier in the evening was still echoing in His ears. My daughter called with a suggestion that I check out Brook Grove Retirement Community. She knew from her own residents that Brook Grove was a highly regarded rehab facility. I might have trouble getting mom placed there because they are always full. It was worth a try.
The next morning I visited this wonderful facility. After the tour I knew, this was the place. And not only did they have room for her, she got a private room! It was 10 days before Christmas, they had space!
Joyful moments don't come any better.
I sat in Brooke Grove parking lot after my tour and called the hospital social worker with my choices - I gave her two. I was ready for a fight about giving the third, but it never came. Maybe she remembered me and took pity.
Then I called my daughter to thank her. As I was dialing her phone number I kept repeating over and over to myself ... do not cry, do not cry, do not cry! She wasn't available so I had to leave a message. I breathed a small sigh of relief that I could talk to a machine. I might be able to leave a message without tears. I got almost all the way through it when my voice broke.
At least this time, they were tears of joy - total, complete, utter joy.
I returned to the hospital that morning, and within hours Mom was discharged. It was quick. And she was transferred by ambulance that evening to Brooke Grove (my post and pictures of this lovely place).
My son volunteered to spend the first night with his grandmother so that I could go home and get some sleep. I will never forget his smiling face as he sprightly walked into his grandmother room at 9:30 pm. His back pack was slung over his shoulder, he greeted his grandmother with, "So Gram, I understand that you and I are going to have a sleep over together." I was never prouder of the young man he had become.
And my dear mother, who had been through hell and back that month, smiled back at him and said, "I wouldn't tell too many of your friends about this sleep over in a nursing home with your Grandmother." She apparently was not down yet!
She recovered quickly and was home for Christmas. It was an unusual Christmas for us. She came home on December 23. When she walked in the door, there was no decorated Christmas tree, no Christmas cookies, no presents wrapped, (some were not even purchased), but mom celebrated the holiday at home. My daughter came home and between us we got the tree up and pulled together a semblance of holiday cheer. It was the best Christmas I can ever remember!
There have been other bright stars in my dark sky since that hard December, but this one has shown as brightly as the North Star. In fact, it is my North Star, because nothing brought me so low or raised me so high since then.
And I learned a lesson about prayer.
Care Giver and Daughter