“Alice: How long is forever? White Rabbit: Sometimes, just one second.”
―Lewis Carroll - Alice in Wonderland
Her new home. That was an experience. In between leaving her in Illinois and going back to get her my main job was to find her a place to live. I prefer to stay married and out of prison so living with us was not an option. I visited several assisted living/memory care facilities and I usually knew within five minutes if a place was going to be a consideration or not. Most of them were nice enough but what told me the most about a place was the residents. The loneliness and despair I saw on so many faces broke my heart. And made my decision much easier. I decided on a place that’s about 20 minutes from my house - close enough that I can be there if she needs me but far enough away that I wouldn’t feel obligated to spend every free minute I had there.
She’s my mom and I want her to be safe and comfortable - happy would be good, too. However, I have a life and I have a family and sometimes it’s hard for me to find the right mix to take care of everything. I had to decide on where my balance was going to be without sacrificing myself or my family. The one thing I don’t have time for is resentment. I was not going to put myself in the position to resent my mom and I was not going to make decisions that would make my husband and my family resent me. Constant change and readjustment. But, hell, that’s what life is and that’s what you do for what’s important.
When I first spoke with Mary, the director of her new home, I didn’t have much information on how mom was doing other than what I saw and what I was told; communication from the facility in Illinois was spotty at best. Mary was the calm I needed and her patience and compassion are something I’ll always be grateful for. She and I decided to place mom in Memory Care. I bought her a new bed, a comfortable chair, and decorated it the best I could with the colors that she loved; sage green, ivory, and pink. Once her stuff arrived from Illinois I could go through and bring in her pictures and decorative things to make it more like her home. I was trying my best to not make the change so foreign and hard.
She was going to have to share a room and a bathroom but it wasn’t too bad. The room was separated enough for privacy purposes and the bathroom was large and roomy. She wasn’t going to love sharing but it was the best I could do at the time. It was surreal for me to be setting up where my mom was going to be living; I had a hard time convincing myself that she was going to be okay and happy in this place when it was so different from having her own apartment. Anxiety was my constant companion. My chest felt heavy, I felt like there was dense, dark, cloud hanging over my head, and I was jumping out of my skin with the need to know that what I was choosing for my mom was the right thing.
She seemed to enjoy the ride from the airport to her new home. It was a beautiful day and I think she was happy to be be out in the world again since it had been almost 3 months from the day she fell. While Logan and Bill were parking the car, I walked her in. There are 3 memory care residences and each unit looks like a moderate sized house. The backs of them face one central garden with clear walking paths and there is a tall metal fence that encircles the whole area. There are several spaces where the residents can grow a small garden or plant flowers. It’s rather pretty and the fence isn’t institutional, just enough to keep the residents from wandering off.
We rang the doorbell and were let in by one of the aides. The aides – let me take a moment and tell you how wonderful they all were. Yes, all of them. The patience and obvious affection they showed to the people living there was amazing to see. And the compassion they had for me and the other “kids” and spouses was wonderful. I’m sure they have bad days but I never witnessed a single one.
We walked in and we were led to her room. Mom seemed to be ok with everything but she was understandably nervous. She said she liked her room and how I had decorated it. I explained that there would be more of her things once the moving truck got to Oklahoma. The nurse came by to ask mom a few questions about what she liked to do; did she attend church, did she have any hobbies, etc. He was trying to be so nice and patient with her and she was being not so nice in return. I think that trying to have this kind of conversation added to all the new stuff that was happening was just too overwhelming.
It was almost time for dinner time and they had her seated at a table with some of the more verbal and “with it” people who lived there. Her table mates were doing their best to make mom feel welcome which is different from the way most of them act with a newcomer. It’s like third grade turf wars - God forbid you sit in someone’s seat. I wanted to stay with her but it was suggested I go sit in the living area just around the corner and let her find her way and make friends without me. Man, that was tough. I could hear her chatting away, telling them about Illinois and her trip to Oklahoma. I was so proud of her for being brave because I know her and that’s exactly what she was doing. I know she would have liked me to stay at the table but I think knowing I was right around the corner made it kind of ok.