I’ve led a very sheltered life. I don’t know about other people, but I feel a lot of discomfort surrounding old age and death.
Today was a day filled with two, very different trips. My morning trip was with my daughter to a doctor, and my afternoon trip was an outing with my elderly parents.
I am confused by the extreme emotional swing just from yesterday to today. What is very clear is that I am feeling. Until recently, I moved through my life like a zombie.
I far prefer feeling. The joy and the pain make my life so much deeper and more meaningful!
My outing with my parents was to see a room that was available in an Alzheimer’s care unit. This room would allow my mother to be near where my father is. It would be a temporary placement until a room was available in a more appropriate unit.
My parents lived together in assisted living at this facility for over a year. Before that they lived with me for a year. In November, my mom broke her shoulder and it required surgery. She had complications and for two months she was on a respirator. Since my mom came out of the hospital, she was placed in a different facility than my father.
Both my parents have been very lonely. They have been separated for three months. I have been pushing the facility to find a place for my mom so they could be together.
As we were driving, my mom mentioned to me that she would love for me to see her doing physical therapy sometime. She told me that my brother came to watch her the other day. Once again, the role reversal stuns me. I would be clapping my hands to see my mother walking, as she had done for me when I was a toddler.
“I am not myself anymore!”
We drove to meet my father who was waiting for us at his nearby assisted living facility. My father wanted me to drive him closer to the building where the room was that we were to see.
It might be due to wartime trauma that my father hates to walk. My grandmother told me that when my dad was in the infantry he walked all the miles he ever would in his entire life. My father will drive around a parking lot several times to find the closest space. He wanted me to drive a short distance to make it easier for him.
Both my parents struggle now with their seat belts. Getting into my car is quite an ordeal for my father. He always makes very loud noises that sound as if he is in terrible pain. After he loudly grunts, groans, and moans, I always ask him if he’s okay.
His comment is always the same; “I am not myself anymore!”
He has aged considerably this year.
Exiting the car was also fraught with challenges. My father was impatient – he could not figure out how to open his door to get out. Often he yells at me with impatience and anger.
When I see pictures where he is smiling, it doesn’t remind me of him anymore.
He insisted he wanted to help me unload the wheelchair for my mother. His frail, bent body was actually in my way. As I lifted out the wheelchair for my mother, he continued yelling at me. At the same time, my mother was stepping out of her passenger side gingerly stepping to the ground. She almost fell backwards, but I managed to grasp her quickly. I danced around and managed to slip the wheelchair under her.
My mother still smiles most of the time, except she has become quite a worrier.
As I pushed my mom from the car, she told me that she already had made her decision. She did not want to be in the Alzheimer’s unit. It would be too hard for her. I told her it was her decision, and that was fine. Still, we would at least take a look.
It had just rained. I looked at the beautiful walkway and inhaled the freshness in the air. I wanted to appreciate life at that moment, but it was hard.
I was always the “baby” in my family. How had this happened?
I remember my parents were powerful and I was secure in the world. I was a pea, and they were tall asparagus! As the baby in our family, I was adored and treasured; I felt safe and secure in my parents’ love.
I remember when our family went on vacations to Yosemite. Nature seemed so vast and amazing, and the outdoors felt like Disneyland!
I look at my parents now and they are so frail. They are counting on me to lift them and support them. But I still feel like a pea!
“Tell me more about where she moved to!”
My heart pounded; we had reached the unit. I prepared myself.
I was a little girl again. I remember when I used to have nightmares. It was always the same – we would go to the Natural History Museum. I would fight my curiosity, until it overtook me. I had to see the mummy exhibit. I would tiptoe to take a peek, but then the horror was imprinted in my mind.
That same night, I was certain there was a mummy under my bed! My heart would thump at huge decibels, as I would bend to look under the bed – then I would run into my parents’ room screaming in terror. I had seen it! I had faced death!
There were two sets of double doors. The first one opened when a man put in his code. As we waited for the second door to open, I couldn’t help comparing it to a prison.
We entered the unit. There were so many old people, with vacant eyes and interesting movements. It was quite unlike something I was used to seeing.
When I’ve gone to my mom’s nursing facility, there are often wailing, elderly people. I try very hard to filter out their cries, but I feel their pain.
I always think about their loved ones who are most affected by their suffering – how easily that crosses my mind!
In this unit, it was actually quite pleasant. Most everyone looked happy. The nurses were kind and unbelievably warm. Many of the old people we passed were, too. Hands reached out to me, and many said hello. One lady said, “I know you!”
Several nurses seemed to know my mom. One woman came over and grasped my mom’s hand. This nurse’s warmth was radiant. I thanked her for being so loving. This nurse said, “I’ve given your mom a shower, you know.” At that point, my hands dropped to my side and I walked around the wheelchair to give her a hug.
We waited awhile and then we were ushered into the room that might become my mom’s. The lady giving us the tour was patient and sweet. I was shocked when my mother said, “Where did the person go who lived here?”
The tour lady looked at me as I shook my head. I couldn’t believe that my mom didn’t make the connection – vacancies are usually a result of death. The tour lady said something phony while gazing at me. It was something that would make my mom feel better.
My father listened and said, “Tell me more about where she moved to!”
The shock that my father didn’t see the falsehood of her statement filled me with even more sadness.
We viewed the room, which looked like any other room. Now it was time to meet the prospective roommate. The tour lady told us this woman was lovely; she loved to sing and dance.
In the room where we went to meet her, she was wearing a red dress and she was dancing. An introduction to my mom was made.
The woman in the red dress danced over to my mom in her wheelchair. She smiled and then she said, “So nice to meet you! I love dancing but you know, I just peed in my pants!”
As I drove my mom back to her facility, she stuck with her decision. She would stay where she was, until a room opened up near my father in a more appropriate unit.
My father must be losing his hearing. I told him what my mom’s decision was. I had heard her tell both of us from the moment she got into my car.
He said, “That is news to me!”
“But I am so small!”
As I drove my parents back to their separate facilities, I told them that I am getting my mom a private caregiver. I would pay for it, and my father and/or brothers could choose to reimburse me – but I wasn’t waiting any longer. This would alleviate my mother’s loneliness and anxiety about bothering her nurses.
The caregiver could help drive my father to see her more often. Perhaps she could even be driven to my home, and that would certainly make my life easier.
Recently, I’ve decided not to let it stop me from taking tennis and singing lessons to feel better about life.
Now I want to give back to my mother, something she has given me. As a child I had those wonderful, secure feelings. In her old age, I want her to feel important, safe, and valued. She deserves it and she’s worth it.
The vision returns . . .
We’re on that vacation and my parents are driving through the mountains in an old, Chevy Malibu. My parents are powerful and I am so little. Suddenly, the idyllic scenery changes from pine trees to icy pinnacles. Our car skids and veers toward a cliff!
In slow motion, I see the car hanging at the edge of a precipice.
I glance around. Where are my older brothers? Only a moment ago they were in the car!
My parents are gasping. I need to lift them out of the car before it falls.
But I am so small!
I tell them that I can’t do this alone! I want help – I’ll go find my big brothers and they’ll know what to do.
But my father stops me. He says, “They cannot help us. They are off surviving themselves. We know that you alone can save us. You are our savior!”
© Judy Unger and http://www.myjourneysinsight.com 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Judy Unger with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.