It was the evening of my son's third birthday. My husband had just returned home from attending a work conference out of town for five days. We all sat down to enjoy dinner and celebrate our big boy's "Big 3" when I got a call from my mom. Normally, I would have ignored the call and called her back later (I mean, I just talked to her less than 30 minutes ago), but this time, I picked it up. Mom said she fell and by the sound in her voice I could tell she was hurt. I told my family that I needed to go check on Noni and I would be home later. When I got to my mom's house, her elbow was completely swollen and she was very confused. We went to the ER and found out that she had a broken elbow which would need immediate surgery. I helped mom to my car and we went back to my home for the night. As I made her comfortable on my couch, I knew in my heart that this was going to be more than one night's sleepover. This break would turn into a "break" -- we all needed to face the inevitable.
Mom's dementia had been getting worse and despite my brother and his family moving in to live with her, it was becoming more and more clear that mom needed 24/7 care. This break turned into a much-needed break in daily caregiving as well. My brother, his wife and children had moved in with mom over Mother's Day weekend last year. We knew that mom couldn't live safely on her own anymore and it was our goal to help keep mom in her home as long as possible. For a while it seemed to be the answer we all needed. Mom would sit down for meals with them. Their kids seemed to breathe new life into the home. But that only lasted for a while as the ugly side of dementia set in and caused our sweet, kind and loving mother to lash out and become angry. We both knew that we would have to face the facts to move mom to an assisted living home soon. My brother told me that he felt like he failed. We both feel that way at times. But, to me he tried and that is a priceless gift. He is my hero. Yes, brother when you read this (if you read this), YOU ARE OUR HERO! At at time when I was completely conflicted on what to do for mom, overwhelmed and feeling all alone, you stepped up and saved us all. You gave mom an extra year in her home that she has loved for more than 20 years. Yes, it was only a year. But, if you're a caregiver, you know that a year is a life-time when caring for someone with dementia.
The next few weeks were a blur of pre-op visits, surgery, hospital stays and post-op visits. I tried my best to help mom recover from surgery while trying to establish some kind of healthy routine for her. Her arm seemed to heal very quickly, but it was her broken brain, her dementia, that made for a challenging healing process. Countless times a day she would ask why her arm looked like this or why was she at my house or who is watching her dogs. She would wake up in the middle of the night in a panic and come looking for me. Our home once again felt like we were at the mercy of a newborn's schedule with disruptive sleep. After one very long day of trying to balance work, taking care of my kids AND caring for mom, she looked at me and said,
"You look tired."
"Yes, I am tired. It has been a long day, Mama."
"Well why don't you go lay down and take a nap."
I gave my mom a big hug and she smiled back at me. Her heart remembers. I thought to myself. Over the past five years of living with mom's dementia, I have seen time and time again that despite the complete confusion and craziness that comes with this disease, my mom's brain may not remember the details, but her heart always does. She knows that her "baby girl" is tired and trying and needs her "mommy" to comfort her, to encourage her to not give up.
There have been beautiful days taking care of mom while she plays with my kids and they laugh and giggle and I think to myself, now, this is good medicine. But those days are often followed by ugly nights where my mom gets frustrated, angry, confused and wanders the house all night long looking for me. It is beyond heartbreaking. It is devastating. We are now faced with the fact that she needs to move to a new home. Assisted living? Group home? Dementia care facility? I have researched all of these options over the past couple years. Now, it is a reality. My mind and my heart are at odds with each other. I run through all the scenarios in my head on how we could just move to a bigger home and mom could live with us. Or I could move her into a nice condo and just find a roommate to live for free. But each scenario ended with my heart aching and guiding me to take comfort knowing that mom needed care that we couldn't give her. Mom needs a break too.
I am not sure where mom will call "home" next. Assisted living? Group home? Dementia care facility? That part of her story, our story is far from over. I just pray that God gives us strength to help mom transition and accept this new chapter in her life and that this break will be what we all need to begin to heal our hearts and messed up minds. Sometimes the inevitable comes from a fall, a break and when it does the only thing to do is to learn new ways to get up, get better and keep going.
Just. Keep. Going.
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