Visiting my mother is not easy. I have to do it. I need to monitor what goes on at her group home and make sure she’s getting everything she needs. Vigilance is required, because things change: Mom’s condition, the staff, policies and resident population mix at the home. So many variables can have an impact on Mom’s quality of life.
Like any child, I’ve had my share of squabbles with my mother over the course of my life. That’s only natural. But now, I never know who I’ll find when I go to see her. The progress of her illness is unpredictable.
When I arrived at the home, I had trouble getting the bell to ring so I could be admitted. I called on my cell phone and was quickly greeted. I investigated the operation of the bell with Collin,* and then went to Mom.
She was seated in the main living area, watching TV. She rose to greet me, but was unsteady on her feet. I embraced her to help steady her. She complained that my hands felt cold to her (they always do) and I invited her to sit back down.
Recently, I’d had reports that Mom was behaving more aggressively and I’d asked to have urine cultures taken in case another UTI was brewing. Collin told me they had realized that one of the other residents was triggering Mom’s behaviors. They used to sit together at meals; now they were being kept apart and Mom was doing better.
A new “activities director,” Margaret,* had begun working there recently. She had given Mom a birthday party in January. She’d organized a Valentine’s Day Party. Margaret came over to show me pictures of the parties on the home’s digital camera. We looked through the images together, seated at a table, with Mom sitting on my other side.
When I looked up from the camera, Mom had a puss on. Her lip was curled and she was angry. She told Margaret to pack up and get out. I asked Mom why she was upset.
Mom went on a tear about how she had never had sex with any one but her husband and this one was apparently accusing her of wanton behavior. I had a hard time parsing Mom’s story, but her distaste for Margaret was unmistakable. I felt like maybe my paying too much attention to Margaret and the photos and not enough to her may have set her off.
For the rest of our visit, Mom’s displeasure with her situation was clear. She hates everyone. She knows she’s getting worse, but she can’t help herself. She’s angry. She’s confused. She doesn’t understand why her brother Bernie never calls. I reminded her that her brother had died a few years ago. She’s the last of her tribe; the youngest of four children. And she was never very social when she was well. So it’s just her kids and grandkids remaining. Of the remainder, I’m the most involved. I’m her daughter, her sister, her mother and therapist.
I observed and spoke with some of the other residents. Some of them are quite lucid, but they can’t express themselves well. I overheard the resident with whom Mom clashes tell Margaret she just felt lost. My heart sank hearing her words. I felt for her, and my Mom and all the others. That’s really the crux of the matter. They’re all “lost.”
Trapped in a living body with a deteriorating mind. I can’t imagine anything worse. I’ve no doubt that if I were in that position, I’d be pretty pissed off, too.
For now, I’m a little sad. I’m glad I went. I know Mom’s in good hands, getting appropriate care. That’s the best I can do for her. And I will continue this process as long as she needs me to.
And I will do everything I can to ensure I escape a similar fate.
*Not their real names