Thursday, August 21

Letting go: Parents and assisted living

I bought my first label maker this week. You might be thinking, "Of course you did. School started this week." But I didn't buy it to put labels on kids' stuff; I bought it to put labels on stuff I'll be sending to my mother in her assisted living facility.

My siblings and I moved the folks to an assisted living facility a few months ago. It was time. It was a decision none of us really wanted to make, but as my sister-in-law stated so very adroitly, "Not moving them is like giving the car keys to a drunk driver." Yes, we were inviting disaster and this was after the store/parking lot incident in which the police were involved and that microwave fire in which the fire department was involved.

We were and are fortunate. The folks have, had, great neighbors. One of the neighbors called me after the fire with that "Everyone is all right but there was a fire" kind of announcement and told me she thought it was imperative I get to Florida as quickly as possible. Which I did. It was only a couple of days later and the folks had mostly forgotten there was a fire by then. Mom had some recollection, but it was, um, faulty.

Anyway, we got them moved. They were not happy. At. All. In fact, my mother stopped speaking to me for several weeks. (I'm the oldest, the one with the legal responsibilities for them, and, according to our care giving medical team, the easiest target.)

It's been a few months. My stepfather seems to be resigned to the situation, but in many ways his living situation hasn't changed markedly. My mother seems much happier now that she's adjusted and is making friends.

Her forgetfulness, her loss of memory hurts me. Even though this is a woman who caused me so much anger, hurt, and frustration as a child through adulthood, it hurts me to see a vibrant personality so diminished.

So I am making labels to put on her things so that when she leaves them places, the nursing and caregiving folks at the assisted living facility will know to whom they belong. Well, and to reduce the possibility of theft because, let's be realistic, it's pretty easy to lift small items from people who are struggling with dementia.

When I bought my label maker, I took the next-to-last one. There was a mom who reached for the last one, muttering about how overwhelmed she was. I glanced over and saw her daughter in the cart, happily going through school supplies. The mom looked at me and said, "It's my first one. I can't believe how much work it is to get her ready for school and how hard it is to let her go." I just nodded.

"Yes," I thought, "it's hard to get them ready for the next stage of their lives and it's hard to let them go and be what they are need to be."

I'm so fortunate that we can afford assisted living for the folks. That their neighbors still, for now, go visit with them occasionally. That we have such a great care giving team for them. That I can worry, just a little less.

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