“A word of advice to everyone: if you can’t remember whether or not you called your mother, you didn’t. But what about when your mom doesn’t remember if you called? And it has only been five minutes.” Those were my opening words a year ago on Mother’s Day when it became clear mom was beginning to experience increasingly severe memory issues.
It is a year later and the memory problems are becoming a little more pronounced. There continue to be times when she knows I am her son and other times she thinks I am her brother. At least I am always family. It is the latter moments that are proving to be the most interesting. A few weeks ago, mom leaned toward me and in low, conspiratorial voice asked “her brother” if I remembered when the two of us “stole dad’s truck and went for a joy ride?” Of course, I responded “yes” and asked her to remind me of the details.
A year later, mom is no longer able to live in her home. She now resides in a wonderful memory care home. It is a home in a very nice neighborhood at the end of a cul-de-sac. Depending on the day, mom likes it there; some days she thinks it’s her house. She told me she is thinking about selling “her house” but there are too many other people living there who don’t have any other place to go, so she thinks she will hang on to the house for a while longer. There are also other days when she realizes at 92 she has outlived her brothers and sisters and all her friends. It makes her sad.
We moved mom into the current home in December, and it took a good six weeks for her to settle in. That had all the potential to be extremely problematic given mom’s streak of western states independence and pioneer spirit. But we were fortunate to be able to engage the help of a wonderful elder care nursing service, an elder care lawyer, and doctors who understood the dynamics of such transitions.
Looking back it was the time between June and December that offered the most surprises and a plunge into the world of Florida elder care laws and regulations – all of which are in place for good reasons, but whose net effect is a labyrinth of hurdles and hoops to navigate. We discovered there are limits to powers of attorney and financial planning when non-hospital health care is involved. Even though one of my sisters was living with mom in mom’s home, because my sister’s name was not on the deed, my mom could turn away the home health care provider – and the provider would have to leave. Fortunately, my mom is always unfailingly polite – and the home health care provider was very good at redirecting mom’s attention.
What if mom had refused to go to the new home? What if mom’s behavior became erratic or potentially dangerous (e.g., driving…!)? There are a whole list of what-if’s – and that is not even getting close to financial matters such as trusts, Medicaid, decision capacity, and her hairdresser. (Seriously, the hairdresser was pretty important.) In the later golden years, how are we children to fulfill the 4th Commandment: honor your father and your mother? How are we to love them in mind, memory, body, and soul? Modern life has made the reality of honoring our elder parents a bit more difficult.
We hope to address the complex of rules and regulations as we host our first event for a new ministry: Faith Community Nursing. This first meeting will offer information about Health Care Surrogates, Advanced Health Care Planning and Directives, and their place in our lives as Catholics. Be you parent or child, please join us Wednesday evening, May 20th, at 7:00 pm in St. Francis parish hall.
My family was able, with the help of lots of people, to navigate the labyrinth to move our mom into a wonderful facility that meets her growing and ever complex care needs. It leaves us to visit and be family – even in the moments we are not remembered. But even in those moments, it doesn’t mean we’re forgotten. Holding a hand, a kiss, a story, a familiar voice, and laugh. It all makes a connection. Amidst the frustrations, the anxiety, the concern, and the uncertainty, there is always an opportunity to love. And that is the deepest calling of a parent, a child, or anyone who would take on the name Christian.
Happy Mother’s Day, mom.