I used to think that, if something happened to my mother, I would happily take her in and give her a place to live. No nursing homes for me, no sir!
After all, my step-son took in his mother, my best friend went through it twice, first with her mother-in-law and then with her own mother. When we got together for family gatherings, things seemed to be happy and normal.
No big deal, I told myself. If it becomes necessary, we’ll do it.
My mother had a stroke in October of 2018.
My husband and I discussed it while she was in rehab and realized that it wouldn’t be safe for her to live alone. We turned our dining room into a bedroom for her so she wouldn’t have to climb the stairs. We closed it in so she would have privacy.
My husband is retired, my son was attending the local community college, and I was lucky enough to work from home. We thought that my mother could move in without any serious difficulties. It was harder than I expected. Mom could feed herself, take care of her own hygiene, and didn’t even have to be reminded to take her meds. However, she constantly needed help with other issues like, how do I turn on the TV, how do I change the channel, how do I use the microwave? I told myself that things would improve, that she would settle in, and most importantly, that she would learn how to do those things again.
“It’s just a period of readjustment,” I told my husband.
Unfortunately, it seemed that we were the only ones adjusting. The better my mother felt, the more difficulties we had in getting along.
I tried to put myself in her place. I reminded myself how much my mother lost. After all, in one fell swoop, she lost her business, her home, and any semblance of autonomy she had before the stroke. She could no longer drive so she couldn’t go anywhere alone. She had two choices: go out with a friend or go out with us.
At first, if we went out, she had to come with us. We couldn’t leave her at home alone. When we ate together, watched a movie together, or just wanted to sit around and talk, she was there.
I quickly noticed myself saying “I love my mother but…” This is our story. Why would you want to read it? It could happen to you.
I love my mother but… I don’t want to be with her 24/7
When my husband and I were first married, we live about half an hour to an hour away from my parents. They were still living in the house they had moved into in 1972. But we saw each other fairly often. They visited us, we visited them, and if we were passing by, we would stop off at their print shop and visit for a few minutes.
After my father died in 2009, we continued to visit and occasionally invite her to go places with us. We–my husband, my son, and I, had our own life. We didn’t try to include her in everything we did or take her everywhere we went. Once we were sure she didn’t need constant supervision, we tried to go back to something more like the life we had before she moved in.
If I said, “See you later, I’m going to the store,” her first response was always, “Can I come?”
We quickly found ourselves sneaking out of the house like teenagers going out after curfew.
At first, we said yes. It seemed mean and selfish to say no.
Then we realized that, by saying yes to her all the time, we were being mean and selfish to ourselves. So we stopped.
The three of us spent more and more time at our computers. My husband and I each have a home office and my son has his computer set up in his bedroom. By the time we became aware of the change, we were spending 12 to 18 hours at our computers 7 days a week. We brought our food upstairs and we no longer watched the downstairs television.
Eventually, the three of us were upstairs and my mother was on the couch in our living room where she spent all of her waking hours, remote in hand, watching—well, pretending to watch television. In actuality, she was doing word search puzzles.
If I asked, “Whatcha watching?” her response was always some variation of “I don’t know.” After she bought herself a smart phone, she played Wordscapes. Despite encouragement from us, she didn’t exercise and the only time she got up was to get food or go to the bathroom.
I love my mother but… this isn’t my mother (anymore)
My mother’s personality has changed profoundly since her stroke. Maybe it’s changed or maybe the thoughts and feelings she used to keep inside because they “wouldn’t be appropriate” have escaped. Either way, Mom has become intolerant, and hyper-critical.
Mostly to and about me.
For example. We went to the grocery store one night. We had been at the home of some of our friends and we stopped to pick up a few things. At one point, Mom was blocking the aisle. There was a display in the middle and some people shopping on the other side of it. So I said, “Excuse me.”
I expected that she would move. I think she didn’t hear me the first time, so I asked her two more times, with more volume each time. Finally, frustrated, I said loudly, “Move!”
She moved over to let me through, but after I had walked away, my son watched as she said to the other people, “I apologize for my nasty daughter.”
This may actually be the more important and concerning change. My mother has lost a lot of her memories. She has forgotten things we did as a family. I’ll start talking about a trip we took and I can see she has no idea what I’m talking about.
She has forgotten that she attended a lunch at West Point where she got to sit next to Neil Armstrong. I was only eleven or twelve at the time but I remember being terribly jealous!
A few lost memories in a lifetime that has lasted for 82-plus years is not a big deal. But the fact that my mother no longer remembers how to type or use a mouse when she used one every day for close to forty years is a big deal. It’s fine if you don’t remember seeing a movie twenty or thirty years ago but if you don’t remember a movie you saw a month ago, it’s a problem.
New memories and skills don’t seem to be forming. And all of this leads to…
I love my mother but… she may not be with us much longer
The stroke has stolen a lot from my mother. At first it seemed that everything was all right. Her throat muscles were a bit weak and her memories of the time between having the stroke and coming home from the hospital were fuzzy, most likely due to the trauma. But she seems to be deteriorating in front of our eyes.
We bought my mother a new chair for her bedroom. She spends most of her time there lately because we got a new TV and she can’t figure out how to use it.
She only moves out of her chair to heat up her meals or go to the bathroom. She doesn’t read, she doesn’t do the word search puzzles anymore; she doesn’t even play the game on her phone anymore. The TV runs around the clock because she can’t go to sleep without it. She spends most of her time sleeping and pretending not to.
She goes to bed earlier and sleeps later. When she isn’t in bed, she’s huddled in her chair, wearing her winter bathrobe and with a blanket wrapped around her.
I know that I will miss her when she’s gone. There is no question that I love my mother, but… there are times when I don’t like her.
Despite how awful all of this feels from the inside, I constantly worry that I’m being a bad daughter. I’ve spent most of my life trying to be the just the opposite and now it seems that I’m failing my mother just when she needs me most.
What do you think?