Wednesday, October 19, 2011

One floor—or three? Ask once, or thrice?

In my last post I said that Dave was driving me "home."

That wasn't quite true.

I wanted to go home. I really did. Living with my mother (and her dementia, and her grief over the loss of my father) at the lake all summer, while juggling a heavy workload, had stretched my patience (and, apparently, my ankle) to the snapping point. She needed more support than any of us had realized, and fearing her inability to live alone upon her return home, my siblings and I decided it was time to move her into assisted living.

This is not an easy conversation to have with a parent, nor one best initiated by phone, so the task fell to me. Explaining our need to move her was tough, considering that my mother would probably place such a confrontational heart-to-heart somewhere lower than toenail removal on her bucket list. Plus, she didn't want to go. I'd said, "The only other option is if one of us took you in, but frankly, I don't think you like any of your children enough to survive that." She said, "No, I don't." (Score one for Mom for lobbing back some equally confrontational truth.) These conversations wrung me out—over and over and over, since she could never remember the rationale—and sapped what pre-fracture energy I had.

Now that I was just a week post-surgery and in significant physical pain, I had no energy to spare. More than anything I wanted to hang out with my husband. Relax. Soak up a positive vibe in an atmosphere that felt a tad more sane and a lot less tense.

But to do that, I'd also have to choose vertical living that in no way supported my current, non-weight-bearing needs.

We hadn't wanted another vertical home. For 27 years I'd lived in a farmhouse in which we utilized each of the four floors. But you only have to fall down the steep twisting stairs once, and hit the stone wall at the bottom, to own the truth that this isn't the safest choice for an aging body.

So when Dave and I identified the borough of Doylestown as the place where we could enjoy the walkable, small town life we now desired, we sought there the age-in-place comfort of single floor living. But in this town of old Victorians and newer town homes, the only one-floor options were 1) ranch homes that came with mowing (after mowing four acres at the farm all those years we were quite done with that), or 2) 55+ communities well outside the bounds of that small town walkability. We caved on the issue of one floor living in favor of the lifestyle that living in the borough would provide, and determined to make good use of the town home association's gym to keep arthritis at bay so our knees could handle all those stairs.

Of course knees didn't end up being the first problem. Who knew that less than two years later, my fractured ankle would assert a critical need for a one-floor layout?

And guess who could offer me that?

My mother.

I was thankful for the opportunity to rest up at her condo before tackling our Doylestown stairs. But her memory impairment (or the grief, or both?) made it so that she could not anticipate any of my needs.

I had to ask for everything. One. Item. At. A. Time.

Despite the fact that I simplified my meals, and ate the same thing every day to ease her grocery shopping burden, this is how many requests I needed to make for breakfast alone:
"I'll just have one of my yogurts, please."
"That's all?" she says.
"I'll eat up some of that granola, too, if you want."
"No, not the Triscuits, that granola you bought. The one you didn't like."
"You put it over the fridge."
"I know because I watched you."
"No, that's the one you like. Never mind, I just didn't want the other to go to waste."
(She does not "never mind.")
"No, the one in the taller box with the red writing. The Kashi. Thanks."
[sound of granola hitting bowl]
"Oh, I'm sorry, Mom, I can't eat a whole bowl. I just wanted to sprinkle a little on top of the yogurt. Like I did yesterday. Thanks."
"Could I have some juice too, please, so I can take my pills?"
"Now I need my pills. I'm so sorry, they're in by the bed. And while you're there can you grab the extra pillows so I can prop up my leg?"
"Thanks for the pills. And whenever you can get to it, I could use those pillows. I'm sorry you need to make an extra trip."
"Kathryn, for crying out loud. I'm sorry, too, but there's nothing to be done about it."
She plops down the pillows on the couch where I sit and goes to the kitchen table to eat her own breakfast and read the paper. I've clearly harassed her enough.
Meanwhile, I watch news. It depresses the hell out of me. She is not watching it, she's reading the paper, but this frugal woman who followed me from room to room all summer, flipping off lights at the camp that I'd have to flip back on moments later but with my hands full, blares TV news during all her waking hours. The sound keeps her company.
A half hour later she comes into the room. She takes in my yogurt, its sprinkle of granola, my juice, my pills. "You haven't eaten anything," she notes.
"Um, could I please have a spoon?"
"You are so polite," she snaps.
My mother needed support while awaiting her move. She needed help with medication and bills. I needed help washing my hair.

Neither of us treasured our dependency.

But for twelve more days, we were stuck with each other.

(Know anyone interested in single-floor living in Macungie, PA? My mother's condo is for sale.)

2 comments:

ben buckle said...
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