Trying Times

This has been the most difficult twelve days I’ve ever experienced. My Mom has Alzheimer’s. My Dad was her caretaker and they lived at home together and basically didn’t share anything about her condition with others outside the family. Before he passed, Dad and I talked about care options for Mom and decided the best option would be to move her to a community in Asheville where as her Alzheimer’s progressed, they could provide more and more care.

On a Monday, Mom’s pastor and I told her that we found her a new home in Asheville and we’d be moving her.

A full twelve hours, non-stop, of her crying, me holding her, and saying, “I know. I know.” “But Jerry promised me I could live here until I diiiiiieeeeeeddddd.” (he didn’t) “But this is my hoooommmmmmmeeeee.” “What about all my pretty things?” “Why can’t I live by myself here?” These weren’t soft tears. These were heart-wrenching, full of pain, break-your-heart-in-a-million-pieces tears. I couldn’t argue or reason with her; I simply listened and held her and gave her Kleenex.

Then the anger. I had mentioned that Dad had left money in his estate for her to make this move, so that she would always have a home for the rest of her life. She then cried angry tears, screamed and cursed my Dad and said she hoped he was rotting in hell, and threw her wedding ring across the room. I listened, held her (when she would allow me to touch her), gave her Kleenex, and picked up her wedding ring for safe keeping.

Days later: “I can’t find my wedding ring.” I mentioned she took it off and she asked why. I said she was mad at Dad and she didn’t want to wear it. She asked why. I simply said, “You’re angry he died.” She nodded in agreement and I gave her back her ring.

She wanted to visit the new unit before we moved in. My sister met us there six days before the move-in. We pulled into the parking lot. “This place is so ugly!” We entered the lobby. “Why would anyone paint the walls such an ugly color?” We entered the unit. “This? This is where I’m moving? It’s so small!” (it’s larger than any of the places I lived in San Francisco). She collapsed in the middle of the empty living room floor, crying, “It’s so smaaaaalllllll. I’m embarrassed to live here.” I sat down next to her, held her and asked her to tell me more. Why would it embarrass her to live here? After much holding, and comforting, and tissues given, she told me people would think she was poor. My heart broke again. Both she and Dad came from modest backgrounds. They both worked so hard to both live comfortably and provide for us, their three children. I remember Mom clipping coupons and rationing food as we grew up – money was always a source of concern.

As we started packing up her condo in Winston-Salem, she insisted she would take everything. I encouraged her to pick out her favorites and we would pack those first. After she had gone to bed at midnight each night I packed up everything else. When she was out of the house, we would take boxes to Goodwill to donate. We packed her favorites during the day. She labeled boxes and my heart broke again. Once a voracious reader and writer, she had trouble spelling words, and sounded them out like a first grader. “Br..” I heard her saying. I returned to the living room and saw the word “bricle” (breakable) all over a box, written a dozen times in combinations of capital and lowercase letters. She put pieces of blue masking tape on the furniture she wanted to go to the new unit. Each day, more pieces had tape on them. I’d take tape off. She’d put tape on.

She continued to worry that the new place was too small. One night, after she had gone to bed, I marked off our living room with masking tape of the dimensions of the new living room. I rearranged the furniture, based on where windows and doors were. When she woke up, I asked her how she liked the new arrangement. “It’s great.” I explained that was the size of the new living room. She nodded.

“But it’s such a drab color. I want it the color we have here (a super pale yellow).” I confirmed with the new place that it was okay to paint walls. They said they’d call an outside vendor to get it done before Mom moved in. My sister, in Atlanta, bought the paint and dropped it off in Asheville, on the way to Winston-Salem, the next day. Move day was four days away.

By Tuesday night we had everything packed up. “Why are we still here?” I explained the movers were coming on Thursday; that we couldn’t move everything ourselves. “It’s a wasted day. When we leave here, I never want to return. Too many bad things have happened here.”

She saw neighbors in the hall, who said they were sad she was leaving and they would come and visit her in Asheville. She told them that she and Jerry had always planned to retire to Asheville, and sadly he died before he could get there. I didn’t correct her.

The morning of the move, she said she couldn’t find her purse (a normal occurrence). We walked through the condo. It wasn’t in any of the usual places. She started crying hysterically. I feared she packed it in one of the boxes when we weren’t looking. “Why did you pack my purse?” she hurled at me, accusingly. I shrugged and said, “I thought it’d be safe.” “I’m not leaving here until we find it!” She cried for hours and I asked her caregiver to take her to her favorite bakery. She returned and wasn’t crying anymore.

The movers loaded the truck. When they arrived at the new place and did a walk through, the head mover looked at me and said, “There’s no way everything on the truck will fit in here.” I told him I understood and would they be willing to take a few pieces ten minutes down the road for an extra generous tip. They said they’d be happy to. I thanked whatever being is looking over us a million times for small acts of kindness.

I had carried all of Mom’s plants in my car. We set up her balcony, overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains, first. Her rockers, a small table, and dozens of potted plants with brightly colored flowers. She sat and rocked as the movers worked.

That day, the facility let us know the painters had a three week delay and couldn’t paint her unit before move-in. My sister and I asked the movers to put furniture in place, but not up against the walls. We would paint that night. I went to the hardware store and bought tarps, paint rollers, and masking tape. I returned and Mom came into the unit to see how far along the movers were. She mentioned that they did a good job on the paint job. My sister and I exchanged looks. “You’re happy with this color?” my niece asked. “Yes, it’ll do.” We started moving the furniture against the walls and hid the painting materials. I felt pangs of guilt in my stomach. I didn’t do what I said I would do. I hated accepting that Mom couldn’t process events any more.

We started opening boxes. About 20 boxes in, we found her purse. My sister and I did a happy dance, and brought it to her. “Look what we found!” She cooly looked at us and said, “I knew where it was.”

We entered the dining room. All the tables were full, so we sat at a four top by ourselves. Other folks came in after, but no one joined us. I felt madly protective of mom. Would the other residents be nice to her? Would someone join her when she was at a table by herself? Would they overlook her lapses in memory? Or shun her?

We needed to buy a bookshelf. All of her bookshelves in Winston-Salem were built-ins. She has so many books. She reads the same one over and over, but it’s a comfort to have hundreds of paperback novels. As we walked through the antique store emporium, I asked “What about this one?” and she would say it was too narrow, or not the right type of wood, or didn’t have a back. We found a couple that were okay, not great, and I said, “Okay, well let’s remember this, and we’ll keep looking.” She laughed and said, “You can remember it, but I won’t.”

We were getting off the elevator as other residents on the hall were waiting to get on. We stopped to exchange pleasantries. They asked Mom if she was new. She said yes, she had just moved in. They asked when; she looked at me. I explained that we moved in on Thursday. They asked where she was moving from, and she said Winston-Salem. She mentioned that her husband had recently passed away from cancer. They said, “Cancer is a horrible disease, but you know what’s worse? Alzheimer’s. I hope I never get that.” Mom’s response? “I agree. I hope that I never experience that.”

I returned to her new home in the morning and found her sitting on the balcony, rocking and reading the newspaper. “Isn’t this just beautiful?” she said, as she motioned to the mountains. I nodded, and said it was.

I’m hesitant to believe that she’s happy, permanently happy, in her new home. Just as she forgets bad things, she also forgets happy things. I want her to be as independent as possible. I worry I’ve made the wrong choices. I miss my Dad so much and wonder what he would have done in this situation, what he would have said, what decisions he would have made.

34 thoughts on “Trying Times

  1. Dear Lori,
    You may second guess your decision re your mom’s new living arrangement, but I cannot imagine your dad would have chosen any differently. I hope you will soon be at rest with your decision. As sad as losing your dad, plus the difficulty of moving your mom, thankfully this ordeal is behind you. Here’s hoping she continues adjusting well, and that you can rest and reclaim your life, albeit with differences.
    Love, Anne Wilson in W-S

  2. I enjoyed reading your post, though your experience saddened my heart. One thing in particular that caught me was how just nodding and saying “yes” was simply the best thing you could do most times. I experienced that with my dad.

    Thanks so much for sharing your story. You and your family are in my prayers.

  3. This is an absolutely beautiful story about moving your mom into a new place. You did the best you could, Lori, and that’s all any of us can ever do. Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

  4. Your writing will help so many people in similar situations. And your love is evident. So sorry you have to deal with such a rough time. You are an amazing woman. Hugs.

  5. Oh, Lori. My heart goes out to you. Alzheimer’s is always hardest on the caregivers, because we remember everything. I think your Dad would approve of everything you’re doing. Not just the move, which is in your Mom’s best interest, but in the gentle way you all guided her into this transition. Once she settles, I hope you’ll find more peace. I’m rooting for all of you. -Jeanne

    • Jeanne, thank you so much for your kindness and your support. It is hard to remember, isn’t it. I look at my mom and what she doesn’t remember and think, “maybe that’s a better approach anyway.”

  6. Thank you for sharing this story! From reading it I couldn’t help but think about how you felt being around the person you love, not knowing what emotional state she will be in in the next time you see her. Will she even remember the last time you met, or even remember the decisions she made?

    Isn’t it scary how much we rely on our memories? Without them we’re totally lost even to ourselves.

    One thing that gives me hope is that judging by your story you can still be around your mom, and at times even share a good moment together. I’m wishing you more of these, as many as possible.

    • Thank you, Igor. Most of the time Mom remembers who I am. She always (I think) knows that I’m family, and most of the time remembers I’m one of her daughters. I’m not sure how I’ll react when she doesn’t know who I am, probably with a lot of tears. But until then, we’ll share as many good moments as possible.

  7. Beloved Lori,

    How perfectly you and your mother are showing up for one another. Each of you are being taught something about unconditional love by the other. You are making universal decisions about love now that the constructs of “daughter” and “mother” are dissolving. You are a magnificent example of what it means to feel deeply. (This is probably three different notes.)

    Your love is on record.


  8. Lori.
    Thank you for the beautiful writing about a really difficult transition.
    The love, compassion, and dignity that you show your mother, and others is one of the many reasons you are so loved and cherished.
    I wish there was some way for me to lighten you load a bit. Let me know if there’s a way.
    Love, John

    • Oh, John. Thank you for reaching out. I’m trying to be at peace with this transition, and it’s challenging. I know it will come, though. Regarding your offer – How about a dinner at House of Prime Rib next time I’m in San Francisco? 😉

  9. Lori,
    I know your Dad would not approve but also be very proud of how y’all have handled this transition.

  10. Our thoughts and hearts are with you Lori! You are a wonderful person and daughter and I’m sorry you are going through this. Thanks for sharing your story. My dad has dementia and it’s hard on my family especially my mom who is his caregiver. We love you gal ❤️

  11. i hope your mom is happy, writing gives us a way to write our thoughts and feelings, instead of keeping them bottled up inside. you are doing a great job

  12. Oh Lori, sending lots of love and hugs. You are amazing — if only we could all have this strength, grace, and love in the face of heartbreak and adversity.

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