The First Visit

It’s an uncomfortable feeling. I arrive at the exterior door, check through the window to make sure there are no residents prepared to exit, enter a code, slip in, and quickly close the door behind me. I walk down the hallway to Mom’s doorway and knock. I notice another resident on the couch in the living room, halfway between sitting up and laying down, hunched over. There is no answer from Mom’s room, so I crack open the door, and call out. Still nothing. I walk through her apartment and she’s not there. I walk to the common kitchen, no one. I walk closer to the resident on the couch and realize the resident is Mom, curled up in the fetal position, leaning against the arm of the couch, sobbing and shaking. My stomach sinks and I feel a hard lump form in my throat.

“Mom?” I can’t tell if she doesn’t hear me, or if she’s ignoring me. “Mom?” I say a little louder, and place my hand gently on her arm. She jumps and stares at me with a wild look. “Mom, it’s Lori.” She wails louder and starts cry/screaming, “Take me hooooommmmmmme. Please. Please. Take me hooommmmmme. I hate it here.”

I hug her and rock her. She’s gasping for breath. “I hate it here.” I suggest we go outside to sit on the patio; it’s a nice day. I enter the code to exit and we sit, staring at the lawn. We don’t talk. We just sit. After a few moments, she wants to go back inside. I enter the code and the door doesn’t open. I try again. And again. I see a nurse’s aide in the hallway and knock loudly. I learn there is a different code for each door. I’m holding back my own tears.

We go to Mom’s apartment and sit on her bed together. She’s so upset, she can barely manage to get words out. A neighbor resident, L, joins us. “She’s not happy here,” he points out. What is the appropriate response to this? I can plainly see she’s not happy. I can’t think of anything polite so I simply nod and bite my lip.

The side of Mom’s face is black and blue and the greenish tint that comes from a healing bruise. On her first night here she got into a fist fight with another resident. No one saw how it started. Mom touches her face and murmurs, “It still hurts.” L shares his opinion of the resident Mom got into a fight with. “He’s a mean one. Really crude. He asked another resident for oral sex!” Again, I have no idea what the appropriate response is.

Mom is agitated. She points her finger and says, “He was hurting the children!” L says there are no children here. Mom slaps her fist on her leg. “There are too! He was hurting the children so I told him to pull his pants down, and I spanked him. Yes I did.” L tells her that’s not nice. I’m watching the interaction, not sure what to do. “I did!” she yells. I don’t want to witness another fight. I do the only thing I can think of. I change the subject. “Mom, remember when we lived in the big house in Rural Hall? The one with the creek in the back?” “Oh, yes. That was the best house.” “That was the best house! And you found it for us. Ashley and I would play out in the creek, and have so much fun. Remember when we captured turtles and gave them pedicures?” Mom is smiling now. “We would paint their toenails pink then release them back into the woods, confident that we would find them again.” L says he’s leaving. I ramble about any memory I can think of, not stopping talking, inviting her to interject and say, “Oh, yes!” And then, suddenly, she stands up and puts her jacket on. “I’m ready. Let’s go.”

“Where are we going, Mom?” “LORI! GOSH!” She’s exasperated. “It’s time to go to work. C’mon. Let’s go.” And yet again, I fumble for the right words. I’m trying to live in her reality, and she can’t leave the property. “Just a minute, Mom. I need to go to the bathroom.” I stay in there for a few minutes, hoping that Mom will have forgotten that she wants to leave. I come back into the main room and Mom says, “My turn!” and when she comes out she’s raring to go. “C’mon!” I tell her that we’re not going anywhere, and she sits on the bed next to me and cries.

I hug her. “I know, I know.” Ever so quietly, she whimpers, “Please? Please take me home. This isn’t my home. I don’t know these people. Please…”

14 thoughts on “The First Visit

  1. Lori, it’s beautiful fearless writing about the unbearable pain of what you’re going through. It echoes my experience visiting my high school coach in a similar institution three years ago. During my first visits, Ernie was amused and perplexed — “Broshar, how did you find me here?” And the wrenching “can you get me out of here?”

    I could not.

    With each succeeding visit, he showed signs of decline. He’d talk with me but he stopped using my name, I didn’t know if he recognized me or not. Probably not. And all around, disorganization and mayhem. Probably the worst environment for someone losing their memory, surrounding them with others offering the same.

    I don’t have solutions to offer, I don’t think there are any tips to give. It’s terrible and heart-wrenching. As you continue to write, we read, and we feel, your pain is shared by us. Onward.

    Jim Broshar

    • Jim, thank you for these kind words. It is gut wrenching, and as more and more people – friends – will be confronted with this, I want to share my experiences. So that people know that it is hard, no matter what decision you make.

  2. Lori,
    Wow. I’m so sorry. That is so difficult. So painful. I hope that your writing about this helps you because I have no doubt that it helps others who have gone through something similar or will go something similar. Hugs. Big hugs.

  3. We love you through the good times and the rough times, Lori. How you are getting through this is truly a miracle of loyalty and perseverance. Try to take care of yourself, too and get some rest if you can.

  4. When we moved my father to the memory care unit he was in a double room. In a couple of weeks they noticed his roommate had several bruises probably caused by my father. After that, my father was in a single room. He always wanted to get out of the unit. We had to remind ourselves that he was in the safest place. He finally seemed to accept his surroundings but it was hard.❤️

    • It is hard. It’s been a hard transition for each of us. The house that we used to share feels empty. She doesn’t like the new place. I know that time will help with both of these things, and right now it’s just hard.

  5. Oh Lori – this is such a difficult time. It’s fraught with the helplessness that you can’t change your mom’s condition, and you can’t make her comfortable with her new home until she finds her way to be comfortable in it (if ever).

    Both my parents are gone now. Mom was bi-polar and suffered bouts of depression and mania throughout my childhood (although mania was less frequent). At one point we placed her in a memory care facility near my childhood home so Dad could go to visit (thankful to be allowed b/c a diagnosis of bi-polar often does not allow you to reside in memory care units.) But then Dad developed Alzheimer’s and declined pretty rapidly, and we moved him up to a facility near me with varying levels of care. He was in the assisted living side, and we told him we wanted him to check out the place first-hand to know if it would be good to move mom to the memory care side. I’m sure he knew it was a convenient ruse – he knew he was slipping, despite all his carefully written notes and reminders to do this or that.

    We got them under the same roof, and mom continued in her typical “sick” mode – mostly cranky/angry/scowling, silent and tight-lipped, punctuated with violent outbreaks. Once in a while the pleasant side would pop out and she might smile or enjoy a memory like you shared with your mom. But those moments were rare.

    Ironically, my dad declined rapidly and was moved into a room with her (I would have blamed his decline on that move since she can be very aggravating, but he moved after his decline.) He went first, and she didn’t even seem to notice. She passed 3 years later.

    All you can do is keep on showing up. Keep on sharing memories, keep on holding her hand. It’s tragic, it’s so sad – but it’s a phase to pass through in so many of our lives. You’re on my mind and in my prayers.

    • Oh, Jackie. What an ordeal. Thank you for sharing this. It is so sad, and I’m wondering how so many people go through this and keep moving forward. I really appreciate your words of support. ❤

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