Tuesday I took my dad to see the last two living facility options for he and my mom. We started our tour at The Waterford Grand, an assisted living and memory care residence that is a possibility for my mom. As with every place we have visited (this was number 4) I see Dad’s shoulders begin to sag as his eyes scan the rooms, the dining area, the current residences. It is hard for him but he has very specific things he wants for my mom and there is no better way to get a feel for the facility than to take the tour. I know he is visualizing Mom here. Getting a mental picture of what this next phase of her life will look like. It is not a pretty picture. No matter how grand the accommodations, how caring the staff, this is not the future he envisioned. He often says the shine as been taken off the golden years.
Our tour guide is a nice young gentleman who shows us around the facility, pointing out the amenities and showing us a couple of different room options – private and semi-private. Dad doesn’t like the semi-private one at all. Two suites with a shared Jack and Jill bathroom. You can’t lock the barn style entry doors and he voices that concern. At this point it becomes obvious that this nice young man doesn’t really understand much about the needs of Alzheimer’s patients but he is solutions oriented so suggests putting a wedge up against the side of the door to keep it closed. I seriously had to refrain from slapping him upside the head! My mother has lost most of her reasonable thought processes due to this disease. She doesn’t shower because she can’t remember the steps it takes and the order to do them in…do you think she’s going to remember to remove the wedge so she can open the door so she can access the restroom?!? Herein lies one of a myriad of problems within the elder care community…but that is a post for another day. He means well so I refrain from slapping him or pointing out his assessment error.
We conclude the tour and as we are getting in the car Dad says that if a semi-private room is the only option available then maybe it would be OK as long as it is a woman in the other suite. Jealousy? Fear for her safety? Protection of her dignity? Probably a mix of all. He takes his duty to care for her very seriously. I tell him he has worked hard and they can afford the slightly higher fee for a private room; we are in no immediate hurry and can wait for one to become available. That seems to make him feel a little better. Restores his pride. Due to his years of hard work and thrifty living they have options. He can take care of his wife in this new normal.
Our next stop is Willamette Oaks, an independent living solution for Dad that is right next door to The Waterford. It is within easy walking distance for him to visit mom. Willamette Oaks is an establish senior community with a comfortable, home-like vibe and an involved resident community. We meet with Kay. She is a young expectant mother who has a calm, old soul, demeanor. We sit at a table in the dining hall so she can get to know Dad. The conversation is pleasant and at one point she looks my dad in the eyes and says “This must be very hard for you.” Not superficial small talk, genuine care and compassion. Dad begins tear up and cry. She doesn’t panic or abruptly move on to a safer topic. She leans towards him and reaches out a hand…and says nothing, she simply allows him to work through it and regain his composure. I love this young woman.
Dad takes a deep breath and says, as he has several times lately, “If I am going to lose her, I’d just as soon lose her.” And then he adds “I can’t even tell her what we have been doing.” He tears up again.
And that pierces my heart.
For 59 years they have made decisions together. They have had a relationship of trust. He is trying to do the right thing, see that Mom is cared for, and all the while he feels like he is betraying her.
I don’t even know how we navigate the next steps. Mom will need to be assessed by a nurse so an intake and care plan can be constructed. We will need to move furniture and belongings into her new home and make it feel cozy and comfortable. We will need to distribute so many of her things, collectibles; art work; quilts and crafts to family. Where is Mom during this process? With her decreased mental function and inability to really understand what is happening and why it must happen, being part of the process will be frustrating and upsetting to her…and not a good situation for those of us trying to make it happen. Shutting her out of the process feels wrong too, like we are setting her off to the side, or putting her in some kind of limbo, or behaving as if she has already passed away. Neither option feels good, but is something that must be figured out, and soon!
I don’t have a conclusion to this story. I don’t know how everything is going to go down. I’m going to take one step at a time, consult with experts and meet with family members. This is uncharted territory for all of us. I’ll keep you posted as we move forward. If you ever find yourself in this, or a similar, situation, it is my hope that I have helped in some way. Maybe in pointing you to a resource, or giving you a small road map or possibly just instilling some peace of mind knowing that you are not alone.