I will soon have to change the "about me" section of my blog. The thing that half defined my existence is changing, morphing, moving on.
My mother, who unfortunately seems to be exhibiting more and more of those genetic symptoms of dementia that claimed my grandmother's soul has dropped a proverbial bomb on us. I knew that having her and my dad under one roof gave us the best chance at fending off their spending any of their last days, however many that may be, in a nursing facility. Life got to the point where Dad could no longer take care of their yard and Mom could no longer get on her knees to scrub the floors. When we were at a crossroads where our little family was outgrowing our tiny home we decided, my husband and I, to make the plunge into an even bigger home in order to move these two in with us.
It was an unbelievably moving and unselfish decision for my husband, who is very particular about the order (and cleanliness) of things, to take on this responsibility that was entirely mine and not his. He could have at any point said, "you can move in with them, by yourself...but count me out." There were times when I knew his patience was running as thin as mine but we both came together as a team to make it work...in our minds it was the right thing to do. We struggled sometimes to focus enough to not take our frustrations out on one another....my sleepless nights of getting up with my dad when he buzzed the intercom, the challenge of never really having a private conversation without an eavesdropper who may twist your words before repeating them...our communication with each other suffered.
So when my mother announced very recently that they wanted to move back to their old place, their house which had not yet sold, I was immediately and overwhelmingly concerned for their safety. All the things I had done and put in place to watch over them were now out of my control. My dad's prescriptions being bubble-packed after I found out she had dumped out all of one prescription and replaced it with aspirin (he's already ON blood thinners, he really dodged a bullet there), my husband volunteering for the crappiest shift at work so that he could be home during the day while I was working in order to take them on errands if they asked (she didn't want to ask), the fact that neither of them should be driving (though on occasion I would find out that my mom had sneaked behind the wheel)...all these things that I had some semblance of control over are way beyond my control now, and I'm very concerned for them both.
One of the last months they were at their old house my dad called me at 5 in the morning to come scoop my mom up off the kitchen floor where she had blacked out from a (still) yet-to-be-actually-diagnosed seizure disorder, and his frail arms couldn't get a grip on her. At least if they were in my home, nobody was really more than a holler away from being able to help. Our new neighborhood is also home to 3 nurses on different sides of us, all of whom I quickly got up to speed on our unique living situation and warned them that my kids were going to be far more likely to come ringing their doorbell for help than calling 911.
Every time he's in the hospital, staff there plans to discharge him to a nursing facility where he's adamant about not going. I have fought for and advocated and dragged him out when my mom failed to let them know that they don't live alone, that they have younger able-bodied family at home to assist them.
Now, my mom says, she thinks she's the only one who does anything for my dad. It was the ultimate kick in the balls. We have walked a fine line between giving them their freedom and independence by letting them do what they can, and helping when they ask (or we find that they need it). She got to the point where she couldn't recall me telling her I was leaving town for work, so would promptly get on the phone to let other family members know that I "never tell her" where I'm going.
She and I have had a very rocky past - my teenage years were something I'd never go back and repeat. Our age difference along with a very different genetic makeup put up all kinds of walls between us. Even still, caring for them in my home, ensuring that some home health visitor wouldn't find that they were in over their heads to take care of their own place and recommend one or both of them should be put in a home....it just was never a question for me. When I was young and needed parents, they didn't think about it twice. Now it was my turn to step up.
Old age does funny things to a person's mind. Unfortunately, she's still maintaining that she's in charge of her own decisions....which to some degree she is, but she's really made some questionable decisions in the past year. I'm anticipating, however, that it will only take until my dad's next trip to the hospital that he'll be in a nursing home, and I won't have the resources to bail him out again. I won't have an extra bedroom for him. We will have to move back into our too-tiny house and sell this roomy home to another family.
She is very private about 'airing our dirty laundry', and for the most part I've kept silent about the trials we've faced. Knowing this blog entry even exists would put her over the edge. There was a time, about a year ago, when she initially started "thinking" about moving back, that a series of comments I made on my Facebook page were printed out for her by a family member, and she quickly, albeit erroneously, took the comments to be about her and not the actual unnamed person I was venting frustrations about. Instead of asking me about it to clarify, she lodged in her head like many many inaccuracies before, that I was talking about her, and she based forthcoming decisions and behaviors on that belief. It's beyond any feeble attempt at explanation how difficult it can be for the sandwich generation, those caring for children and aging parents. It's extra difficult because due to our vast age difference my 'peers' for this situation are in their 50's....also not folks who speak my language.
So how are we going to move forward from here? I don't know. I know that I must take this time to focus on my husband, who has been on my back burner now for too long, and on my children, with whom my temper runs shorter than it should because I worry about everyone in the house. My parents will move back to their old house, which they still intend to sell (though I've asked and not gotten an answer as to what their plan is/where they'll GO after that happens), we will move, and hopefully someone will come forward to fill this newly empty home with love. Though I fully expect those who have never been in my dad's room with me at two in the morning in their undies sleepily loading a nebulizer to be quick to criticize me for "giving up on Grandpa", it's the ones who know me best who know I did the best I could in this situation, and know how it scares the Bajeezus out of me to let these two go back to being on their own. Only they know how I will struggle to come to terms with this new development.
I will say that I never could imagine a better partner to be stuck in the middle of these two generations with than my husband, who has been amazingly patient and kind and understanding and supportive about my wish to keep my parents healthy, happy, and uninstitutionalized. It's a passage that most couples our age don't have to go through, and it has the potential to really ruin a marriage. I believe that in our short time together we've gone through so much that any issues for us in the future will be much easier to handle...and I'm grateful that my children have gotten to witness parents who work together through problems and know that it's not at all unusual to care for an elder in your home...I'm sort of banking on it actually, since I REALLY want to just live with them for the rest of my life.
If anyone is looking for advice in dealing with their own aging parents or grandparents, don't ask me...I'm no expert. I'm not even a decent amateur. Nobody is, and if they tell you they are, they're full of shit. I don't know what "the best way" is. I just know that I wish things had turned out differently here, because I fear for what actuality lies before us.