I’m not sure if I can get any of this out in a coherent way, but here goes…
To start, my mother-in-law is now in assisted living. She is being looked after by professionals. She will be kept active and well-fed and clean. This was the plan.
What didn’t go according to plan? The transition.
Beginning last week, things got real bad, real fast. She was losing control of certain bodily functions. I have never done so many loads of laundry (sheets, blankets, mattress protectors, pants) in so short a time span, ever. At times, we had both washing machines – hers and ours – going full throttle. We took her to her doctor, who gave a vague diagnosis of gastrointestinal distress. We fed her bananas, toast, tapioca pudding, and by Sunday evening, it looked like she might pull through.
Monday morning was chaos. She was hysterical. We couldn’t get her to leave with us to go to the emergency room. We had to call an ambulance. I rode with her, trying to distract her by pointing out that she was in a vehicle full of handsome men. She semi-leered. “HELLO THERE.” We laughed. What then followed was 12 full hours in the emergency room, trying to keep her from bolting, trying to get the staff to understand that she had dementia, she couldn’t directly answer their questions. At one point, she’d soiled herself, and we tried to get a nurse to help. The nurse looked at my mother-in-law and asked, “Are you wet?” My mother-in-law said no. The nurse looked at me and said, “She says she’s not wet.” I said, “She’s STAGE SIX ALZHEIMER’S. If you’d asked if she had kids, she would have given you the same answer.” The nurse smirked at me and left. SHE LEFT. My husband had to get quite loud to get someone in to help us. That same nurse came back, and my mother-in-law gave her loads of attitude. A brief moment of justice. This is what I’m told; at this point I’d retreated to the waiting room, where I had a complete meltdown.
After seemingly endless administrative hurdles, she was admitted to the geriatric ward. She stayed there, being treated by a couple of very kind and patient nurses, until Wednesday.
Tuesday I was in charge of packing what she’d need for assisted living. I had to go through a whole house, a whole life, and distill it all down to a half-dozen boxes. What did I remember her handling the most? What clothes to pack? I had to stop several times to cry.
I don’t remember when I’ve cried so much. When my grandfather died? Keith’s funeral? I don’t know.
Wednesday we packed a small moving truck with her bed, her dresser, and the boxes I’d packed. I spent that morning in the memory unit, in her room, getting it set up and making her bed the way she likes it made. I knew that in a matter of hours, she’d be brought in here. She would recognize these things as her own, but not the room. Not the view out of the window. Would she even question it? In all the time at the hospital, she never asked about “home.” When she was discharged and got into my brother-in-law’s car, she didn’t question the fact that he was taking her in the opposite direction. She arrived at the assisted living center and immediately complimented the carpet. We left her having cake and ice cream with her new neighbors.
Yesterday she had an accident and wouldn’t let anyone near her. My husband got the call from the center. In hindsight, this is what they need to do in the first few days – let us know if something is going awry. But at this point, my emotional circuitry was completely stripped of its insulation. I had a full-blown panic attack and had to leave the office. I was quite convinced that they were going to make us take her back. They eventually convinced her to change her clothes. But she is now going to be at another “tier” of services. Incontinence maintenance. Or something. That’s going to cost us more. Okay.
She has been there almost two full days now. I have been instructed to keep my distance for a couple of more days. Because by the end of our caregiving stint, she was calling me “Mommy.” I cannot be her mommy. I need to be her daughter-in-law again, or – barring that – a familiar, friendly face. I am her advocate now.
To channel my inner Yoda: feeling all of the feels, I am. Yeesssssss.
I have these brief moments of panic – I have to be upstairs with her – followed by the understanding that she’s not upstairs anymore. Then, relief. Guilt at feeling relief. Sadness. Fear that something is not going to work out and she will have to move back upstairs. Guilt at feeling afraid of this. Overwhelmed by the change in guard and the new responsibilities I will be taking on as a result. I want a break from all of these feelings. Just a little goddamn break. As I told a fellow caregiver friend, “I don’t get to have a chemical commercial break.” After they’d gotten her mother-in-law safely placed, she’d gone into a field with a bottle of Scotch, and drank and cried for over an hour. And I won’t lie – for a second or two that sounded really fucking good. But I have to remind myself that I wouldn’t be able to stop drinking and crying. It would be pretty solidly miserable all around.
I don’t know when I’m going to feel “normal” again. Here’s something: today I put on the Creepy Rabbit Mask that I keep at my desk and scared the shit out of my friend Dan. He jumped up and ran away. That felt good. About as close to “normal” as I’ve felt in months, however briefly.