Yesterday we went to visit my mother-in-law for the first time since we moved her into assisted living on Wednesday.
I’m sure this sounds callous and uncaring to a lot of people: “You didn’t see her for THREE DAYS?!” It’s difficult for some to understand why this is actually recommended, and necessary. If we’d shown up the very next day, it would’ve been brutal for all of us. She would’ve wanted us to take her home, and been upset and confused as to why we couldn’t do so. We would’ve felt even worse than we already do. She needs to adjust. We need to adjust. Our roles as caregivers are changing. And also? After the events of the last week, we needed to decompress.
The visit went about as well as we could have hoped for. She has not magically happily settled in, and is not blithe and serene about her new home, but she wasn’t upset by our being there, and didn’t demand to be taken home. She was sitting in a sunny window seat with her new friend, Terry (who told us that nearly everyone on the floor was expecting twins). They were annoyed by the fact that they couldn’t just leave whenever they wanted (something we would hear from at least three other residents during our visit), but when we got up to leave, they were engaged in folding up the paper towels I’d gotten for them, and accepted our hugs goodbye with no questions or hysterics.
She was neatly dressed and clean, as were all the other residents we saw. She is getting physical therapy, she can muck around in the garden, she’ll be kept busy and stimulated all day. The nurse on site reported that Marcia was adjusting well, although she was quite grumpy on Friday because they wouldn’t let her move the couch in the common area. Which, you know, was pretty much what was happening when she lived with us.
As for me – I am slowly trying to adjust to this new world in which I am not preparing her meals, getting her dressed, and trying to get her to agree to bathe. I am not used to waking up and not having to listen for her footsteps, not rushing upstairs and keeping her from rummaging in the trash and the litterbox. I no longer have to keep on top of her constant scratching and picking at herself, pulling her hands away from her ankles and her face. I stand in my bedroom, helpless, not remembering what it’s like to be able to leisurely dress myself. We were able to mow the lawn and trim the hedges this weekend without having to keep her from wandering into the street because every tiny twig or stray piece of trash throws her into a fit.
I don’t know when I am going to stop feeling like a selfish git for doing what we had to do for ALL of our sakes. Taking a nap feels like the most goddamn selfish thing in the world. Intellectually, I understand that this was not a “selfish” decision in the classic sense of the word. It most definitely was, in part, an act of self-preservation. I simply was not going to be able to go on the way we were without breaking. Kevin, too. We were exhausted and stressed out and grief-stricken. We still are, to an extent. It is going to take us a long time to heal from the effects of dealing directly with this illness on a daily basis. We did it for nearly four years.
It’s been said before, but it bears repeating: you truly learn who has your back when you’re in the midst of a huge crisis. Even a simple Facebook message letting us know that we were being thought about/prayed for meant so much. Then there were the people who went above and beyond – bringing us meals, offering to sit with Marcia so we could run errands, donating to our Alzheimer’s Walk page…but everyone who reached out and made some kind of connection helped. It’s going to take me a long time to double back and thank everyone who has been so kind to us. Alzheimer’s is a scary, horrible disease and to know that you’re not completely alone means everything.
I owe everyone hugs, heart emoticons, Starbucks gift cards, bags of Mint Milanos, and shoulders on which to sob. I’m getting there.