We have just returned from a week up North visiting my Mom who is 89. She has been on the move this past year from her own home to an assisted living facility to the hospital to a skilled nursing home and now to an enhanced assisted living facility where she is on the memory unit. The memory unit is really a lack of memory unit for the people living there are living with varying degrees of memory loss. We saw my Mom on her first day on the unit. My sisters had moved her to this new place the day before. She asked my wife to take her back downstairs, she did not know why she had to come upstairs when she liked it so well downstairs. She did not remember where she had come from or who had brought her "upstairs". She did not remember that we had visited her three other times in the past six months and had moved her a couple of those times. She did not remember my brother had visited her a month before. She remembers some things mostly old things. She recalls a couple names among her many grandchildren and great grandchildren. She used to send a card and gift to every one for their birthdays. That was only a few months ago she was doing that. Her bones got brittle and she got infections and her lungs filled with pneumonia. She has been on a plethora of meds which change whenever a new doctor intervenes. This does not help her confusion. Her careful hygiene and grooming has gone although she still asks how her hair looks. She likes to eat especially ice cream but she has no interest in her morning coffee and oatmeal. Her paper has been cancelled. She has no tv. I have no idea what is going on in her mind as she sits in her chair looking out the window. But, I don't think she does either. She lives in the moment. I am trying to learn that, too. The things that mattered so much to her, and she was a worrier, now do not cause a moment of concern. Her possessions, of which she had many and favorites, have dwindled to a few pictures, some flowers and a chair. No books or Bible which she read daily close by. Her crystal clear blue eyes sparkle from time to time and she easily smiles at you. Known for her feistiness she can still put you in your place. Her day is waiting on someone to visit or take her to an activity she doesn't really care to go to. There are times when she cannot figure out why you are there. There are lots of things she cannot figure out these days. She is not in pain and she is in a place where the staff are respectful and friendly.
It has been tough for the caregivers principally my two sisters who live close by. There have been so many decisions and conundrums to work through. We are relieved she is in a good place now although the trip to get to this place seems unbelievable.
People will say when they have gone through a tough time that they can't wait to get on with their lives. You hear it all the time. I have said it. I have also thought a lot lately about what it means. Life is not a series of projects that we pick up and take on one at a time, Virginia Stem Owens says. Life goes on not as art but as a continuous wave, she says.
Learning how to care for someone who is dying means learning to live with not knowing how much longer you can hold out. It means living in time differently like you are floating along on the current (Owens, Caring for Mother).
This is life. Life is not a series of episodes that we choose to experience or not. My Mom taught us a lot over the years. She is not done teaching. I am still trying to learn from her.