Just about ten days before my father passed away in July 2018, my mom moved from the condominium they owned to an independent living community.
Because my mom was living with MS and other health struggles, she needed to be living in a safe place, with medical support should she ever need it.
The hope was my father would finish his time in the step-down hospital and move to the rehab unit near my mom. He would then have assistance from the nursing and therapy staff in the community where my mom would be living. Eventually, he would join her in the apartment we selected for my mom and dad. This would make the commute more feasible for our family members overall.
For the past decade or so, my mom has been living with MS. My dad was her primary caregiver until he had a heart attack in May 2018.
Meantime he was dealing with his own physical struggles and not maintaining his own self-care. Self-care is paramount when being a caregiver to anyone – children, aging spouse or parent/grandparent. Keep an eye out for a future post reflecting on this.
After that heart attack, he experienced many medical complications. He had several surgeries that kept him in and out of the hospital for over 12 weeks.
My sister and I alternated hosting my mom sleeping at each of our houses. This “sleep-swap” occurred while visiting my dad in the hospital and carrying out ordinary routines and duties of our own lives as wives and mothers.
During this time, I also had to trek my daughter to and fro to listening therapy and Cochlear Implant mapping appointments at a more distant hospital facility. My oldest daughter had her second implant surgery just two days before my dad’s heart attack in May of 2018.
This surgery was a much smoother experience than her first, which was in December 2016. But the recovery and therapy became quite traumatic given I was spending so much time caring for my mom and fitting in visits with my dad.
Understandably, it was an emotional time.
I was not able to juggle it well enough to support a child who experienced the effects of her own loss and healing after surgery. I will write more about this in the future.
Sadly my dad took a turn for the worse and was moved to hospice. We were grateful my mom was already settled in an independent living apartment before his passing. It sounds a bit crazy but sure made things easier.
Given my dad’s medical hell, we all know for sure he is in a much better place of peace. And we know for sure my mom is also in a better place where she has access to help when we can not be there. And she has a vibrant social life —probably more than when she was living with my dad.
My mom was settled in an apartment without a need to use stairs. She had access to meals. Social opportunities were more available than ever before. More important than anything, she had access to medical/nurse care should that become necessary.
After falling a few times, we indeed were glad she was not completely alone.
In the early days of visiting my mom, the kids would giggle at the antics of the residents. They were always gathering in the halls, in the lobby, and during meals in the dining room. My kids often commented this felt like a college scene.
Despite the laughter and fun, with the residents, after my dad passed away, we found ourselves becoming exhausted, overwhelmed, and defeated, helping my mom acclimate.
Knowing when her cries for supplies were true emergencies or a call for loneliness. Not only was she trying to find her place in this new home but also adjust to a new life without her husband of 50 years.
My mom had a lot of changes in a small amount of time.
She was grieving even if it did not always appear that way to others. I think she still IS grieving. Life as she knew it would never be the same.
She lives with MS and beginning signs of dementia, which seems to progress more each day.
She’s never lived on her own, but was beginning to enjoy the new independence with neighbors/friends and activities residing in this place for the aging.
At some point in the first September, I was greeted after mass by our priest. This priest, a shepherd-like man, came to my dad’s bedside when he was in hospice and who officiated his beautiful graveside service. He asked me how my mom was doing. I think he could see the exhausted look on my face that things were not going very well.
I shared that my mom was telling me daily how she didn’t like where she was living and telling me she would prefer to live with me. I know families where their mother came to live with them after the parent passed away. I wondered if this is what should be done. I prayed and pondered, discerned, and discussed what the next right step might be for my mom.
The struggle was real, knowing the right thing to do.
I was overwhelmed, confused, and broken. I felt unable to even find time to grieve the loss of my dad. Let alone supporting the grief my daughter was experiencing with the complete natural loss of her hearing. Despite getting her second cochlear implant, which helps in positive ways we could not predict, she was coming to terms with her life always being “turned on” or “wired for sound!”
I was missing my dad, grieving him so much. I was getting kids settled in school in for the new school year, as that September brought some changes and preparation for choosing a college.
I really wanted to have some peace after a tumultuous spring and summer and quite frankly the past several years surrounding my daughter’s hearing loss journey. While deep in my heart, I wanted to save my mom from all of her pain, from all of her grief and loneliness, I knew I could not.
And I knew that she needed to walk through her loneliness and her grief. She needed to find ways to manage, adjust, and grieve as anyone can honestly do on their own.
I would encourage her to visit the daily rosary in the morning and attend mass when available or go play bingo whenever she had a chance. These things seemed to become part of her routine.
It would just take time for her to adjust.
After sharing these things with my wise and shepherd-like priest, he gave me one piece of advice that day that has since stuck with me.
He said, “Tell her, Father said she has until Thanksgiving.”
“You know, pretend like she is in college. It takes time to acclimate to any new environment. I think she needs to just stay until Thanksgiving.”
I am not sure if my beloved priest was saying, “She needs to stay until Thanksgiving” for my mom or for me and my heart over all of the changes.
Maybe he was saying it for both. We needed time to adjust, to grieve, to heal.
Well, needless to say, she and I both got to Thanksgiving.
And here we are approaching the second Thanksgiving that my mom has been residing in her independent living community.
She is still adjusting, somedays are better than others.
Today, I saw the lovely lady who lives across the hall from mom. With weary and teary eyes, she told me she really missed home and did not like living there very much. This sweet 90-something-year-old lady shared with me; my mom told her yesterday she misses her home too.
I rubbed the back of my sweet little friend, walking alongside me, “I know it must be hard. You two need to stick together. You have each other just across the hall.”
She smiled, and she slid into her room and blew me a kiss.
I entered my mom’s apartment and couldn’t help but think, “Tell her she has until Thanksgiving.”
As I greeted my mom with a smile, she looked back at me a little more weary than the year before. I swallowed back a lump in my throat and realized she thankfully made it to one more.
This message is dedicated to you, my friend, to let you know I see the heartache you are experiencing in the middle of hard days. Raising families and supporting aging parents is not easy. It can take a lot out of you. You are not alone.
This message of compassion is dedicated to you, my friend, who I know is also straddling the line of joy and grief. Like you, I have lost a loved one who meant the world to me. Thanksgiving can be really hard without those loved ones seated at our table. Hold onto the precious memories.
This message of love is dedicated to my dad. I miss his smiling face at my table, not just on holidays. Once or twice a week, he took a seat at my table in some way. Either he cleared his plate with us or dropped by for takeout from our homemade restaurant. I miss my dad’s place at my table, and I miss my mom seated by his side even when it wasn’t always easy.
This message of gratitude is for you, my friend, for hanging in with me, for reading my words and for telling me how those words touched you these few months.
May you have a Blessed and Happy Thanksgiving surrounded by those who brighten your day and see the beauty in who you are.
May you find peace as we enter the Advent Season waiting for a Savior who will make all things.