"Age In Place"- just one of the terrible phrases that makes sense now
I've been down about Mom recently. I feel like we have turned some sort of terrible corner. I still struggle to make a connection of any sort of depth or meaning with Mom, and now she needs more care- requiring me to really dig deep to try and find the motivation to make this happen. The last time Mom needed a bump-up in care she was so much more "awake". We were so worried about her reaction and if she would like where she was moving to. Then we were sweating introducing her to her aide that was going to work with her. We introduced her aide as a "friend" and I couldn't imagine that she would go along with that. But she did! She basically just seemed relieved. Which of course made us feel like we had waited WAY too long to get an aide and that she had been so lost and searching for some sort of direction that she didn't actually care who was going to do that- just that someone would be with her to guide her.
And now. We need to move Mom again. Because the place she is living in won't work for her to "age in place". What a terrible phrase. It basically means "you can die here". They should call it "last stop" or "give away the moving boxes". So we are faced again with paring down her belongings, with deciding what goes, and what stays (if you are also at this point, I found this website helpful for basic information). I had dinner with Mom and her aide the other day. We were sitting at a restaurant and I offered Mom a glass of wine. She made the face she makes when she doesn't understand what I'm saying. So I asked her again "Mom, would you like a glass of red wine?" Nothing. No flash of recognition, or a sign that she remembers liking wine at all. You see, what I knew of Mom is not true anymore. What I thought she knew of me is gone. So I'm having dinner with this stranger who looks a ton like my Mom, that is nothing like her. The Mom that I know would come home so late from work and have a few crackers, a piece of cheese and some wine. She would immediately take off her shoes upon entering and put her feet up, so eager to hear about my day. That Mom hated chain restaurants, would have turned her nose down at the offer of soda and would have been so excited that I'm finally "into dresses" as she had always hoped. This Mom- I don't know who she is. Her aide laughs when I offer her wine and tells me that Mom only drinks Ginger Ale now. She offers Mom Ginger Ale and Mom is super excited about that. Her aide tells me that Mom likes the restaurant we are having dinner at, but she really loves the Cheesecake Factory. I pretend to be super interested but inside am just wondering how everything that I know about this person is no longer true. And I'm also now completely understanding why Mom's pants are tight.
These little facts about what someone likes, what their favorite things are or what they enjoy- they become how we take care of that person. To me they are how I love them. I order food differently when I'm with my husband- trading the salad and fish I want for the pork and empanadas he wants. I make oatmeal for my boys because they love it, not because I like getting up early to make the steel cut kind that takes an extra 45 minutes. I make dairy free and nut free cookies for my baby bear so that this allergy ridden kid doesn't feel left out when everyone else is having a treat (in case you are wondering- coconut oil is better than vegan butter as a substitute and you MUST add millet to all baked goods. MUST!). That is how I show my family and friends I love them. I remember what is important and let those small details be my guide.
So what happens when those things you knew for sure are no longer true? I have 38 years of information about Mom and yet I have no idea what she wants to drink. Someone once told me "A nice way to connect is to sit with her and hold her hand." Well, that sounds terrible to me. We weren't the kind of family that would ever do that. We hug with only one arm. We leave at least one couch cushion between us and the person next to us. One of my best emails to Dad was me telling him I was so proud of something and him writing back "wow."
All of this to say I miss them. I miss knowing them both. I miss having someone know me, and knowing what is important to me. I'm trying to see the phrase "age in place" for what it is. I am also aging in place. And part of this aging is letting others step in and help. Letting them learn what Mom really likes right now, and not what she liked when she wasn't sick. But what I don't want to do is just close myself off, Connecticut style, and say that I just have to adjust to this new Mom. Because I really miss who my Mom was. She was awesome and smart and kind and rigid and it sucks that she is not here. As part of my aging in place I'm learning (for the one hundredth time) to let others in, to keep talking about what this is like. So I'm back, writing again. Resisting the instinct to burrito up.