Sunday, January 28, 2018

transition (or the calm before the storm)

When I look at things from a rational, outside perspective, I know that my husband and I have been doing the best we can with caring for my mom. A year-and-a-half ago, her health was really complicated. She wasn't doing well at all. In the stretch of about 6 months, we had taken her to the emergency room three times. With each visit we learned more and more about her clinical picture. Any one of a number of issues could lead to her death. Still, between the neurologist and her PCP here in Ecuador, we were able to find the best balance between her medication and diet and we saw an incredible improvement in her health, but in her memory; not so much. We stopped eating red meat. I think that was a big part of it. We're mostly eating vegetarian meals, occasionally some poultry, and a fair amount of seafood (which is relatively inexpensive in Quito and easy to find).

Anyway, in February, we're moving my mother to a full-service eldercare residence that is nearby (about 15 minutes from where we live), but in a lower part of the valley, where it is warmer and quite pleasant. Throughout the day there are about 12 personnel and on average there are between 12 and 15 residents. That ratio is really good. The place has a really excellent rating and we're hoping that they can give her the level of attention and activity that she needs. It's not cheap, but with her pension, she can cover the monthly costs. And, in comparison with facilities in the U.S., this place is a rare and promising find. We will, however, most likely see a decline in her memory. That comes with the territory and this is the part that worries me. 

This past week, I haven't been keeping up with the blog because I was spending time organizing this upcoming transition with my dear cousin. She was easily my dad's dearest niece. He and she would chat often and at length. My dad adored her like a daughter and thought the world of her. My cousin and I took my dad's remaining siblings and my mom out to lunch this week. Here's the photo that she took of us at the restaurant:
Lunch with my father's remaining siblings and my mother (far right)
My cousin has been more of a sister to me than my actual sister. She's been the positive role model and constant source of support in my life, and (as I reminded her recently) she is the first person to ever hear me sing a song. When I was six years old, we had just returned from Colombia. My aunt had given me a guitar for Christmas and as I sat on the steps at my cousin's house I started making up a song and singing. My cousin, unbeknownst to me, was sitting at the top of the stairs listening on. When I finished, she clapped and congratulated me. In contrast, the first time my tone-deaf mother heard me sing and play guitar, she yelled at me to stop and told me it sounded like someone was dying. (Ugh. Ya, that latter experience really hurt.)

My mother and I had always had a pretty contentious relationship. In hindsight, she was extremely distrusting, controlling, and not at all supportive of my musical endeavors. She was critical and would sometimes say really mean things. Maybe she used to see all of that very differently. I'm sure she loved me and obviously, she still loves me. I love her, too. I used to say to my sister (and I am a bit embarrassed and ashamed of this), "I love my mom, but I don't have to like her." Thanks to the experience of caring for her these past few years, I can now say that I do like her. Sadly, I think this has everything to do with her dementia being a major factor. She's regressed in a lot of ways. She's like a little kid. She's doesn't act like my overbearing, controlling, hyper-Catholic mother. It also helps that she hasn't said anything mean to me in a while. 

To the outside world, my mom is sweet, kind, absolutely lovely and dearly loved by just about everyone. That is all legit. For me, however, it's been a different experience. When I turned 18, I explicitly told her that I was no longer going to do anything she asked of me. She cried. I was angry though. So often my mother would say to my sister and me, "You are good for exactly three things: nothing, nothing, and nothing." Imagine hearing that, day in and day out. It does a number on your self-confidence. That's for sure. So, yeah, now is the chance to make peace with that part of my past and to acknowledge all of the really good things she did for me and my sister. She was definitely not a bad mother by any means. She did a lot of things well and I am grateful for all of that. The way I see it though, I don't want to repeat her mistakes. Writing about my experience is what I know. This is the space I've created for it. This is part of my therapy. I lived it. I am writing about it. 

This brings me to the point of this blog entry. I'm sitting here on the terrace, enjoying an unusually mild day, I'm anxious to reclaim my life, my free time, my mornings, my evenings, my weekends, my productivity, -and here's the part I'm feeling a little weird about- my space. My mom moves in to the facility on or about February 10th. I'm working with an architect to design a murphy bed for the guest room in our apartment, (the room that my mom has been occupying). The murphy bed will hopefully give me the space to make music, to work, to record, to hang out and to listen to music. At least, that's what we're thinking.

I do feel guilty about planning ahead like this. I feel guilty about sending my mom to live in a residence with folks her age and older; some of them in much better shape than others. Then again, I also think she'll be able to bring a really positive energy to the residence. My mom has survived a ton of tragedy and suffering in her life and, largely, kept her chin up. My uncle, one of my father's brothers, will be moving in to the residence at the same time and I think the two of them will be a support to one another. Their personalities are almost totally opposite, but my hope is that somehow, my father is making this opportunity happen; guiding it from beyond, for everyone's benefit. My mother will get the level of care, constancy and activity she deserves, my uncle will get the stimulation, routine, and medical attention he needs on a daily basis, and my husband and I will finally get to experience married life without having to take care of my mom all the time.

The transition is going to be a challenge. I know that many elderly parents don't always adapt to these sorts of changes. They can become negative, bitter, confused. It makes me nervous, but I have to keep reminding myself, that it is a very reasonable solution to our collective conundrum. Will I miss my mom? Well, I'll be visiting her often. I expect my relatives will also be visiting her and my uncle when they visit the residence. This is a good thing. Also, if I don't end up having more time to work, study, and make music, then I'll know that the issue for me is time management and not necessarily the added responsibility of caring for a loved one. We'll soon find out. 

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