|My brother and Me. The day he walked me down the aisle. The sibling relationship can be
when your role changes to become caregiver to an aging parent.
This is one of the many topics that are covered on the Comfort Life web site.
We called ourselves the three mouseketeers. My Mom. My Brother. Me. We were always three strands of a braid. We fought, motivated, took care of and and looked out for, each other. Very early on, a piece of our family portrait went missing. You know how trees, when pruned of a broken limb, curl outwards in a different pattern? That was our family tree.
We studied hard, we worked. We struggled. We loved each other. We fought. We grew. We moved dozens of times. We grew determined. We grew disheartened. We grew together, before we grew apart. We were angry. We were poor. We were happy, and often sad. We bounced cheques, dodged phone calls, got creative. We danced to polka music in the living room on a Tuesday night. We read, we studied hard ever motivated to prove people wrong. And when we were so overwhelmed by illness, sadness, debts, bullies, obstacles looming larger than we were, my Mother would dress the cat in silly reindeer antlers and twirl a pirouette through the room leaving us laughing.
Single parent families. Tsk. Tsk. My mother never remarried. Only daughter in a family filled with boys, only child to finish college, she became a teacher and she stayed 30 plus years, loving almost every minute of it. When I was small I would sit at the back of her class and wait for her to finish her day. My brother too. We learned her job was never just a job. It was a passion. Between that and her love of us, I don’t think she ever had enough room for more extracurriculars.
Nobody was prouder when both my brother and I graduated university. It was a given from the time I was five that I would go to university, get a degree and a good job. My Mom was Tiger Mom before we ever heard the phrase. And when we both left her in Guelph and moved on to our own lives and our own families, well again few were prouder that we beat the odds.
Up until 10 months ago, my Mom lived on her own in a condominium in Guelph. She was completely independent and very fit, maintaining a gym membership she valued and used at least three times a week and a driver’s license she was proud of, but there were small things that came up occasionally, tangible reminders time was marching on and impacting her physically and mentally. She called me every day. My brother lived in Toronto with his young family, an infant and a toddler. And I was the opposite direction in London. She was middleground. She liked to visit, but couldn’t manage to make the arrangements herself. She was driving less and less. When she visited she was irritable. And there were days when she called several times, apparently forgetting she had already spoken to me that morning. Names were getting harder to remember and she was losing things. Then one day she went out with a friend and started seeing things, children who weren’t there.
It was time to start planning and to begin taking over some elements of her care. I scheduled some doctor’s appointments and found myself dropping my kids at school in the morning, racing two hours down the road and taking her to a doctor she didn’t want to see. One very uncomfortable February day, she glared hatefully at me as I told the doctor the symptoms I had seen. That was not an emotion I had ever been on the receiving end of – at least as far as my mom was concerned. She was mad, she was embarassed. I tried to be kind and gentle despite exhaustion and worry. Tests were scheduled and few conclusions were arrived at. It was a frustrating few months and then came a specialist, a gerontologist and a whole new vocabulary. Dementia, Lewy Bodies. Alzheimer’s and strokes? Nursing home? Retirement home? London? Waterloo? Toronto? Waitlists? Guelph? Strathroy? Power of attorney. Power of attorney for personal care and lawyers drawing up papers I was angrily slating between IEP meetings for my child. Counting up the dollars to try and map out a placement for my mother in the remaining years of her life.
|My Mom with my daughters. Always a teacher and happily a grandmother too.|
We had no blueprint for the new geography of parenting our Mom and yet there we were. So we argued, a little with each other, a little more with our mother who was becoming more stubborn not less and yet, she was also lonely. It was clear. The stress on our families began to show. Less time with them and more time running up and down the highway visiting banks and lawyers. My brother and I shared the responsibility, as much as possible. Joint power of attorney, meant that we both were in charge and both needed to sign on most of the forms. I began looking at some retirement homes on my own in London. Close to me. When I didn’t know which ones had a good reputation or a decent price, I did what I always do and went on line. At the time, I had no idea about sites like Comfort Life, a comprehensive resource for members of the sandwich generation like my brother and I. Wish that I had known half of what I know now. Comfort Life has all you need to know, with articles about the psychology of dealing with a parent diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. There are great guides to help you figure out what level of care your parent needs and what the differences are. As well, Comfort Life contains great information about events for seniors and it even has a great search tool to help you find what you need in the city nearest you.
Before I knew about Comfort Life, I tweeted a question about retirement homes and rapidly heard from some of my twitter followers about Masonville Manor and Windermere. I looked at all of them, found each one lovely, but was frankly overwhelmed by options and prices. I was unsure whether she needed a retirement home or a longterm care facility and, on good days, she seemed to need neither one, happily remaining in her own unit, in a city near two of her surviving brothers.
Then, one night, out of the blue we were called to an emergency room in Guelph and the world changed for all of us. Suddenly the search for a new home was urgent and we were a family in crisis. Several months of hospitalizations, working out a comprehensive set of tests and assessments, and navigating a health care system with my Mom, while raising my family and trying to keep my brother in the loop, was one of the hardest phases of my life. Eventually, after months of hospital and doctors and specialists, my mother’s diagnosis was comfirmed, then began the medication trials and the process of assessing what level of care she needed.
Fast forward 10 months. My Mom lives in a retirement home now about a ten minute walk from my home. I see her or talk to her every day and, am able to accompany her to doctor’s appointments as needed. That is a plus. These are pictures of our last few months. They haven’t been totally without challenges, but my mother is happy, her retirement home is affordable and meets her needs. She has friends again and, is growing into a different stage, adjusting far better than we all thought she would. There are activities every day. She loves the days when choirs come in and the fitness sessions and even the walks she takes with her new friend Gerry. Yes, after at least a decade of not dating anyone, she has found a friend and a lovely companion named Gerry.
I am adjusting to the sandwich generation title and finding help through sources like http://www.comfortlife.ca/