Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Blog 24: Moving Out
The time had come, I was moving out of Mom’s house. I was no longer going to be her primary caregiver. It was such a bittersweet time. I was feeling so many different emotions that I can’t even put into words.
We celebrated Easter on Sunday, April 4, 2010, at Mom’s house. It was to be our last family holiday gathering at our family home, the place we knew for the past 45 years, the home I so vividly remember moving into when I was only eight years old. That Easter, we didn’t know it at the time, but we were all in for a rude awakening five months later.
Five days after Easter, on April 9, 2010, I got up early and finished packing up the few personal belongings I had at Mom’s house. I had my suitcases packed the day before and my car was loaded up with whatever I could fit in it from my storage unit and still be able to see outside the rear and side windows. I could sense something in my mom’s face that morning, yet I couldn’t really tell what she was feeling. Was she glad that I was leaving? Did she think she was finally going to be living alone, and be rid of me, and have her house and her life to herself again? Was she really scared that I was leaving? Was she sad that her oldest daughter was moving half way across the country, and did she fear that I wouldn’t come back? She understood how far away it was.
Did she feel bad about all those times she tried to make me leave? I had flashbacks of all of those times she tried to kick me out and the two times she called the police on me. I remembered how she called Annie to come over because she wanted her there instead of me. I recalled the time she wouldn’t open the back door during a terrible thunder storm because she didn’t want me inside, and the time I slept in my car on a cold winter night because she wouldn’t let me sleep in the house, and the times she kept me up during the night as I slept on the living room floor, which was my bed for most of the six months I lived there, because she was upset that I was still there. I wondered if she remembered those times, and I doubted that she did. It was my memory.
On that morning, Mom fixed herself a bowl of cereal and she sat in her rocking chair as I loaded my car. I tried to do it as smoothly and easily as possible so as not to get her agitated and confused. She watched me and she turned her head to pretend to be occupied when I stepped back into the house. What was she feeling, really?
My sister Lynda came over before I left, to stay with Mom for the day. Annie was to be Mom’s primary caregiver, with the support of my other sisters. I was hoping they’d get things worked out amongst themselves. I tried to get all of my sisters to come together for a meeting, to make a schedule. I tried, over and over again. It was up to Lynda to make it happen. I was coming back in just six weeks and maybe they will have it worked out by then.
I hugged my mom and kissed her and told her how much I love her and how much I am going to miss her. I wanted to embrace her and take her all in, just incase, God forbid, something should happen to her when I’m gone. Her body was thin and I couldn’t hug too tight because of her bad back. I didn’t want to let her go, but I knew my Mom wasn’t a big hugger. She didn’t like hairspray in our hair, touching her. Whether we had hairspray on or not, that was her excuse. I could feel the bones protruding from her shoulders and back. She felt warm and alive and she felt like my mom, the person I still adored, the mom I was leaving. How could I leave??? I’ve never left her, ever! I told her I will call her often and I will be back very soon. I had tears in my eyes but I kept myself from breaking down, for Mom’s sake. I think she did the same for me. Her voice cracked but she avoided eye contact with me.
I knew my mom wasn’t the same person. Her dementia changed her. She was an angry person with dementia, that’s the way the disease affected her. She never believed there was anything wrong with her, but it was clear to everyone how much she had changed. This ugly demon entered her body and took over her entire being. Mom fought it and was able to overcome it many times, and she would show her love and wonderful self, but the demon always lurked. Mom was still there and I knew it. NO MATTER WHAT she was my mom and I loved her more than my own life. I knew my real Mom and she was inside that body that stood before me.
Lynda and I went outside and we hugged each other goodbye. I had already given her power of attorney, she was in charge now. I gave her the journal that I had kept over the past six months. The journal that told our story, the journal I should have kept because I found out a year later, when I asked her for it, that it ‘got lost in the shuffle’.
I got in my loaded down car and pulled out of the driveway. Mom wasn’t at the door to wave me off (was she crying?), but Lynda stood on the porch and waved to me. She had tears in her eyes. As soon as I drove up the street the tears and loud crying came. I couldn’t even see to drive. I let it all out and I was trembling so hard. Everything was a blur for the next thirty or so miles. I cried, and I cried, and I cried. People at stop lights probably saw me and thought someone died. And it felt like someone did.
Was I doing the right thing? Was I making a huge mistake? I was feeling so guilty. My mom trusted me to be the one to take care of things in the event she could no longer do so. She trusted ME, yet I was moving away. I knew I was the best one for the job. I knew it. Yet I tried to convince myself that Lynda could do it, too. We talked for hours about it and she was ready for the role. And besides, Mom had appointed her second one in command.
I was being pulled by my own inner self. One part of me felt like I needed to stay near Mom and my sisters, and the other part of me needed to be near my kids and grandkids. I wanted to be a part of my grandchildren’s lives. I wanted them to know me and I didn’t want to be one of those grandmas who only saw their grandchildren three times a year. My sisters didn’t make any adjustments to their lives, so why should I? Was I supposed to give up my life and my dreams, yet they continued with their careers and lives just the same as always? They had husbands, I didn’t. Their kids lived in the same town as them, mine didn’t. I had to make a decision, and I did what I thought was best in the long run. That decision was made before Mom was even diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. After her diagnosis, even though I almost put the brakes on my plans, I realized even more how short life is, how little time I could have left before I MIGHT fall victim to Alzheimer’s, too. After all, my Dad died of LBD and now my Mom has a brain deteriorating illness. I had made the right decision, I just had a hard time accepting it.
What helped me through this very difficult decision to follow through with my move was the support I got from my friends and family. Not my sisters, because they didn’t support me at all in my leaving. There was no going away party, no extra big hugs, no talk of coming to visit me. But everyone else reassured me that I have to live my life, too. That’s what Mom would want for me. She knows how important grandchildren are and she knew what a loving Mom I was to my kids. She always told me how proud she was of me, in that I was a good mom and a good person. She would have never wanted me to put her needs above that of my family. Yet I still felt guilty. But I never would have left Mom if I was her only daughter. She has five daughters, FIVE. We could all still take care of her. I was going to come back every six weeks to help. I was going to do my part in caring for her. I wasn’t really leaving her!
It’s weird because my sisters and I were always really close, yet we didn’t really do anything together. Oh yeah, we would have holidays and little get togethers at Mom’s house, but over the years we kind of stopped doing other things together. We rarely went shopping, to dinner together, or to a movie. We didn’t even talk on the phone much. I was always the one who wanted to do things, to hang out with them, but they really didn’t seem to care if we did anything or not. I felt that our lives were different as the years went on. We were close in our hearts but we didn’t hang out like best friends. I guess I wanted that. So, I didn’t think they would really care if I was there or not. I suppose it was just comforting to them to know that I was there, even though we didn’t spend much time together. They wanted me to take care of things. I always did before.
The three day drive was a time of reflection for me. I was free of being a full time caregiver, I had time to think. I had time to feel excited about my future. I was going to be living in a warm, sunny, desert climate, just seven blocks away from my oldest daughter and two granddaughters and a short flight away from my son and grandson. My youngest daughter was still in the midwest but chances were real good that she would be moving, too. This was going to be a new start for me. This was something I had never done before. I had never taken a chance like this before, it was a chance to start a new life. And sometimes you just have to take chances in life.
Mom was on my mind constantly. How were my sisters coping? Not so good.