When I was around the age of 14/15 I made a promise to my mom that I wouldn’t put her into a home. It was the same agreement she had made to her mother, my grandmother. And I wanted so much to keep the tradition alive. Then life became exceedingly complex.
Two weeks before I signed the papers for her to become a resident, she had fallen. It was the third time she had that month, and after the second fall where I had explained if she didn’t use a walker to get around and fell (again) she would move in with me. She flat out refused to use any kind of assistance device and because of it she fell, in the same bathroom my father had fallen in (for his third time that week) and hit his head, causing brain damage and his ultimate death. Every detail of that moment came flooding to my memory. I was livid. So, I sent my husband and brother-husband over to her house, help her up, and take her to our house.
For two weeks I came to a very harsh reality, that she was far worse than I had previously assumed. She can’t use eating utensils, she repeatedly has “accidents,” she can’t bathe herself and can’t even dress herself without assistance. The two weeks that she stayed with us, I had to do all of these things for her. Once they were done she would sit, happy as a clam, in her recliner watching movies. Had she been the only one I was responsible for, I probably would have trudged on to make it work, but that’s not the reality. I also have my husband.
For those who don’t know, my husband has ALS. He was diagnosed a year ago. As it is now, he can do very little for himself. He can still walk and stand, but he requires someone to assist him every time. While my mother was there I hardly got a chance to sit, which is fine, but it was not sustainable. And It was putting a lot of expectation and responsibility on the brother-husband. He may have signed up for my husband, but not some random lady he had only met (maybe) three times prior.
As much as I didn’t want to break my promise, I had to. And even though I have been told, repeatedly, that it was the right decision, all I can focus on is the fact that I did. I am no longer a man of my word. And I hate that.
To get out of that mindset, I sat down and tried to pick out why making such a strong, blanket promise like that is ridiculous. When I made it, I had no concept of adult responsibilities. I was working off the example my grandmother had set, while she lived with us. She was basically my third parent. She did housework, she watched me, she actively contributed. Because of her, I felt confident in agreeing to never commit my mother to assisted living. What I failed to take into account was life. Life is unpredictable and it’s main goal is to try and crush you and those around you. I know that sounds aggressive but when you really think about it, it’s true. Life isn’t a cake walk. It is a series of obstacles we must learn from to continue on to the next set. There is no rest. My mother’s Alzheimer’s is that obstacle. My husband’s ALS is another. I have learned and now we must move on.
On Monday, a month before my birthday, and four days after her own, I dropped her off in a memory care home. The weekend prior, I made every effort to make certain it wasn’t a surprise for her. I wanted her to be aware of the change that was about to occur. But I either failed miserably in explaining it, or she just didn’t understand. Regardless, when the day arrived she was distraught and terrified. There was no escaping the tsunami of guilt that “I just sprung this on her” and abandoned her at her most vulnerable.
The one thing I have learned from my mother’s diagnosis is that, if I ever have kids, I will make sure they know, without a doubt, that if pop-pop goes a little loopy that they should not HESITATE to put me somewhere safe. Even if I ramble on about not wanting to leave my home, I (at my absolute core) do not want them to waste a second debating what I would or wouldn’t want. If I have enough sense in me, in my older years, I will just move in on my own, like my grandmother-in-law.
I know that this is the right thing, and at times I feel it. But getting my heart to understand is something else entirely.