“Mom, take my shoulder.” She looked confused as her arm waved around like a thin reed in a soft breeze.
I grabbed her hand and gently placed it on my shoulder, then helped maneuver her into the passenger seat of my van. She scooted until she was comfortably seated. I drew the seat belt around her and buckled it, patting her leg.
After loading her walker into the back of the van, I climbed into the driver’s seat. We were going back to the care home after mom’s visit to her cardiologist. I smiled and asked, “Ready to go back?”
They say necessity is the mother of invention. In my case, necessity forced experimentation. Everything with mom had become trial and error. Her health and dementia had forced us to place her in a care facility in May 2011. Since I lived closest, I was the primary one that got called whenever mom had a problem, needed something, or had an appointment.
At eighty-five, she was like a child again. Although it was gradual, it seemed to my brother, sister and I that mom’s mental and physical health declined rapidly. I felt at a loss as to how to handle her. Before she went into the care facility, she cried frequently, pouted when she didn’t get her way, wanted undivided attention, and had to be helped with the most menial hygiene care. Although she’d never lived with me, I’d taken her frequently when I could get time off work so that my sister would have a break.
When I had her, I found myself continually mollifying her. My love for her didn’t prevent me from becoming physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted. I was sure it’d be better once she was in the care facility. I was wrong.
She’d cried every time I visited her. “Can I come live with you?” “How come my kids won’t take me in?” “I don’t like it here.” “They’re mean to me.” “No one comes to see me.”
I always left feeling guilty. Always! I tried different tactics, praying to find something that worked. Her dementia left her incapable of reasoning with her in conversation. I tried several times to point out how her health had improved with the 24 hour care, and the friends she’d made, but she would turn her head away.
“I don’t know what to say or do and I find myself dreading my visits with her,” I lamented to my husband one night, tears threatening to spill.
“Keep trying, honey. You’ll find something that works,” he replied.
The breakthrough came on a day one of the nurses called. “Your mom is crying hysterically and we’ve tried everything to calm her. She insists on talking to you. Maybe it’ll help.”
When mom got on the phone, I couldn’t understand her. “Mom, quit crying. I don’t know what you’re saying,” I repeated, wanting to cry too.
Soon the phone went dead. It was a Monday, the day I had my two-year-old granddaughter, Jocelyn. It was lunch and nap time for her, however I decided I better go see mom.
Jocelyn fell asleep on the way there. I hugged and kissed my sleepy, hungry grandbaby, who wrapped her arms around as I walked into the section where mom was. She wasn’t crying, but the minute she saw me, she burst into tears.
Sitting at the table beside her, I couldn’t understand a thing she said. I tried to comfort her, but to no avail. The excellent, compassionate staff tried to help too, but mom kept crying and clinging to me.
Jocelyn usually loved mom, but the crying upset her, so she hid her face.
My frustration overwhelmed me. I firmly smacked the table top. “Mom, stop crying! I’m here because I love you. Jocelyn needs lunch and a nap, but we’re here with you. Stop crying or I’m leaving.” I addressed her as I would a child throwing a tantrum.
Mom eyes got big! Her tears stopped. “I’m sorry,” she mumbled.
Sighing, I took her hand. “Are you hurt? Is someone mistreating you? Are you hungry? Soiled? Sick? Sad?”
She answered no to everything. “Then stop this crying, mom. It makes me sad and it scares Jocelyn,” I said in my best motherly voice.
It worked! When I told my husband, he laughed. “She’s just a child now so pretend she’s one of the grandkids. Take the loving, no-nonsense approach.”
It was that simple.
** True story.
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