When my mother turned 81 years young, I was elected by my family to become her primary caregiver. I am still not exactly sure how that happened. I must have missed that family meeting.
The decision was not made because of one particular “event”. My mother did not fall and break her hip, have a stroke or get into a car accident. The decision was made simply because it was time for her to move closer to me, so I could take care of her.
At the time, my mother lived 150 miles away from me in another state, where she had been enjoying an independent and happy life. She had her circle of friends, took classes at the local community college and regularly baked cookies for her family doctor, hair stylist and computer class teacher. My older brother and his wife lived over 1,000 miles away and were heading for early retirement with long-awaited travel plans on the horizon.
Logic indicated this was the best move to make, at the best time to make it and I was the best candidate. But logic alone could not have prepared me for what lay ahead.
My mother is an intelligent, independent and warm-hearted person. If you were behind her in the checkout line at the grocery store, she would most likely strike up a lively conversation with you. You would walk out of the store thinking you had just met the nicest of gals.
On the flip side, intelligence can manifest into a refusal to believe anyone else could possibly be right. Independence can become a stubborn streak more expansive than our entire universe. And a warm heart can be an easy mark for a con artist.
As I started to face the challenges of being my mother’s sole caregiver, I found my lifestyle drastically impacted. Both my husband and I work full time, have our own home and live an active life. As my mother’s needs began to take priority, our lives were no longer our own. And even though I like to believe I am made of some pretty stern stuff…as more time passed, my emotional, mental and physical health were being compromised. So, I asked my brother for help. To my amazement, I discovered none would be forthcoming. He chose to bail not only on my mother, but on me. I was left to figure it all out on my own.
Throughout the past decade, I have been responsible for finding my mother places to live, both independently and most recently, with assistance. Packing her belongings, physically moving her then helping her to get settled. As time continued to pass, I took over many routine tasks when she could no longer do them for herself. In addition to selling her car and finding a way for her to get around when she could no longer drive…to fixing her computer when she would right-click and fill up the entire screen with alias icons causing it to crash. This is mild in comparison to the con artist masquerading as a friendly neighbor who drained most of my mother’s life savings before I discovered what was happening. Add in the gradual decrease in her short-term memory and her confusion in unfamiliar surroundings which caused the simplest of our communications to become increasingly difficult.
I now find myself walking the fine line between taking one day at a time and being prepared for anything the future may hold. And my story is not unusual. Many people find themselves in similar situations. The one thing we all have in common is that we want our loved ones to be safe, healthy and happy.
If it weren’t for the unconditional support of my husband and one of my oldest and dearest friends, I would be in a much nastier place right now. My husband’s mother is fast approaching the time when she will need our help, so our journey is far from coming to an end. And until recently, my friend was in the same situation with her mother as I am with mine right now. And so are the people in her circle of friends. Being able to talk, share experiences and information has been a life-saver.
And that is the reason why this journal was created. I wanted a place where any of us could go and share…safely and without judgement. Sometimes we are seeking answers and other times we just need to vent.
So, that is my story and I am sticking to it. And I hope you will share your story. Because knowing we are not alone can become our greatest comfort. And inspire us to keep putting one foot in front of the other.