At some point somebody has to be the heavy. And that turned out to be me.
Nearly five years ago I took away her car keys. The next year I took away her home and put her into a senior living facility. Earlier this month, I took away her possessions and put her in assisted living. Three weeks ago, I signed a “Do Not Resuscitate” order. Ten days ago I stood over my mother’s 93-year-old lifeless body.
If you live long enough, the role reversal between parent and child takes hold. So it was between Ruth Ruth and her son.
The woman who gave me breath, who instilled in me a passion for jazz, who taught me to deal with life’s travails and whose glare could melt diamonds was now my responsibility.
This wasn’t like caring for a June Cleaveresque mother. This was the woman who forced her 8-year-old to sit for hours at a dining room table because he wouldn’t eat his peas. And this was the woman who was infuriated to find out years later the son had never eaten his peas but had instead spit them in the toilet.
She led an active life in Naples. But in her late 80s, dementia took hold.
Nothing fully prepares you for the realization that your mother is slowly losing her grip on the world.
How do you prepare yourself for the role of parent to the parent? You make it up as you go along.
Before moving her into the ALF I had forewarned the staff they were about to receive a very difficult resident, to which they replied they were used to that.
But within days of arriving a nurse said, “Your mother is a real piece of work.”
And she was. As I explained, they were merely experiencing what I had dealt with for 66 years. After all, she was still mad about the pea thing.
This long journey from the twilight of her life to its sunset holds many lessons.
I learned an elderly parent’s caretaker must develop a tough skin. One of dementia’s hallmarks is a sense of paranoia. I thought when she came to Tampa my mother would share in family holidays. But she had convinced herself we were stealing from her and wouldn’t come to the house.
And I learned that senior living facilities are businesses, which promote an image of happy, healthy, engaged seniors. An infirm resident is bad for marketing. She was evicted and essentially dropped at Memorial Hospital of Tampa’s doorstep.
Her final days at the Some Place Like Home ALF, though brief, were filled with the staff’s kindness. And as my wife and I awaited the funeral home personnel’s arrival, the nurses and residents surrounded her bed and prayed over her body. I’m not a spiritual person, but it was one of the most moving gestures of love I have ever witnessed.
I had visited her the day before – the last time I saw my mother alive.
“Are you my son?” she asked.
“Yes, Mom, I am your son.”
And proud of it.