My grandson was visiting last weekend. He hasn’t been at our home for two years – when he was four. I have only seen him once since he was here last because he now lives in Florida. Memphis is a quiet, shy child with a sweet smile and beautiful, long lashed eyes. He walked into the house and seemed to curl into himself in the corner of the room. Concerned, his father asked him what was wrong. His only memory of our home was being left there when his parents would have to go somewhere. He had a serious case of separation anxiety when he was little, and his parents would wait until he was distracted to sneak out of the house. This stalwart little boy would not cry when he discovered them gone. He would curl into a ball on the floor, inconsolable, taking no bribes, and he would not talk or move, sometimes for hours. I would lie on the floor next to him, just letting him know with my presence, that he was never truly alone. Now that he has returned, we find that his memory of our home is laced with fear, overcoming all memories of cookies and milk and grandparent’s hugs. He has clung to the strongest emotion he felt in our home.
I am sure that Lauren feels contentment in our home where she has only experienced wonderful care and constant love. But she is about to move into a new home now – without me. She has heard my voice and known my kiss on her soft cheek almost every day of her twenty-five years. Will she feel abandoned in this place that will take time for her to know as “home”? I have a transition plan all worked out. Over four weeks she will gradually spend more and more time in her new home along with her family and staff. Will it be enough? How do I tell her we’re doing this for her benefit, for her long-term well-being? Can she understand that, even though I may not be with her every day, I will be a significant part of her life for as many years as I have left? Even though I feel that I am doing the best thing for her in the best way I can, I feel guilty that she may feel that I’ve deserted her.
And now my mother is also receiving care in my home. I cannot continue indefinitely to provide the level of care that she requires. We’ve weighed all of our options and realize that a nursing home is the only safe, long-term option to meet her needs. In the weeks since we brought her to my home from Florida she has been enfolded in the warmth and care of her family. She is better than when she first arrived. Her pain is better managed. She is eating better and is more lucid. How do we now tell this eighty-nine year old woman that she needs to go live amongst strangers, by herself, except for visits from her family? We have to have this discussion, but I don’t even know where to start. Mom has gotten increasingly self-involved as she has aged. I know that she will not be able to see beyond what she will feel is abandonment. She will not factor, anyone else’s life or responsibilities, into her reaction. I’m afraid she will shut down and decline even faster than she is right now. Will a nursing home be a death sentence for her? If she doesn’t move to a nursing home, it will significantly affect my health and extinguish the glimmer of the life I was hoping to have once Lauren was settled in her own home. I’ve dedicated twenty-five years to providing total care for Lauren. I do not have the patience or strength to step into that same role with anyone else, even my own mother.
My role has been the protector, the caregiver, the anchor for anyone in my family that has needed me to assume that position. It is hard to admit my limitations, to balance my own need for a life, with relinquishing my life to care for others. I have lost the knowledge of who I am and what I want in order to fulfill the roles of parent and daughter. It is time for me to reprioritize my responsibilities in the lives of my family members. So much guilt goes along with that, though. So much guilt.