Mum, Me and Change
I’ve been writing this blog these past years, recording the ups and downs of mum living with me and my household. But I haven’t updated it in several months. One reason is that I’ve been away for 8 weeks visiting family in Israel and, specifically, helping my daughter, Yasmin, with her new baby boy. The other reason is that I’ve reached a crossroad with mum’s care, and I feel stuck. The words aren’t flowing.
I’m back home again - back to my life and mum’s. But our old routine has changed. I’m now adjusting to the new reality of her becoming a permanent resident at the facility across the road.
Her last serious fall at home, nearly three months ago, was the turning point. She’d had a minor stroke and ended up in Cabrini hospital for ten days followed by rehab. Even with professional care, she continued having falls. It slowly dawned on me that big decisions were shouting out to be made.
These decisions were about mum - her needs, her level of care, her safety. But I knew it was also about me - my need to care for her, my belief system where I thought the best place for old parents is at home with the family. The changes were making me feel unsettled and uneasy.
Mum will be 99 in October this year (according to the Holocaust Survivors and Victims Database). She’s lived a solid hunk of life. For the past five years, after dad died, she’s lived in my eclectic home with the other housemates. It has been an enriching and precious time. She has always loved to be here, cared for by all of us - my sons, Coby and Gil, my son’s Vietnamese partner, Bee, and my two housemates, Sisira from India and Lena from the Phillipines. Every evening when I would tuck mum into bed, she would repeat the words: Bless you, bless you for looking after me. Then she'd reach out for my hand and kiss it many times.
It’s true, caring for mum was slowly getting more difficult. I could feel and see the changes. Her falls were more frequent, as were the periods of manic behaviour when she was restless, talkative and refused to sit or go to bed. Those were testing times. After the second sleepless night, I would lose my patience and forcefully try to sit her down on her bed. But she’d be up after a minute, and, in a disappointed tone, would reprimand me ‘Janey this is not like you to behave like this.’ Exhausted, I wanted to tear my hair out. I would consult her psychogeriatrician who would be kind and empathetic, but offered no clear system to manage her. Every option had its problems.
Incontinence was also becoming more of a problem, and it was often a rush to get to the toilet on time. But I was still ok with that.
The crunch came with that last fall. It was after midnight when she was wandering around the house. I heard a thump and there she was, sprawled on the lounge room floor. I woke up Coby who was in a deep sleep. With difficulty we eventually managed to lift her up, but she was unable to bare her weight. We had recently purchased a wheelchair to take her on scenic walks around the neighbourhood which now came in useful.
I kept her home for two days, avoiding the hospital - because of Covid and mainly because I thought I could care for her. I believed that whatever it was causing her numbness would pass. But it didn’t. Two challenging days later I gave up and called the ambulance. I couldn’t manage, even with the help of my two sons.
So that was the beginning of the shift. She’s been in the facility for several months now. Yesterday I went there to bring her home for the day, as I often did before I went away. It’s only 15 seconds away by car. I guided her to the garden chair where she basked in the autumn sunshine.
I need the toilet, she whispered. I tensed up. Immediately I could feel I had lost my resilience. Maziar, an old housemate but now a guest, has been staying in her room so her easy bidet was inaccessible. I squashed her into the pokey back-room toilet - there was no room for the two of us. I wondered how I used to do this - tending to her many times a day, day after day, year after year.
Out we hobbled again to sit in the garden. But after 5 minutes she’s had enough.
I want to go now.
Don’t go yet, mum. Gil's coming in a few minutes, especially to see you.
I need to go, I want to go to my room. She's stubborn and insistent.
I had no choice, she was already making her way to the passenger seat.
Now I was consoling myself. It’s ok Jane, it’s happening. It’s not so bad. It’s actually a momentous moment - she’s not attached to this place, my home, any more. It’s me who’s attached to the idea of her being here, being part of my life.
But now mum wants to return to her 'little cosy room’. She wants to be in her room. Not here. But over there. Stunned in a way, I needed to repeat the words in my head, to let them sink in. She must feel safe there. Safer then here.
The shift has happened. This is the reality of life. My dear dad used to say that the only constant in life is change.
Mum is changing, of course she is, but I still hold on to my story - that she is part of my household, part of my every day life. I’ve made it work, I worked hard and I am proud that she could live with me for so many years.
But now that story is changing. Not completely though. She is still part of my life - not in this household, but across the road. I see her every day. I rest on her bed in her room. She is happy to see me relaxing. There’s not much she can offer me anymore, but she can offer me her little cosy room. It makes her feel happy, worthy and fulfilled.
She’s adjusted. It’s up to me now to adapt to the shifting moments.