My Mom moved to Michigan last October. We, my three siblings and I, have been struggling a bit with where Mom should be now that she is alone and at loose ends, and not quite as sharp as she used to be. She was with me for a while, but me - two kids - cats - and one bathroom were a bit much for her. She had money from the sale of her house in Colorado and decided to move to Michigan where she is from. She was going to buy a house and my 50-something sister was going to live with her.
The house was purchased, the move was made, but my sister did not stay. That is a story unto itself that is neither here nor there at this moment. My Mom doesn't want to live by herself. I did not realize that she has never done it - ever. While I revel in a quiet house with only me to mess it up - it terrifies her. We needed to figure out what to do after my sister moved out. Mom decided to try in on her own for a while, her brother lives a few miles away, we were hoping she would enjoy the freedom of being on her own after always living in a situation where she was controlled by the man she lived with.
I received an email "I fell down the other day, hit my head on the end table and there was blood on the paper towel so I must have hit my nose too. But I am fine this morning. Love, Mom." Then came others here and there - always beginning with the trauma and ending with the - but I am fine disclaimer. In other words - get me out of here!
Discussing the situation with my brother, the one closest to me in age, he decided it was time for Mom to go and live with him. He lives in New Jersey in a small 3 bedroom house by himself. He has a good job, is recently separated and his daughter lives not too far away. He is a realist and is fully aware of the impact this will have on his life but chooses to do it anyway for Mom's sake. My sister is a non-issue and my older brother lives in a condo with his teen aged son, and isn't really the demonstrative, compassionate type. My Mom chose not to stay with me - so that leaves my brother and he is willing to take Mom on.
She isn't that easy anymore, at 78 she has COPD and a back which is constantly paining her. She says she weighs about 120 but I swear she can't weigh over 100 pounds sopping wet. She's a tiny little thing who is vain enough to think she needs to lose weight because she tends to get a little bit of a tummy - regardless of the fact that she has bird like legs and barely there arms - she worries about her belly. She believes chocolate is a food group all on it's own and will reach for that first - every. single. time. Then she won't eat anything nutritious because the chocolate has taken care of those few hunger pangs she felt. She is wobbly and tends to list to the left some, or is it the right? She will be walking and all of a sudden will stagger in one direction a bit until she cannot regain her balance and she will go down. Hard. It's a frightening thing to see. Yet we could not get her to stop going down very steep basement steps to do her laundry on her own because she did not want to count on her brother to come get her so she could do it at his house which is all one level. Stubborn, thy name is Ma.
Mom doesn't like confrontation at all so she will agree with you to make you happy, then complain about you to someone else. She tells one story to one of us and another story to another, or part of a story to one and then thinks she told the whole story to everybody. Which leads to emails or conversations where she starts out in the middle because she thinks you already know the beginning. It can be very confusing for us - and disheartening to her to discover that we all have trouble understanding what she is talking about sometimes.
For my brother to take this on is pretty amazing and one of the most selfless things anyone in our family has ever done. He is flying to Michigan on Wednesday to pack Mom up and drive her car with trailer attached back to New Jersey and her new home. He has been concerned that she actually has things packed up, or may need help getting it all together before he actually gets there, so he asked if I could go up and check things out - see if I could help getting things straightened away so he could get to her house and worry more about loading up the trailer - than actually packing up items from cabinets and drawers. Living in the Chicago area I live about four an a half hours away from my Mom by car. With my 23 year old son as my navigator, we went to go see Mom this past weekend.
Getting there was no problem, Andy loves to drive, loves to stop at all the rest stops where I surreptitiously tucked my Etsy postcards in with the various pamphlets and maps - throughout Indiana and Michigan. Michigan has some of the loveliest "care stations" I have ever seen by the way. We arrived at my Mom's in late afternoon on Saturday and started work right away.
Turns out there was actually very little to do. Mom was true to her word - she had her furniture at a consignment shop - all that was left was whatever she was planning to bring to my brother's house which was a very good sign. She had boxes scattered throughout a few of the bedrooms and kitchen, but mostly they were full and just needed to be closed and moved to one central spot. Andy and I took care of that - moving some twenty plus boxes out to the garage which seemed to be the most logical spot to make it easy for my brother. I wrapped up a few glasses left in the kitchen cabinets, but almost all of the cabinets and drawers were empty, Mom had done a really good job. The only thing I left for Sunday was finishing up her laundry and vacuuming the house.
We brought an inflatable mattress for Andy to sleep on in the living room with the big flat screen TV, and my Mom already had an inflatable mattress for me in the guest room. Mom and I stayed up till about 11:00 Saturday night, doing jigsaw puzzles on my laptop which she loves to do. I left the program up on the computer so she could play with it if she got up before me in the morning, she wouldn't have to hunt for it, when she opened the laptop it would just be there.
Sunday morning I awoke with a start. Something was wrong but I didn't know what. I had been dreaming about people dancing I think, I remembered full skirts spinning and spinning, Gypsy dancing maybe. Spinning. I crawled off of the mattress and rolled to a position I could stand up from. Felt odd. Went into the kitchen where Mom was on the laptop doing puzzles and sat down at the table. Rubbed my face, shook my head back and forth, what was wrong? Mom was looking at me and I finally managed to say - "I don't think I feel very good." I left to go into the bathroom.
TMI alert!!! - Sitting on the toilet I wasn't sure what I was going to do there. I felt disoriented. I peed I guess, but I just felt wrong - so I sat. Looking at my feet against the linoleum I couldn't get past the idea that they just looked wrong - my feet were purple or something, and a little blurry maybe. What was wrong with my feet? I sat some more and finally decided I needed to get up, flush, etc. As I stood up I felt a coldness start at about my waist and move up my body - particularly the underside of my arms were really cold all of a sudden. I stretched - thinking I needed to move my limbs but then my legs started to tingle. I bent at the waist and put my head on my arms on the sink. Random thoughts like - is this what it feels like to have a stroke but after people have one they can't remember this part or can't verbalize it so no one knows about these symptoms - ran through my head.
I moved out of the bathroom - sluggishly - like walking in water - past my Mom at the table across the room to the basement door where there was a small garbage can. I took the lid off the can and pulled the bag out and grabbed the can. I turned around and made my way back to the bathroom answering my Mom's questioning gaze with a garbled "I am SO sick". Back to the bathroom, sat back down on the toilet and proceeded to vomit into the can. I never throw up into the toilet directly because with me I usually have both ends going at once so I learned a long time ago to prepare for that, and have enough warning that I can get the required bucket, garbage can, whatever is closest and will work best.
Nothing in my stomach, nothing but bright yellow bile. Ugh. Why am I sick? Please no, I'm not at home! I have to leave, to make a four and a half hour drive home, the thought of which was akin to getting back on the boat while still feeling sea sick. No. Being sick away from home is the stuff of nightmares for me. I finished purging what wasn't there, rinsed out the can and flushed the toilet. Rinsed out my mouth, wiped my face with a towel. Went directly back to the guest room and crawled back onto the mattress, covered up, and fell asleep again after a last thought - "the ceiling fan - spinning and spinning...". I was out.
Throughout the day I got up and tried to sit with my Mom for a while, but always got up and went back to bed and to sleep. I was feverish. Mom was feeling bad - what could she do - she didn't even know where her thermometer was, would I like some soup - she could find some she thought. No thermometer, no soup, sleep, just wanted to sleep.
Halfway through the day I was able to get up and start sipping some 7-Up. It was so good. I kept sipping, Mom kept worrying, till finally about 5:00pm-ish - I was able to shower and think about not going back to sleep for a little while. I got a load of laundry into the washing machine feeling very stoic and brave, and directed my son to do the vacuuming. Before we left I was able to get the laundry into the dryer and then upstairs where I helped Mom fold it. Look at me! I am walking an talking and sipping 7-up and I may live after all! Still - I was feverish and not quite right, but so much better than earlier in the day.
Andy and I were able to get on the road to come back home by about 8:00 - maybe a little earlier, and I was okay for the drive. Although I did have to ask Andy to keep it down to 80 - I was feeling a bit nervous about approaching 90 mph. We arrived safe and sound almost exactly at midnight, Andy as if he had just been out to 7-Eleven and back - and me - feeling pretty beat-up and ready for bed.
Mom is ready to go to my brother's house now. Physically and emotionally I think. I left her a note to make sure she calls her doctor to get a referral to a wonderful COPD heart and lung facility near my brother's house, and I think that's all the preparation that needs to be done. She has arranged for her telephone, cable and Internet to be disconnected, her house is up for sale and her brother has a key to check up on things now and then. She's ready. Now the question remains - is my brother?
I spent 24 hours with my Mom this visit. Big deal. She lived with me for about six months about a year ago. My brother is opening up his home, planning to spend at least one day a week dedicated just to Mom - doing whatever she wants to do. She is our Mom, not maybe quite the same Mom, but she is our Mom. Somehow it feels like whatever we do it will never be enough but my brother - my brother is on the right track. I have to give him a lot of credit because not only is this a wonderfully loving thing for him to do - he was recently diagnosed with quite a serious ailment of his own. He has not told my Mom yet because he does not want her to change her mind or be afraid she will be a burden.
He was the wildest of us as a teen, the most 'normal' of us as an adult, and in a time of need of his own - he is proving to be the most compassionate and giving as well. Mom can be proud of the job she did with him.