Falling Up The Hill
I step out of the memory care center for the third time today. Whirring crickets and balmy night air embrace me.
My mother, Ruby, is 92. Her original last name was Diamond. (No kidding) For three and a half years, I was the master of her world. Her needs we’re met by a symphony of caregivers I trained. They varied in quality, but Charline was perfection.
Charline cared for Ruby like a dedicated mother of a disabled child. We teamed like a dream. We were one mind and heart in every realm. I shuttered to think of what would happen to us if we lost Charline.
A majestic building looms on my hill walk. “A Mind and Memory Experience,” says the tagline of this immaculate elder care center. How intriguing. I inquire within.
An outreach person befriends me, and surveils my struggle to find adequate caregivers at home for a year. She knows I’m hanging by the thread of one, and checks in periodically. This center is my Plan B.
Like a hurricane blowing through the kitchen on a calm sunny day, Charline gives her notice. The commute was killing her and she has to focus on her nursing studies.
“Ruby is going to memory care,” I say. She is shocked but not surprised. We pack her things.
The Temple Of Tumult
Everyone tells us to be patient. The transition can set her back. Is she more forgetful and flat? Or did our closeness and routine skew my view?
She has stopped walking. At home she walked more, rode a recumbent bike and climbed stairs.
Her extreme scoliosis keeps her from sitting for more than an hour. We must have padded and attended to her so well at home that we are blind-sided by her constant discomfort in the change. She has an hour in a chair before gravity assaults her, so she’d rather lay down than play word games.
The caregivers vary from skilled, loving angels to stone-faced drones. One day I’m hopeful, the next day dismayed. This 30-day trial is an uphill battle I trudge 2-3 times a day.
Ruby was a compassionate vegetarian before the rest of us. A whole food, plant-based diet is her medicine. She eats vegetables and bean pasta, while her fellow “inmates” gnaw on animals.
It’s hard for to interact with healthy people. She can barely hear and is blind in one eye. Dementia patients pay no mind to these disabilities. Friendships aren’t flowing.
“When am I going home?” says one resident dressed in winter wear — in 80 degree weather.
“Your brother will be here to pick you up at 3:00,” says a bubbly staff member.
The resident seems relieved and strolls on to an activity.
“Are you shocked by what you just heard?” the staff member asks.
“Yes?” I say.
She explains that stepping into the dementia person’s reality calms them, whereas trying to keep them in ours just agitates them more.
“We call it a ‘fiblet,’” she says. “They won’t remember it.”
A fiblet! Mom is right. Frank Sinatra is still alive.
Fellow residents wander into Ruby’s room seeking their children and mumbling nonsense. She fiblets them instinctively.
Before moving in, this place shined with possibility on my daily walk. I called it “The Memory Temple.” It was a way out of staffing problems at home.
I gazed in the windows picturing her resting and well attended to. She even landed one of those rooms. But I didn’t anticipate her discomfort everywhere but bed.
Her meals are too unique and ill-timed for the staff, so I make them in a chaotic kitchen that runs out of spoons. Her supplements are considered “drugs,” so I have to administer them.
Toilet time is traumatic. She can’t sit after sitting too long at a meal. I have to make her stay there, while a constant stream of strangers fumble through her delicate inflamed parts exacerbating her pain.
Ruby is soft, sweet and smiley, never cranky, so when she scowls and swears, I’m shocked.
If I step away, she tells me no one attended to her. The staff tells me she ate all her snack, had fun at word games. I can’t know what’s true.
I tuck her in, play her Frank and dance around the room till she laughs. I kiss her good night and enter the dark blue night wondering, “Where did my life go?” This temple of promise is a prison of self-sacrifice.
My Tipping Scales
We have a week left of this trial. Do I persevere or take her home?
On her back out of pain, we find quality time.
“Jerry Davis was your father?” she asks, giggling a bit at herself.
“Yes, Momma, but we called him Daddy.” She laughs.
“What was that like for you?” she asks. I hit the record button on my phone, and explain my lifetime of therapy in simple terms. Even with her one eye, challenged hearing and shrinking brain, she understands every word.
“How did that make you feel?” she asks.
“I’m over it, Mom. My next man will be a Diamond, not a Davis,” I say, and save the recording.
I’m falling in love with everyone here. The staff are my dear friends, and the residents are beyond adorable.
Sophie speaks only Russian. Her dementia took her English, though she understands all. She babbles on in her native tongue like she is understood.
I beg her to speak English. She takes my face in her hands and says, “I luff you. You are vunderful!”
Sarah has a surly manner, always frustrated in her efforts to “find her car.” She watches me with my mom and asks when her family is coming. I take her to her room to ask about her family photos. Her demeanor softens. She tells me how her husband used to make her laugh, what a heel he was, and how much she loved him. We hug.
“Help!” yells a caregiver. “I need help!” Bruce wandered into Sarah’s room, and fell asleep on her bed, like he owned it. Sarah was out, looking for her car in the ladies room.
Valerie doesn’t want to be here and complains about everything. I feel her heart through her negativity. I ask her about her feelings in ways no one seems to have time for. She takes a breath and smiles. I want to tell her daughter.
The place buzzes with activity to engage the residents in games, movies, current events and artwork. The staff is stellar, but the residents need more connection. I love just being with them and making them laugh.
It’s raining, my daughter has my car, and my mother is locked in a room up the hill. For three years she was on my floor. I came running when she sneezed.
We are the only mother-daughter team here, with an option to leave. This will sadden the other residents. Their loneliness is real. Not to be flibleted. Sometimes these white lies serve the system, not the person.
The Benchmark corporation pushed the new organization to increase their numbers. Their systems are not in place for the sudden influx of residents. They may have time to build their organization, but Ruby doesn’t. An invisible masculinity rules this nurturing female community. Rigid policies and a frenetic pace foils the serenity promised in the brochure.
I am exhausting myself training streams of caregivers in the nuances of Ruby. Only a handful have the right touch for her frailty, though I love them all. They are mostly Haitian, like Charline. I’m in awe of their hearts and strength. Their fellow countrymen clamor at our borders, emerging from poverty and earthquakes. And my greatest concern is that they hand my mother a toothpick on time.
I feel a cosmic shift toward definitive action. Mars moves to Libra and Moon to Aries. A polite contention rises. I’m not allowed to text those on the front lines of my mother’s care. I am expected to step back and let go. Let go of feeding her when no one else gets it right? Let go of over-seeing the bathroom process when she is in excruciating pain? Let go of seeing her twice a day, when she only lights up in my presence. Covid is rising and so are restrictions. My scales have tipped. I’m taking her home.
Elder care requires gentleness and familial intimacy. This moonlight only shines at home. I will transform her bedroom into a memory care center, and pray for loving caregivers.
I hope Ruby returns to her baseline of thought and movement when she enters her home, and she forgets her current distress.
I sure won’t forget this journey through the sweet and harrowing “mind and memory experience.” The Temple is now ours to reclaim.
Nikki Davis, a holistic therapist in Newton, MA, is a counseling astrologer and writer. She also has an aromatherapy skin care and massage practice, and coaches her clients in plant based nutrition. www.HolisticOasis.com
Kind, gentle and skilled caregivers for a disabled, elderly woman of sweetness, grace and humor, in a loving, healthy, plant-based home in the heart of Newton Centre. Please have certificate of training and a valid ID. Need coverage for 12 hours each day, 8-8, except for one morning per week. Agency and independent providers welcome. Inquire with Nikki at 617-877-5444.