“Why do I have to move?” was the question Mom kept asking, but not understanding three weeks ago as we made the transition from her apartment to a memory-care facility.
Mom’s memory loss from Alzheimer’s disease had been on a plateau for several years, but in recent months things began slipping. She was able to stay in her own apartment as long as she had because of the Herculean efforts of my brother Rodney and his strategically placed network of “spies” at the senior apartment complex where Mom had lived for more than seven years. He’s friends with the Meals on Wheels lady who delivered Mom’s lunch every day and made sure she was OK. He called on Addie, Mom’s next-door neighbor, to alert him if something was amiss. And Rodney himself had started delivering her medications every day because she’d lost the ability to reliably take her pills. (We were horrified to discover about two months ago Mom had been stashing her meds in a drawer if she’d forgotten to take them, and she was routinely forgetting despite a daily phone call).
The psychologist who evaluated Mom several years ago assured us there would be an “incident” at some point and we’d know it was time for a memory-care unit. That incident came a couple months ago when Rodney — I refer to him as a guardian angel masquerading as my brother — arrived at Mom’s apartment to find a can of Crisco on a burner that was very near to catching fire. She was bewilderedly making cookies, not making sense of anything. Of course we had the stove disconnected immediately. We learned just recently, though, that her toaster had started smoking a while back and there had been another incident that had set off the smoke alarm and caused a ruckus.
By the end of May Mom finally was at the top of the waiting list at an assisted-living facility with a memory-care unit, so I canceled other Memorial Day weekend plans and headed to Minnesota to help facilitate the move. I stayed with her around the clock for five days, the first two days as we packed up her things, then two days at my brother Wayne’s house while they moved stuff into her new place (that’s when she was most confused) and then a day and night at the new facility.
I tried to take her out of the moving madness as much as possible. We visited the cemetery, went shopping and wiled away the time.
The questions never stopped, and all the commotion made her even more confused.
“Why do I have to move?” “Where are we?” “What’s the name of this place? “Why do I have to move? ...” And then I’d start answering the questions all over again, and again.
The first couple mornings were rough when she discovered at her old apartment that her sewing machine had gone missing, even though she lost the ability to focus on sewing a couple years ago. Then the clothes in her closet had somehow disappeared, she said. Who would take them, she pondered incredulously. She’d already forgotten she was moving.
Though she had mildly complained to Rodney early on about having to move, and told him he might as well just put her in jail, thankfully she was good-natured throughout the ordeal, even cracking a couple jokes. As she sat on the couch in her new place and was still confused, I told her not to worry, that all the commotion had fried her brain a little.
“Yes, my brain has been fried, scrambled and fricasseed!” she exclaimed.
The staff at her new digs, The Fairmont in Moorhead, Minnesota, about 30 miles from our hometown of Hawley, couldn’t be sweeter and I’m happy to report that so far, so good, to a point. She still wonders when she’s going “home,” wherever that is in her mind. She’s worried she’ll never get to her country church for services, but after a personal visit from the pastor at The Fairmont, she’s beginning to adapt to church services held regularly at the memory-care unit.
It’s a huge relief for us to have Mom in a place where she’s safe and cared for so well.
After it was all over Rodney and we sat out on his deck, watching the swans glide over the nearby lake, he waxed poetic, as he so often does.
“We absolutely could not have done this without you,” he told me. “You wrapped your arms around Mom in the middle of a tornado and held on through the storm, ’til you could safely set her down.”
I had not considered that my role was any greater than the load my other siblings carried, but I was the one to patiently answer the hundreds of recurring questions that swirled through Mom’s mind throughout the trauma of moving. It was exhausting for all of us, but it seemed only natural that we be there for the one who has always been there for us.
Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or firstname.lastname@example.org.