Yesterday was tough. About 12 of us (5 family members plus a great team of professional movers) spent 12 hours shifting my mother from her Independent Living apartment to a new Assisted Living apartment across the parking lot on the same campus. My kids took their Grandmother out for the day (to breakfast and church and to visit the Cantor Arts Center) while my brother, husband, and I moved her stuff. She did not want to move but her family and doctors all see that with progressive memory loss, my mother needs more help than we can provide with less-than-fulltime caregivers. We hired movers who took photos of everything and did their best to set up the new apartment in exactly the same arrangement as the old. Her cats were unhappy to be kept safe in carriers all day – and are probably still hiding under the bed. We moved everything: furniture, kitchen, art, more art, art supplies, her big easel, electronics, and an entire deck-full of heavy plants and planters. The point in reproducing the old place in the new was that she would not notice – and she didn’t. Success meant that our day of sorting, heavy lifting and tricky decision-making went largely unrecognized. Hooray?
A few years ago, I was touched when my younger brother sent me this poem about difficulties in taking care of our mother. My two brothers live much farther away, so I manage her day-to-day business, caretakers, and medical decisions. My brothers and I confer on resolving larger issues. Sometimes it feels like having another child myself – but one who gets less mature as time passes. No matter what, we love her as she is.
by Joseph Mills
I don’t think my brother realized all
the responsibilities involved in being
her guardian, not just the paperwork
but the trips to the dentist and Wal-Mart,
the making sure she has underwear,
money to buy Pepsis, the crying calls
because she has no shampoo even though
he has bought her several bottles recently.
We talk about how he might bring this up
with the staff, how best to delicately ask
if they’re using her shampoo on others
or maybe just allowing her too much.
“You only need a little, Mom,” he said,
“Not a handful.” “I don’t have any!”
she shouted before hanging up. Later
he finds a bottle stashed in her closet
and two more hidden in the bathroom
along with crackers, spoons, and socks.
Afraid someone might steal her things,
she hides them, but then not only forgets
where, but that she ever had them at all.
I tease my brother, “You always wanted
another kid.” He doesn’t laugh. She hated
her father, and, in this second childhood,
she resents the one who takes care of her.
When I call, she complains about how
my brother treats her and how she hasn’t
seen him in years. If I explain everything
he’s doing, she admires the way I stick up
for him. Doing nothing means I do nothing
wrong. This is love’s blindness and love’s
injustice. It’s why I expect to hear anger
or bitterness in my brother’s voice, and why
each time we talk, no matter how closely
I listen, I’m astonished to hear only love.
“The Guardian” by Joseph Mills, from Love and Other Collisions. © Press 53, 2010.
Images Copyright 2015 by Katy Dickinson