For nearly eight years, Mrs. Perils’ mother has lived with us. Back in 2002, my father-in-law, who had suffered some pretty severe dementia for several years and for whom my MIL was the sole care-giver, had just died. In the weeks that followed, we came to realize that his severe dementia had masked a slight but burgeoning case of her own. I remember the moment when I got my first inkling.
My in-laws lived in the Ohio town where Mrs. Perils and I grew up, and I would swing through there on business trips to visit my own parents. I usually tried to set aside an hour or so to pop in on my in-laws. On a trip shortly after my FIL died, I visited with my MIL, and we had a pleasant chat, as always. As I recall, during the course of this conversation we dwelt a bit on Charlie and his memory issues, and at some point my MIL was talking and hit an air pocket, something trivial, but more serious than simply trying to find the right word or remembering the name of an author. For an instant, we exchanged a glance of realization; then we laughed a bit and moved on, and I flew back to Seattle as I always had.
During a later visit by Mrs. Perils’ sister, however, we discovered that things had worsened: my MIL’s mental state had been exacerbated by depression, she’d been eating sporadically and housekeeping had deteriorated to a state where we felt it was dangerous. Mrs. Perils and her sibs proposed a grand tour, prolonged visits with each of them in Tennessee, Idaho and Seattle, with the unstated intention that she would not be returning to her house. The wheel stopped in Seattle. We had the best situation - empty-nesters with no household strife, and Mrs. Perils with enough spare time to tend to the (at that time) minimal care-giving.
Our original intention had been to move her to an assisted living facility whenever we found one to our liking, and we toured a couple. My MIL has always been a cheery and positive person with a good sense of humor, however, and we were enjoying having her around as a sort of extended holiday. We tabled the move to assisted living, and life began to take its course. At one time in the ensuing years, we had 3 generations of us in the house, as our son, then later his girlfriend, bunked out here.
My MIL’s physical and mental state has undergone a gradual, but predictable and manageable, decline over the years (those of you observing me may say the same), until the last 2 - 3 weeks, when things started to lurch and plummet. We had discussed in the past that there would be a limit to what we would undertake, but really had no idea what that boundary would look like. We very definitely found it last week, when I was out of town and Mrs. Perils was getting only an hour or two of sleep at night.
Acting on a recommendation of a friend, we viewed an adult living center on Monday, and liked what we saw. We are fortunate that they had a couple of slots available. A nurse came to the house to conduct an evaluation Tuesday morning, and we moved my MIL to the facility after dinner that evening.
Mrs. Perils had explained to her several times what we were doing and why, and each time she had accepted the explanation; but then, an hour or so later, she would ask, “where am I going?” or “am I going somewhere”, and the words “we’re taking you to your new home” formed with difficulty, and shimmered in their strangeness.
The afternoon was a stew of emotions as we made preparations. One was guilt: on my end, for the paltry number of times I actually sat down in the living room and engaged her in conversation, as opposed to flashing through with a quick “hi” or mugging for a cheap laugh; Mrs. Perils, I believe, wondering if she were being too quick to pull this trigger in case the week’s weirdnesses were something temporary.
Another was sadness, especially as we prepared to leave the house: there was her blue duffel bag, which I hadn’t seen since we’d taken her with us to the Oregon coast 4 years ago, packed and by the door; there was our cat, Rico Suave, her almost constant companion at her perch on the living room sofa, whom she was likely seeing for the last time; and there was the slow trip down the stairs off the porch to the sidewalk, which she and Mrs. Perils had taken twice a day for 8 years on their ever-shorter strolls around the neighborhood, also probably for the last time.
And, I have to admit, there was also exhilaration, at freeing Mrs. Perils of the despair of the past week, and of the sudden and unlooked-for prospect of a new stage in our lives.
I look back on the past 8 years and try to assess what we (well, mostly, Mrs. Perils) accomplished. As Mrs. P has said, elder-care is not like raising a child; instead of a tremulous gift to the future, it is a managed degeneration with only one possible ending. I like to think we afforded my MIL a quality of life that she would not have had in a long-term care institution: a cavalcade of normal life swirling around her as our friends, our neighbors, our son and his friends came and went. I’ll count that as an accomplishment. (Click to enlarge)