Where the hell has Heather been…?

 

 You might ask, “Where the hell has Heather been of late?”my mother and little me

What matters most is how well you walk through the fire.

Thank you for that thought, Charles Bukowski!
True, right? Life is a series of fires we walk through to test strength of character and personal endurance. We walk through each fire with some degree of Grace, or we don’t.  We’ve all had our share of walking through red hot coals. I’ve had my share, including an actual fire that burned our retail store to the ground back in ’72.

But my most recent fire walk came in the form of caring for and finally the death of an aging mother.  I’m unsure how well I walked through this fire. Many of you have been through that same fire, or you are right now, or will be in the future….

 In the summer of 2014, my mother’s mental and physical abilities diminished drastically making it unsafe to have her and my stepfather alone in their home. Mom could no longer function safely in her beloved kitchen, so we tried Meals on Wheels and bringing in home-cooked dinners. Nothing appealed to their appetites. We hired caretakers to attend to the folks by day, but they were alone at night. That’s when I began to fall asleep each night anxiety-ridden about receiving the call that my mother’d had a medical emergency. Every morning I’d awaken relieved that another night had passed without a call for help.

During that same phase, my stepfather lost his driving privileges and vowed not to take the car anywhere. Then we discovered that every evening at dinner time, the folks were sneak-driving out to a fast food restaurant and hiding the McDonald’s wrappers from us. The risk they took was enormous, but since my mom’s name is Bonnie, we named them “Bonnie and Clyde” and worked even harder to move them to a safe environment.

Since it became apparent that my mom required round-the-clock supervision, assisted living became the only option. With all the work needed to vacate the house and put it on the market to sell, I didn’t realize how difficult it was for my mother to give up her beautiful home and lovely belongings. Along with her antiques, and since Mom was a depression era kid, she kept every plastic bag and rubber band that came her way. What a task! Working with my stepbrother for weeks on end, we filled dumpsters and Deseret trucks.

The assisted living arrangements weren’t the success I’d hoped. My mom found it difficult to interact with fellow residents and participate in social activities because of her mental decline. She misplaced everything. She could no longer style her hair, put together an outfit for church, or keep in touch with old friends. Mom spent hours searching through long-outdated lists of contact information, yearning to be able to connect, but could no longer dial the phone or write a note. Her physical health continued to decline in the assisted living facility during the first year, but the frustrating thing was Mom’s cognitive ability. She could not grasp the simplest concept, nor verbalize to me her personal needs and fears.

My mother died in January of this year at age 90. Dealing with the grief of the loss was overshadowed by two things: the lingering stress caused by my gut wrenching efforts to meet her needs during the time before she died and the residual guilt produced by constantly asking myself after she died, “What else could I have done to make my mom’s last two years easier for her?” I continue to walk through the fire by second-guessing myself and regret.

Walking through this fire gave me a clearer understanding and greater compassion for anyone who is a caretaker for aging parents (or for a family member with special needs). The wear on a caretaker’s body and mind is enormous. Patience wears thin and stress mounts, but that’s why it’s called walking through the fire. My heart goes out to anyone who now has their feet held to the flames in this way.

It’s good to be back. Thanks for listening.

Comments

  1. I’m glad you’re back, Heather. I’ve missed you. Your story touches me because I am in a similar situation with both parents- mom is 86 and dad is 94. it is a constant struggle to find that balance of helping them and taking care of myself. Assisted living isn’t the answer for everyone but I am thankful that my parents made that decision themselves. My dad is now in the Memory Care unit; they live in separate apartments after 64 years of marriage. It’s hard watching their decline after having lived such vibrant lives. Thank you for sharing your experience so that we can all begin to understand that there are no easy answers.

  2. Rosina Rowland says:

    Although we have never met, I follow your uplifting posts constantly. I feel you are speaking to me personally and can see into my heart. I thank my dear friend Evelyn each time I see her,for putting me in touch with you.
    The above missal is touching. I was in Australia when my father died and in Callifornia when my mother died so I never had the opportunity to be with them at the final curtain.As a retired nurse I have been witness to the turmoil that is put on the families and the patients. I thank God each day for the caring family I have esp cially when I experience the loneliness of others.

    • Rosina, I had the privilege of being with two people when they took their last breath (one family, one friend), but not at the side of my mother and father. I’ve often wondered why I missed that moment with my parents….

      Thank you so much for your comment. Maybe someday you and I will meet in person. Until then, blessings….

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