I visited my mother earlier this evening. It was the second time in two days, although it was the first and only time in those two visits I really got to have any interaction with her.
Unfortunately, when my wife and I got there yesterday she was asleep. Asleep, as in: out of it, mouth open, heavy breathing, asleep.
It was frustrating to say the least. It takes a while to get there depending upon the traffic and the “prize” is being there with her: being there for her… The secondary prize is having her care-givers and nurses always wondering who will show up and when.
You see, my mother is in a skilled nursing/assisted living facility in the San Fernando Valley. The very best facility of its kind, as far as that goes. But, that doesn’t mean having her there is any easier. The problem is, she has Alzheimer’s and the kind of speech aphasia that generally accompanies it, which means that at this point there is no alternative.
If you’ve been through anything like this… and, too many of you have; you know exactly what I’m talking about. The difficulties associated with dealing with this condition are difficult enough. So is the level of care necessary, especially because my mother cannot communicate on her own behalf. It takes a lot of care and an almost mystical kind of intuition, the kind of second sight that generally comes with constant companionship. The level of care in the current facility is incredibly good. But, it still isn’t the one-on-one care we’re used to.
Consequently, separation brings with it a fairly high level of anxiety. That, coupled with a technician’s sensitivities (always wanting to “fix” things…) make visiting as close to emotional suicide as you can get and still remain functional. I can’t tell you what it feels like to get off the second floor elevator and see the patients stacked in front of the nursing station like the rows of used up and broken cars I’m used to seeing in a wrecking yard.
In a way, I guess this is a fitting metaphor. Everyone there has certainly seen better days. Almost all are pretty well used up. And, it would be safe to say, the majority certainly aren’t ‘running right.’ So, we do the same thing with our elderly that we do with all things no longer useful in our culture: we discard it. We segregate it. We remove it. We eliminate it and limit its ability to distract or depress us.
If that seems harsh I apologize. But, you’ll have to prove to me that I’m wrong. Even though I’d like to believe I’m the exception to the rule, my mother is there because I can’t care for her at home. I have neither the training, nor the specialized equipment. I don’t have easy access to the medical technology necessary to ensure her comfort or health either. And, I don’t have the resources to pay for any of that kind of care around the clock. Consequently, I’m trapped.
The fact that I was business partners and best friends with my mother and father for more years than I’ve been married and I’ve been married for forty years doesn’t help. It just sharpens the edge on the responsibility I feel so deeply every day. So, this is the best of all possible solutions – barring, of course, a complete and totally impossible recovery – in the worst of all possible scenarios…
What does it mean? Nothing, really… It doesn’t change a thing. I’m still going to visit and she will still be waiting… kind of like that proud old sedan I saw at the ‘yard’ the other day: a remnant of gentler times and a more elegant era, when people were more important than things, and all things weren’t ‘instant’ and disposable.’