This weekend my sister and I talked with my mother about the request of her assisted living facility to move her to a new “neighborhood” within the facility, a memory enhanced unit. Mom has been declining, not just physically from her Parkinson’s and other health issues, but of late she has become a bit more confused. We were nervous about how she would take this information. On Friday, the owner of the facility, a nurse herself, started to drop some hints to Mom about her needing more care and attention than she was getting. My sister got a call from Mom on Friday saying that she was at Grandma’s, her mother’s house. Somehow she must have thought that the assisted living facility was going to kick her out. My sister assured her that she had nothing to worry about, that she would be staying at the same home, and that we were all going to take care of her. So on Saturday as we spoke with her, my sister said that she wasn’t going to have to go to Grandma’s. Mom asked if Grandma were living alone.
“Mom, Grandma is no longer alive.” Mom looked surprised and asked when she died.
“In 1972,” my sister said. Mom’s eyes got all watery like she was experiencing her mother’s death all over again.
“You are the adult now, not the child. You don’t have to go to Grandma’s,” my sister said.
“Everyone here knows what it means to move to the new ‘neighborhood,'” Mom said.
“What does it mean, Mom?” She just looked at us. We all knew.
Though there were a few negative, but totally understandable, responses from Mom, she knew that things were getting harder for her, that the edges of her thinking were losing their acuity, and that this was the right thing to do. (We also lied to her by assuring her that the cost was going to be the same, because the new room was smaller but there would be more care.)
My sister had to leave for work and after lunch, my mother and I went to the new “neighborhood” to visit. I brought some clay from my sister’s studio. Mom and I decided if there were anyone interested, we would invite them to join us in playing with clay.
There were four women in all counting mom. I first gave them clay to push and roll and squeeze and coil. They were totally into it, especially one woman who found the experience very stimulating. One woman made a small tray and Mom made a candle holder. The women made decorative tiles using fingers and stamps and plastic forks to decorate their pieces. Their enthusiasm and engagement perhaps had a lot to do with a feeling of control over the malleable material, an ability to make it respond to the energy of their hands. After making their choices for the colors of glaze they wanted on their creations, I cleaned up and asked Mom if she wanted to go back to her room and maybe take a short nap. She said, “No let’s just stay here.” And so we did. At one point an aide joined us and we all chatted for a while.
Then mom and I met my sister and her spouse at an Italian restaurant for dinner. It was a full day — filled with lots of activities and conversation, filled with lots of warmth and laughter, filled with intimacy and the rich expression and experience of being in relationship with those we love. When we dropped mom off at the end of the evening, she said she had a wonderful day and thanked us for being with her. I held her hand and thanked her for being such a terrific role model and being so graceful about change. She just smiled– exhausted and ready for bed.