There are days – most days – that I really love what I do. Working with older folks and their families can be a very rewarding and joyful experience. Those days, for
example, when I get to tell an older couple, fallen on tough times and who are having many medical issues and who have a very limited income, in the first instance, that I am able to connect them with a reputable mortgage broker who can get them a good Reverse Mortgage on their home. Not something I often recommend, but in this case a good fit. A a bit later, I get to deliver word that we will be able to get them Veteran’s Benefits that will more than double their monthly income. And better still, the award is retroactive for two years providing them a windfall of almost $26,000. Cash. Tax Free (it’s disability payment, not income)..
Or when I have a group of adult children, who, together with their husbands and wives, don’t see eye to eye about “what to do about dad” but I am able to convince them the best approach is to get them all into a room with Dad and come to some agreement. And we do. And all of them hug me as they leave the room. Even Dad.
Then I have days that are not so easy. Even though I’m still very happy about the work I do for people. Days where the circumstances themselves are much harder. Like being called to a hospital room for a client who is actively dying and still doesn’t have a Will. Often they are frightened, anxious and lonely in such circumstances. To be able to bring some level of peace in what remains of their lives is a tremendous gift to be able to experience – but it usually leaves me flattened and exhausted emotionally.
And then there are days like this one. Where I am the client and it is my family that I am dealing with. Like today. Today I am moving my mother to an Assisted Living. She’s not fighting me on it. She’s ready to be taken care of better and she knows we and the paid home caregivers we have been juggling just cannot do it anymore.
Mom is nearly 84 and has multiple medical issues which means she also has a fairly complex medication regime including potentially dangerous things like insulin. She suffers from some cognitive deficits and can no longer remember what she took, how much, or when. And at her age, she’s also a bit unsteady and frail. Falling is a constant concern. It’s a potentially very dangerous situation, never mind being isolated and lonely.
Mom has lived alone since my dad died last year. We had a grueling 3 year descent with his last illness that took it out of all of us. I had hoped we’d get a break after that. We did get the briefest of respites and Mom even got a little better when she was no longer being leaned on as primary caregiver herself. But that short window has now slammed shut and now Mom needs 24/7 care herself.
When I went to the facility yesterday with Mom to finalize all the paperwork (two and half HOURS of droning on about rules, regulations, “rights” and signing endless forms) it finally hit me that I am putting my mother into an Assisted Living Facility. When the overhead page came across inviting residents to Bingo I nearly lost it.
It’s a very nice place; run by a partnership of Centra Health and the Christian “Disciples of Christ” as a non-profit (something I insisted on). It has a wonderful reputation in this area. It’s spotless, no lingering odors of food or other less pleasant things; it’s got tall ceilings, is full of big windows and splashed with sunlight Has a lovely dining room and “chef prepared” meals three times a day plus snacks twice a day. She will be in a very pleasant, sunny room with a nice view of the lake and Peaks of Otter Mountains in the distance. The property backs up to Thomas Jefferson’s other plantation property, PoplarForest, and will not likely ever be developed.
I went back over this morning – alone – to take some measurements to see what furniture, pictures, plants etc. we would take over with us. I sat on the bed and cried.
You see, I work with people in Assisted Livings all the time. I know what its like. I know they are understaffed and overworked. That for all the smoke and mirrors in the glossy brochures and happy smiling faces on their websites, the reality is something quite different.
I am grateful that there are many well trained, deeply caring people who work in facilities for our elders. CNAs, med-techs, social workers, nurses, activities coordinators. But for all their best efforts and good intentions, they are often too overworked or too few. Or paid so badly that just the struggles of their lives outside work become too overwhelming for them to perform well. Many are grandmothers taking care of small children at home. They have worn out their bodies doing this thankless, backbreaking work for decades. And still they show up day after day.
I know that the only way this will work out is I or one of my siblings or one of mom’s many friends still in the area is there all the time. It is the residents who have no one to speak up for them who get the short end of the stick. Residents who do advocate for themselves sometimes end up becoming known as “troublemakers” and soon staff learns to ignore their requests for assistance (the very reason they are there!) – or worse – retaliates.
I know my mother will be infinitely safer and looked after here. But my heart nevertheless is aching.