My friend Suzy’s parents passed away recently within months of each other. She shared a quote from her brother, Craig, who told her that during difficult times we all have to “lean into the silver linings.”
This idea of leaning not just on our friends and family but into an appreciation of the precious moments that happen even in the midst of a challenge, has captured my heart. I keep turning it over in my mind, coming back to it again and again like savoring a butterscotch candy for as long as I can.
August 1st, we will move Mom into a memory care facility. I had hoped for years that we could take care of her at home until her final breath. But I’ve had to let go of that idea.
This fall, Rocky and I will lead two back-to-back yoga & hiking retreats in Northern Spain and will be out of the country for nearly a month. When we planned these retreats two and a half years ago, I assumed Mom would have already passed before we left for Spain. Years ago, I had been told by Mom’s doctors that she would only live for 8-10 years after her original Alzheimer’s diagnosis. It has been 13 years. Of course, she has always been an over-achiever!
Faced with having to find someone to take care of her, we realized that she would need more care than any of our family members could manage alone. My brother, Fred, flew out to help me explore our local options and we found a beautiful and safe new home for her just ten minutes from us.
I sensed it was the right place when I walked through the dining hall the first time and two women residents about Mom’s age shouted, “Helloooooo!” and waved. I knew she would fit right in. She is known in our neighborhood for her friendly waves and greetings of “Hellooooo!” to friends and strangers alike.
The idea of turning over my job of caring for Mom leaves me conflicted. I feel the worry in the pit of my stomach and try to breathe through it. I wonder how she will manage the transition and worry about causing her any pain. Alas, I am the mother who had to be peeled away from the classroom window and told to move along on my boy’s first day of kindergarten. I am the dog-mom who made Rocky turn around an hour into our first road trip together years ago and go back to “rescue” our dog, Kendall, from the boarding kennel because I couldn’t stand to leave him. How am I supposed to leave my Mom in a new home when she can’t comprehend the reasons why?
When we moved her from her downstairs room to an upstairs room this May, she thought we had moved her to a new home. She kept telling me, “you have such a beautiful home!” not remembering that she had lived here already for 10 years. She worried out loud that her family wouldn’t be able to find her and was so relieved and happy to see me every time I entered the room. Gratefully, within a few days she settled in to her new upstairs life and stopped fretting about us not being able to find her. I pray she will quickly feel at home in her new place as well.
While packing up her things to move her upstairs, I came across one of her many diaries. She had only one entry in this one and it was dated May 20, 2012, almost five years ago to the date, recorded during a time when she could still read and write. It read, ” While walking Suki this AM, I had the most comforting feeling of being “one” with the world. All my fears had “disappeared.” I knew in my mind that whatever happens to me I will be cared for. Whatever challenge is ahead for me, I will be able to face. I love living here with the family and know if that has to change sometime, I will be cared for.”
I am grateful to my Angels who must have led me to this never-before-seen diary during a time I really needed the reassurance of my Mom’s own voice.
I am leaning into the possibility that she will love being surrounded by her new “friends.” She will have a nurse and caretakers watching over her 24/7 which is more than we could ever offer her in our home. She will have a roommate in her new place, and a view of the garden from her window.
Maybe her new roommate, Margaret, will remind her of her college roommate, Harriet, who has kept in touch with Mom all of these years. One of the silver linings of Mom’s Alzheimer’s is that she often thinks she “recognizes” people she has never met because they remind her of someone else that was special to her. When the nurse team from the memory care facility arrived at our home to do her assessment, she greeted them like long lost friends. Her immediate affection for them was beyond her normal friendliness and surprised me until I remembered two of her friends from her long ago life in Charleston who they sort-of resembled.
For Rocky and I, the potential silver linings seem almost too good to be true. The possibility of leaving the house together spontaneously to go to the store or a movie without having to get a “babysitter” will be very freeing. Rocky claims he will also be running though the house naked so be sure to let us know if you plan to stop by. Traveling together without having to follow my Mom’s strict meals/shower/naps and bedtime schedule will also be exhilarating.
I will lean into the silver lining of my dear friends and my Mom’s sister, Nancy, who will stand in for me while we are gone, checking on Mom and making sure she is being well cared for and getting to eat as much ice cream as she wants.
I was warned by her social worker that Mom will likely decline in the first week or so at the new place but that eventually she will rally and hopefully even thrive. The director of wellness at the new facility has also asked that we stay away for a few days after initial move-in so that Mom will bond with her new caretakers. I want to reject that idea outright but understand the need for it. I hope for silver linings to lean into during that time. Maybe Rocky running though the house naked will be enough of a distraction….