From the Frying Pan… Into the Fire

In the spring of 2011, my beautiful mom, the one who cooked great meals, helped us with our homework when she could, who held two jobs to take care of us even before her second marriage to my step-father, was in the beginning stages of dementia. It was evident that she needed home care services or home care assistance, since my mom would never want to leave home.

Including me, there were five sisters. I was one of the oldest sisters, with three younger sisters beneath me. I had a conversation with the sister who had Power of Attorney (POA) over my mom’s affairs and she asked me if it would be possible for me to begin stopping by after work to check to see if mom needed help. To see if she needed anything from the grocery store. To simply sit and visit with her for an hour.

I knew from an early age that If, and when my mom needed help, that I would be the one most likely to do it. My oldest sister and one of the younger sisters lived too far away to help mom, the sister who had POA had a disabled child to manage, and the youngest sister had just married and lived in Trinidad with her new husband.

Fast forward to 2013, I was laid off from my job as a writer. It was a natural progression to be the one to focus on mom. It was evident by then that mom was exhibiting the beginning signs of dementia. She began leaving out food to spoil. She started repeating herself. She could not remember where her shoes were, where she left her eyeglasses, her keys, etc. A telling moment came the day she went out to go grocery shopping but could not remember how to get home. Thankfully, a woman stopped to offer her assistance. She knew where my mom lived and told her to follow her. That was the incident that proved to us that something was not right with mom.

POA sister took mom to the doctor, where she was indeed diagnosed with dementia. We were all in a state of shock and disbelief. Approximately six years ago, one of our uncles had died from Alzheimer’s. We called a family meeting to talk about this new development. What should we do? How would mom manage things on her own? My step-father had died in 2008, so mom lived alone in a big four-bedroom house. We were clueless when it came to understand what had to be done to keep mom safe.

In the first year of her diagnosis, my youngest sister, who lived close to mom, would stop by after work or sometimes during the lunch hour, since she worked at home. I had no idea what was going on, since I lived in another city, so I was surprised when I was told that Dolly would be traveling for her job, and therefore, unable to continue helping mom on her own. My first thought was that perhaps it was time for some professional home care.

I had “the talk”, with POA sister about what we needed to do to help mom. I live in another city, so I was thinking it was going to be hard to stop by every day, but I had decided to give it a try. Turns out that God worked that out for me. Shortly after talking to my sister about trying to stop by every day, I was laid off from my job. Now the plan was to move in with mom as she could no longer be left alone. At the time, I had my oldest daughter living with me. My youngest child was working and living in the United Kingdom.

The big question was where would my oldest child go? She was clearly uninterested in going with me, so she began searching for another place to live. After a month, my daughter went to live with friends in another city. Now it was my turn. I was frantically searching for another job because I simply could not see myself living with my mother with no income. I was terrified at the very thought of that happening. I imagined that if I had a job, I would be away at least part of the day. A month later, I had no job prospects and I had run out of time, so I began the arduous task of moving ten years of stuff. My problem was that I started moving much too late to beat the deadline of when I was supposed to be at my mom’s house. I frantically threw away anything I had not used in three years. My daughter living in the UK had junk to be disposed of. My oldest daughter had left some of her junk. Basically, I had to get rid of everything I owned, save my DVDs, some of my clothes, a couple of pairs of shoes, and a few dry goods. All of my dishes, furniture, bath towels, computer desk, computer, and the tables they sat on, were all thrown away or donated. I felt that I had been stripped of my identity.

Nevertheless, I moved in with my mom. She seemed normal at first. We would exchange pleasantries in the morning when she came downstairs. I would ask her what she wanted to eat but she would always say she could take care of her own meal plans. She would watch the soaps on television, go to the senior citizen’s center for bingo, and go to Home Town Buffet. These were her favorite things to do. Although mom was not big on going out to eat, if you mentioned Home Town, she would jump up and head for the door.

After a year of living with mom, she was no longer interested in going out to eat. If asked to go out to Home Town Buffet, she would shrug her shoulders and say, “You go on. I will stay here”. We would try to encourage her to go to the senior citizens center for bingo. She would get a glazed look in her eyes and say she had never been there, but perhaps one day she would go with us. When the soap operas came on television, it appeared she could not hear what was going on. She would ask questions like, “What did he say?” “Who is that man or woman?” I don’t remember that happening to them. She would then get up and sit in the living room to read her bible, listen to the radio or pretend to read some of the children’s books left from when her grand-children were young.

Before coming to live with mom, I considered myself to be a patient person. A loving person. A happy person. Being back at home brought back all the insecurities of childhood. It took me back to how my mom was never satisfied with anything done for her. When we washed dishes, she would complain that some were left dirty or that the water we washed them in was not hot enough or soapy enough. If we vacuumed the floor, she would complain that there was a spot or two we missed. If the bed was made, she would complain that the sheets were not tight enough. I was beginning to get that same sense of failure. I would try to feed mom and she would say that I did not know how to cook. I offered to vacuum, and she told me that I would not be able to do it like she does. I was seething under my breath as she said these things to me. I tried feeding her one day and she called me all kinds of names and told me that people thought she was crazy, but she was not. Not fully understanding what was happening, I would scream at her and tell her that nobody ever said you were crazy. I just want to help you. She would scream back that she was perfectly capable of taking care of herself and her home. Her go to line was, “This is my house. Get out!” She began doing dangerous things, like leaving the eyes lit on the stove, leaving the refrigerator door open, or leaving the oven on. My only solace what that she was not a sun downer (those who wander off).

Every night I fervently prayed that my mother would learn to accept my presence in her home. I did not know that I would be sabotaged by my own sister who was now thinking of hiring a care provider for my mom.

Stay tuned…