A year ago today, Mom and Dad left the home we had shared in Florida for the past five years. They were on their way to their new home at Southridge Village in Conway, Arkansas. Following is an entry from my journal for that day.
December 10, 2010
Mom and Dad left this morning. They rode away in the back seat of their beloved 1997 Buick Skylark. It’s showing its age. The rear-view mirror adjustments have long since come loose and fallen into the inner recesses of the doors. The glove compartment door no longer stays shut, even with the help of duct tape. The carpets are stained from food spilled on the way to potluck dinners. And when the doors are first opened on a hot, Florida afternoon, the lingering odor of unwashed bodies and incontinent passengers drifts out into the sunshine. But to Mom and Dad, it’s still as beautiful as the day they drove it off the lot, the day Dad teared up and said I didn’t think I’d ever own a Buick. They still smile with pride when they look at it, and one or the other says That sure is a pretty car.
They feel the same way about each other. After 70 years of marriage, he looks at her like a star-struck teenager, seeing past the wear and tear of the years to the woman he loves and says, “You’re beautiful.”
“And you’re handsome,” she says with equal sincerity as they exchange kisses and smile into each other’s eyes.
But today they weren’t focusing on each other or on the Buick. They were confused.
“Good morning,” I said as I knocked on their door several hours earlier. “It’s time to get up and get dressed.”
“Why?” Dad said without moving.
“You’re going to Arkansas today with Jim.”
“We are? What for?”
Sighing silently, I went through the explanation – again. “We’ve sold the house, and we have to be out in about 10 days. David and I will be living in the RV for a while, and it’s not big enough for all of us. Besides, Jim wants you to live in Arkansas for a while so he can see you more often. He’s found a nice apartment for you about 2 miles from his house.”
I stopped myself from saying Don’t you remember? Of course, they didn’t remember. In spite of the repeated explanations and all the furniture they watched being carried out of the house, they didn’t remember. Alzheimer’s and dementia saw to that.
That’s the end of what I wrote that day. There wasn’t time for more. We had a lot to do before the 21st: a garage sale to prepare for; closets, drawers, and cabinets to clean out; years of memories and assorted stuff to be sorted, saved, donated, discarded. But there’s always time for the caregiver to doubt, to second guess, to worry, to regret, to grieve.
Mom’s last look haunted me. Dad hugged and kissed me good-bye with little more emotion than if we were saying good night, but Mom teared up, fear clouding her face.
“I don’t want to go,” she said.
“You’ll be fine,” I said. “You’ll have a good time.”
“Yeah,” said Jim. “I’m a lot more fun than she is.”
“Yes, he is,” I said. “And he’s not nearly as bossy.”
Once they were in the car, neither of them looked back. I watched until they were out of sight and then returned to the house to try and bring order to the chaos. The pain of their departure lingered, but it was tempered by the relief of not having them underfoot. We left the doors and windows open with no complaints about how cold it was. I sorted, boxed, bagged, and stacked without repeated questions about what I was doing and why. We also got some periodic comic relief from the status reports from Jim.
“Mom was fine as soon as we got out of the driveway, but Dad asked about a dozen times in the first two miles where Linda was.”
“I don’t know why I was worried about Mom and her bathroom needs. I just sent her into the restroom with a fresh Depends and she was fine.” Wanna bet?
“Maybe she does need supervision after all. She apparently put the clean one on over the dirty one.”
“Which suitcase is Dad’s and which is Mom’s. Dad needs a change of clothes.”
“I planned to spend a night on the road. We stopped and got a motel room, but by 2:00 am when Mom was up AGAIN, I gave up, packed the car and headed for home.”
Transitions are always hard, but all things considered, this one went amazingly well. When Mom and Dad walked into their new apartment where their furniture, pictures, and other personal belongings had been set up, they seemed to feel right at home.
“Oh,” Dad said as he looked around. “Is this our place?”
A year later Dad’s no longer with us, but Mom seems to be content in her new surroundings with her new friends. I know we made the right decision, but I still doubt, second guess, worry, regret, and grieve from time to time. I’m a caregiver, and that’s what I do.