A summer update: steps along the journey of caring for an elderly parent

We’ve noticed a shift in my almost 89-year-old mum in the last couple of weeks. Suddenly, she seems older, frailer. She’s feeling it too.  She talks more frequently about feeling like she’s on the way out. She expresses how she just can’t seem to find her energy, and doesn’t know who she is anymore. Her level of forgetfulness is definitely worsening. We have honest conversations about death, and choices. I give her lots of hugs.

Our visits to the doctor are getting more frequent. We’re investigating how her heart is functioning. A new round of tests and specialists. And in the midst of this, a move to a new care home this week. Her current place is just a bit too far from us, and it’s on a busy street, the sound of traffic bothers her. Her new home is only a few minutes away from us, with a lovely quiet back yard that looks out onto a field of beautiful trees. She finds so much solace and peace in nature. A lovely living room with the type of furniture that reminds her of home back in England, with a piano she can play.

It’s a big decision, the upheaval of a move when she is already frail, and has experienced so much change in the last six months since her husband died. And yet, in spite of how she is feeling, she is up for it, which gives me hope.

I spend time with my granddaughters, and watch them grow and change, delighting in the new persons they are becoming, and mourning just a tad the little girls they used to be. With my mum, it’s the opposite… she becomes more childlike, more dependent, and there is more mourning than delight in watching her change.  And yet, I remind myself, this is just the natural rhythm of life… and all I can do is be lovingly present for it, in whatever stage, and adapt to what is needed of me to support what is happening.

It’s a bit scary sometimes, to be so needed by her. I go away for a few days and she misses me terribly.  Tells me she feels like she can’t function without me, that I’m her other half. We have some short week-long trips away planned this summer, a dear friend’s daughter’s wedding in Boston, our yearly pilgrimage to the Yuba river. I worry a bit. Am I doing the right thing by going away? Can I, should I, do I want to, put my own life on hold? It’s hard to know… and so I take it one day at a time, being grateful for this bitter sweet time with her, loving her, being gentle with myself, and trusting that I will know what to do at each turn of the corner on this journey we are walking together.

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