Tag Archives: Parenting an Aging Parent

Experiences of someone who has lived through it and is continuing to make difficult decisions.

The Last Goodbye


This is most difficult blog I have ever had to write– the reason for the long lapse of time between blog entries,  for my procrastination, why I put it off to another day. Well, that “day” has come. I need to compose my thoughts and put them to paper.

Monday morning I had just finished breakfast and was reading the paper when the phone rang. It was Trinity Gardens. I expected to hear my mother had fallen, again, or worse. What I didn’t expect was what Zairita, the caregiver, said.

“Your mother is transitioning,” she said.
“What?” I answered, “I don’t understand.”
“Your mother is trying to pass. You might want to come.”

I finally “got it”, and certainly, I wanted to go. It was now 8 o’clock. I ran into the bedroom, threw on some foundation, to hell with the rest, and quickly dressed. I pulled out of my driveway at 8:10.

I knew my mother was failing and she had only been at Trinity Gardens three weeks. It was either the fall that was taking its toll on her or the natural progression of her dementia.. Her voice was getting weaker until even with my ear to her mouth I couldn’t understand what she was trying to say. It became difficult for her to swallow water, let alone food. They fixed soft food meals for her, but often times she did not feel like eating. I was forced to face reality when the director relayed a message to me from Hospice. They need to know where to send your mother when she dies. 

I had no answer for them. The need to make arrangements was a task I had avoided for too long. Mom already had purchased a double plot when Daddy died. She was to be placed on top of him. I had to find a mortuary. After an internet search, I was able to find one in Riverside near our old neighborhood and the cemetery. Arlington Mortuary was very accommodating to my needs. I explained that I did not live in Riverside and wondered if I could take care of arrangements from Palm Desert. They assured me it was no problem and promised to send me some materials to look over. I thought I had time.

I arrived at Trinity Gardens at 8:20. I didn’t know what to expect. I always pictured getting a phone call and they’d say, “Your mother passed away last night.” Zairita opened the front door

“She’s been this way since yesterday,” she said. “Hospice should have called you.”
“Oh, no,” I said. “They didn’t. I wish they had.”

Zairita showed me into my mother’s room and quietly closed the door. My mother lay in bed. Unlike movie portrayals, she was not quietly sleeping. Her was head tipped back, her breathing loud and heavy. She was struggling. And she had been this way since yesterday! I knew I needed to help her.

“Oh, Mom,” I said taking her hand. “Mom, I’m here. It’s going to be OK.”

For the next few minutes I talked with her, telling her I loved her, we all loved her and she was going to be fine.

“Daddy’s waiting for you. and Grandma and Grandpa,” I assured her.

I wasn’t outright sobbing, but tears began to run down my cheeks. Finally I leaned down and gave her a hug. When I sat up again, she took two more breaths and then stopped. I looked at the clock. 8:35.

I just sat there numb. I need to tell someone, I thought, when Zarita walked in the room.

“She’s gone,” I said
“That was fast,” she said. “You haven’t been here that long. She was waiting for you.”
“Yes,” I think she was.” I softly answered, giving my mother’s hand a last squeeze then releasing it.

Yesterday was my birthday, I thought. She almost died on my birthday. Which made me think further, she was there to help me come into this world, and I was there to help her leave.

I sat there for a few minutes, it all feeling surreal, then realized this was exactly what hospice meant. I needed to call the mortuary.

The next hour I felt as if I were on remote. I went through the motions of what needed to be done without really thinking about it. I first called the mortuary, but was told I needed to call the coroner first and report the death.

“Isn’t hospice there?” they asked.

By the time I went to the office to ask who to call, hospice had arrived. They took over, thank God. They called the coroner and mortuary and had me sign some papers.

I went back into my mother’s room and sat down. I looked over at her, but didn’t feel the overwhelming grief you’d expect. It was more a feeling sadness but also of calm and letting go. Zarita came in.

“Maybe you’d like to start packing up your mother’s things,” she said.

I began to lift the things out of the closet when she came back with large Hefty trash bags.

The hospice nurse came in. “The mortuary said they would be here in an hour and a half,” she said.

“I’d like to be here when they come,” I said.

First I called my husband at work and then my sister and daughter who both insisted that someone be with me.

“No, I told them both. I’m fine. I need to be alone for awhile.”

So after I had finished packing I sat quietly in a chair in the room and waited.

While some people would be breaking down at this point, I was not surprised at my reaction. Mom was 96. She’d led a long, good life. At the end she was not the same person I had grown up with. As I watched her struggle, I think I mourned for her a little every day.

I knew I would cry for her and miss her terribly over the next few days and years, but now I had the freedom to remember all the times we had together, not just the last six years of her dementia which were filled with worry and concern.

Mom, we’ve been on a helluva journey together, I thought glancing over at her body. She hated the idea of needing help and apologized and felt badly that she had to depend on me, but she also had given me a hard time, sometimes, when I tried to do so.

While it was happening I felt compassion, but certainly didn’t see it in a positive light. In retrospect, I can.

Mom was fiercely independent. She was never one to feel sorry for herself; wasn’t a complainer. I admire her for this. And her spirit. She was a fighter who fought her dementia all the way to the end.

At 12:30 the mortuary arrived to drive her back home to Riverside, and I left the room after signing the necessary papers. Zarita met me at the door and I was given a big hug.

“Your mother’s roommate, Rocio, wanted me to tell you she is sorry. She prayed for your mother,” she said.
“Oh, I’ll have to thank her,” I said.

I walked over to Rocio who was sitting in a chair in front of the TV where she must have been all morning to give me privacy.

“I am sorry you lost your mother,” she said in a whisper which reminded me of my mother. “I prayed for her all night. I could hear her breathing so hard, I knew, and I prayed for her.”

“Thank you, “ I said. “I’m sure she heard your prayers.” I reached down and gave her a hug.
“You were a good daughter. I saw when you came to see her.”
“You have a nice family too. I looked at the pictures of them on your dresser. One of them is a wedding picture.”
“Yes, that’s my granddaughter.”
“Family is what it’s all about, isn’t it?” I said.
Rocio nodded her head and smiled.
“I wish my mother had been here longer and you could have gotten to know her.”
“ She was a nice lady.”
“She was. But she could be feisty too.” By seeing her reaction to my comment I added, “I’ll bet you were feisty.”
“I still am,” she answered with a twinkle in her eye.

Settling in to Trinity Gardens


Settling in to Trinity Gardens

Mom fell again. She looks like she has been in a fight; her eyes are black and blue and she has a big bruise on the side of her face. They said she tried to stand up and fell face forward and hit the end of the bed. Of course this meant another ambulance trip to the emergency room and an MRI of her head. (She went three times when she was at Atria) She checked out OK, but needed twenty stitches for the gash in her head.

When Trinity Gardens called to tell me about the fall, I was suffering from a bout of food poisoning and didn’t know how I was going to be able to make it to the ER. Thankfully, hospice was called and between the hospice nurse and a caregiver from Trinity Gardens who drove over to be with her, all was well. My reservations I had about whether or not to keep my mother on hospice quickly vanished. I was reassured that she would be taken care of in an emergency.

My mother seems to like Trinity Gardens. After I left her there the first time, I wondered if I had made the right decision. Atria had activity, and residents were moving around, even if it was with their walkers. Here, a circle of recliners or couches is arranged around a large TV screen, and the residents sit there most of the day sleeping or watching television. I soon realized, being with a more active group could not help my mother. Her dementia had made it harder to interact with others and she needed to just sit for most of the day. This is where she is mentally at this period of time. I wonder if being around residents who were able to converse with each other easily, might actually have been frustrating for my mother. She tried so desperately to make sense when she talked, but most of the time she didn’t.

My worry that my mother would object to sharing a room came to nothing. She did not complain and perhaps didn’t even realize that she didn’t have her own room. This also served to reinforce to me that my mother was not the same person she was two years, even a year ago, when she would have staunchly refused.

The caregivers at Trinity Gardens are kind and genuinely caring people.

When she first moved in everyone remarked, “Your mother is so sweet.”

“ You haven’t seen her when she gets upset, when she doesn’t want to do something,” I said.

Two days after she had been there I went for a visit. “You were right,” Zairita, one of the caregivers, said, “Now I’ve seen her other side. She can be feisty.”

I laughed. This actually made me feel better. I knew then that the mother I’d known all my life, the one with the strong will and independent spirt, was still in there somewhere and wanted to be heard.

The Big Move


The Big Move

How do you tell someone they have to move from a place they have come to like and leave people they have come to know? I can’t tell the truth which is your dementia has gotten worse and you need more care so you don’t fit in anymore.

The night before I planned to move my mother to her new home I hardly slept. How was she going to react? Would she be sad? Angry like the first time she went to assisted living? Would I have to tell a lie to make her feel better?

I decided I needed to face it head-on first thing in the morning. I arrived at Atria at 10 o’clock when I knew she would be finished with breakfast. As I walked in the door she had just been wheeled into the lobby by a caregiver. Her face lit up and I could tell she was happy to see me. As I began to talk myself out of telling Mom right then, the caregiver gave me an “out.”

“We were just going to the activity room,” she said. “Your mother wanted to watch them exercise.”

“Great,”I said. “I need to talk with Joseph anyway.”

While she was wheeled toward the activity room I walked up to the reception desk.

“Is Joseph in?” I asked Carla, the receptionist.

“They are all in a director’s meeting, but he should be out in a few minutes,” she said.

The first person to come into the lobby from the meeting was the site director.

“How are you today?” she said.

“I’m confused and a bit upset,” I said. “I have to tell my mother she has to leave today and I don’t know what to say.”

“Just tell her she needs two-person assist,” she answered.

Yeah, honey, I thought, I’m sure she will understand that. Never mind how it will affect her.

Just then Joseph came out.

“What is your usual procedure when a person leaves? Do you announce it? Have some sort of going away party? Or should I just take my mother away quietly without letting her friends know?” I asked.

“It depends,” he said. Some leave quietly and others not.There is no real policy.”

“What if I bring a cake?” I said.

“We could do it at Happy Hour at 4 o’clock,” Carla said.

“Yes, we could do that,” Joseph said. “I will tell the activity director.”

With that, I left. I had successfully put off telling my mother and I had a mission: order the cake.

BJ, my husband, and I arrived at 2:30 to see my mother. He had rented a van to move her furniture into storage and was ready to start, so I could not postpone telling her any longer. When we came into her room she was lying on her bed resting.

I said, “Mom we’re here to move you to a new place.”

“Why?” she said.

“You need more help.” I said.

“Is it here?”

“No, it is a place right around the corner from Atria. It’s very nice.”

“Oh.” was all she replied and then she lay there and watched as BJ began to move her things from the room. I stayed as long as I could and then left to get the cake.

When I returned with the cake, residents were just beginning to arrive in the activity room. Some had come for Happy Hour and others were ones who my mother had become acquainted with. My mother was wheeled in shortly thereafter. Soon my daughter came with the two grandchildren.

After some confusion (some thought it was a birthday celebration) those in attendance finally understood that it was because my mother was leaving. As they finished eating their cake people began to come up to Mom to say goodbye and tell her they would miss her. My mother seemed to understand and acknowledge them with “thank yous.”

The next morning went surprisingly well. Mom had stayed in a respite room at Atria the night before. When I picked her up she was ready and didn’t object when she was helped into my car. Upon arrival at Trinity Gardens the owner and a caregiver came out to help her out of the car. They greeted her warmly and she smiled back.

Mission accomplished.

I slept much better that night.

A Place for Mom


A Place for Mom

I put a $500 deposit on a place for my mother. It is not one I thought I would have chosen, but it feels right.

Last week I received many calls and emails with suggestions from Brad, the senior living placement advisor, and I spent countless hours looking at places for my mother.

I started out with certain criteria in mind.
• It had to be clean, neat, and tastefully decorated.
• Have a private room and bath
• The caretakers were aware of what care my mother needed and had experience with dementia patients and treated                              them with dignity.
• Show that they were friendly, caring people.
• Have a warm, homey atmosphere.
• A positive feeling about it and a place I could picture my mother.

My sister was worried that I would be too concerned about “how a place looked” instead of the people who worked there. I know I am a little compulsive about how a room looks; it needs to be well coordinated with not a lot of knick knacks or frills. My mother’s house was always clean and neat and decorated nicely so I know she feels the same way I do. Even though she has dementia I think she would feel better in surroundings that she feels more comfortable in.

Atria has a lot of windows and always felt open and bright. The rooms have large sliding door windows which also lets in light. The staff was very friendly. Everyone greeted you, and the staff always acknowledged each resident by name. This is the atmosphere I hoped to find again.

I felt a bit like Goldilocks in my search. There was the place that had white walls and floors and hardly any decorations- too cold. And the places that were too ethnic or too cluttered- too warm.

I finally narrowed it down to two.

Emeritus is a large facility that has a 24 bed memory care unit. Residents have private rooms and baths; there are structured activities, a large activity room and dining room. Every week the residents of the unit bake cookies for the whole resident population. It was nicely furnished and seemed like a caring environment.

Trinity Gardens is facility built to house up to ten seniors. It felt more like a home. When I arrived, the cook, a friendly older woman, was preparing the day’s lunch.The kitchen opens up to the common area and is connected to it by a long pine table where everyone eats. There were windows all along the back which made it bright and warm. Off of the common area were the bedrooms. They have both shared and private rooms. At this time they only had a shared room available.

Which place did I choose?

I chose Trinity Gardens. My mother will have to share a room until she can have a private one. I met the lady who it to be her roommate. She does not have dementia, but is limited to a wheelchair because of a stroke. The owner thinks they will get along well together.

Why? My mother baking cookies?! No way. Trinity Gardens is more of a family atmosphere and I think that is what she needs at this time in her life.

She Needs More Care


She Needs More Care 

The day I was dreading has finally come. My mother has to move from Atria. The Patient Services Director asked me to come in and sign the papers from my mother’s three month review and talk about any changes in her care. It was then he suggested that we have a meeting with the facilities director. We met the next morning. They said it was time my mother moved to a place where she could receive more care.

“Your mother needs more care than we can give her. It isn’t just her dementia, it is her physical limitations. She often                   needs more than one person to help move her,” they said.

This I knew. She had to be helped out of bed and from her chair to the wheelchair. She also needed help dressing and changing her depends. The problem was, when she had to be moved she could not stand to help and was like dead weight, though she only weighed 95 pounds.

My mother liked Atria and I hated to see her have to adjust to a new room and different surroundings, but I knew it would happen at some point. Fortunately, Atria has another senior living community close by that offers memory care. If their rooms and surroundings were similar to where she was it would not be as big of an adjustment, and I liked the care she was receiving from Atria. The directors encouraged me to visit the facility and see if I liked it.

“They will be able to give her more help and get her more involved. They have activities that will stimulate her brain.”

“Stimulate her brain?” I said. “My mother is 96 years old and can’t remember anything for more than a minute. Don’t      you think it’s a little late for that?”

I drove over to Atria Hacienda and was met by the director of marketing who gave me a tour of the memory care unit of the facility. My fears were assuaged. The rooms were not any smaller than the one Mom currently lived in, in fact they appeared larger without a kitchen. The common areas, including the dining room, were nicely appointed. I liked what I saw. Jennifer, the marketing director, showed me the four rooms that were available and told me about a current promotion: if I signed up by the end of the month, which was three days from then, we could have one month free rent. I quickly agreed and we arranged to meet in two days to sign papers. In the meantime the nurse from AH would visit my mother and report back as to what she perceived.

The day before we were to meet, Jennifer called. “I’m sorry,” she said, “but since your mother often needs more than one person to assist her, we cannot accept her into the facility. It is company policy.”

I was confused. “ I thought one of the reasons for the move to AH was that you could give her more care, including assistance.”

I could tell Jennifer felt bad.

“I know, I wish we could help. I have someone that can assist you and help you find a place for your mom,, though” she said. And she proceeded to give me the number of an agency that helps locate placements for seniors.

I had been through this before. I had worked with Senior Living Options so knew the routine. I thanked her and hung up.

I needed time to digest this. What was supposed to be a perfect solution was turned on its head. Of course, I wasn’t given time.

The next morning I got a call. “This is Brad from Senior Placements. Jennifer says you need some help to find a place for your mother. I have contacted some in your area and . . .”