Friday, July 4, 2008


Today is Independence Day, a day for picnics and fireworks.

Next week we'll have more fireworks, without the picnic. Day by day, Mom's prized "independence" is slipping away. On July 10th, a professional caregiver will come to meet her. I'm hiring this person for four hours per day, two afternoons a week. I can't leave Mom alone for extended periods, yet I've got things I want and need to do, such as grocery shopping or helping out with our grandsons. During the past month, I've found myself waking up at 3 AM, unable to go back to sleep, and getting more irritable. Both are sure signs of burnout.

Whenever I've suggested hiring outside help, Mom's thrown a fit, angrily denying that she needs any help at all. She'll say, "Well, this helper can just sit out in YOUR living room. She's NOT coming in here! I don't need any help." Last week, after a particularly trying day, I said, meanly, "Mom, if we keep on like this, you'll have to move into a home." (She's threatened to move out more than once. "I should never have left Meadville," she'll lament.)

Icily: "WHY would I move into a home?"

"Because I can't take care of you anymore."

"But you DON'T take care of me. What do you ever do for me? I take care of myself."

Yesterday, I took her to see Debbie, her nurse practitioner. She had been campaigning to see Debbie for weeks because "I want to ask her why I have to take all these pills."

Debbie said, "What pills are you talking about? You certainly can't stop taking your heart pills."

"Yes, I know I need those."

"And you've been taking Valium since 1975. It wouldn't be good to stop now."

"Oh, I DEFINITELY need those for my nerves."

"For a woman of 99, you're not taking very many pills."

Then Mom zeroed in on the real issue.

"I don't want Cynthia doling out my pills to me. I can manage them myself."

Debbie looked at me. I shook my head. I had started dispensing her pills last November, when her mind got foggy from a bad cold. She'd take a pill, then reach for another five minutes later. I'd find pills on the carpet, in the kitty litter, scattered around on her bedside table.

Debbie said, "Let's just leave things as they are. This way, you'll never run out, because your daughter can call me before you need a refill."

Mom didn't like this reply, but she couldn't think of anything to say.

Mom looks good on paper. If she tried to claim benefits under her long-term-care insurance policy, she'd probably be denied. To qualify, she'd require help with the "tasks of daily living," such as dressing, bathing, and feeding yourself. She does all these things pretty well. Today is one of her "good days." She exudes competence, doing a load of laundry and defrosting her mini-refrigerator But it's a pseudo-competence. She had to ask me once again how to turn on the washer. It'll be the same with the dryer. She propped open the door to defrost her refrigerator, but left the motor running.

I'm afraid of this 93-pound woman, this former school teacher. I'm scared to tell her who's coming next Thursday.

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