**Please note that this essay was originally compiled as of several weeks ago before we became quarantined by the COVID-19 pandemic.**
It started with a disagreement with my dad. I was living with him at the time and he was being, in my opinion, unempathetic. Stressed out and feeling like I had limited options, I chose to move out. Even though the catalyst was born of defiance and pride, and was equally a financial necessity, my decision to move into my mom’s house ended up being the right choice. It was time for her to receive the next level of care. I couldn’t afford to hire a caregiver for her or even afford my own apartment for that matter, so it made sense. And with that commitment, internally I recoiled.
I like to believe that most adults prefer their own space to one degree or another. I am thirty-two now. I’ve always been independent and leaned toward the introverted-heavy side of my personality. Being in my thirties and living back at home with family wasn’t what I ever envisioned for myself, but yet, neither was Alzheimer’s.
Since I was moving from one parent’s house to another’s, I had the luxury of using a handful of weekends to complete the move. On the last weekend Dad helped me move furniture with his truck. As he was getting ready to leave he uncharacteristically asked, “Are you okay?”
“No. I’m not okay.”
The tears and hyperventilating came like a gust of wind, carrying me where I didn’t want to go and with a force that felt violating.
I didn’t want to be living with Mom. I wanted my life back. I wanted everything to be better and to have the ability to live each day as I wanted, not at the mercy of illness.
And I didn’t want to feel guilty for feeling this way, for feeling selfish and self-absorbed.
Ah, caregiving in a nutshell.
Dad and I talked for awhile in his car. He actively listened. He tried to offer advice, offer solutions. I could see that as a parent it pained him to see me broken. In these moments I knew him to exude the highest level of compassion, and it made me feel a little less invisible.
In the months following September, after I officially finished moving in, it’s been a rough ride. Anxiety manifested in ways I didn’t expect. I began experiencing my own health problems. Self-care was sabotaged by a natural disaster emergency. (More on these two topics later). And overall, being at home didn’t feel relaxing or fully “safe”, as it should. Home was synonymous with being on duty, persistently and randomly being interrupted by Mom needing help with something. New responsibility came with each quiet knock on my bedroom door and her asking me the umpteenth question. Other times I was urged out of my room by the sounds of something troublesome, a crash or her muttering angrily to herself. Sometimes I was beckoned by a bought of silence.
I was morphing more fully into a mother, always anticipating the next moment of need or concern or protection, never truly at ease.
Now, nearly six months deep into live-in caregiving, things have settled a bit. We finally have a basic routine that feels comfortable. We get on each others nerves less. I have accepted some of her dementia quirks, mostly given up on the unnecessary frustration of trying to control them.
This doesn’t mean everything is sunshine and rainbows. I still get annoyed or upset on occasion, and the same goes for Mom. But I have to remind myself of how far we’ve come from. Letting go of control, especially when it feels like the only thing I have going for me, is a hurdle as high as my own stubbornness and fear. Often that hurdle was towering. It’s waned now, but still there. Some days I can stand nothing but to bury myself beside it, waiting to feel brave enough again to stand up and take on the next day, the next moment even. To stand in stillness or to inch forward, just anything but backward.
3 thoughts on “Moving In”
Mary F Ruffatto
Lauren and Peggy, I am just getting to know you both and I can tell you that I love you with my whole heart. Never be afraid to ask for help. I remember crawling into bed with my mom near the end and holding her hand and taking naps with her and I cherish that; but a lot of relationships in my life shifted during that time. You have grace and you have compassion and you are smart. You are an amazing mom to your mother! I’ll see you this week in the garden, even if from the window! Love, Mary
You are such a strong and amazing woman, Lauren. I am honored to know you and hope that my daughters care and provide the support for me in the same way you have with your mom. You have taken on a very difficult task that many cannot or will not do. I applaud you and the woman you are.
Lauren, you are so strong and compassionate. We can always second guess ourselves and criticize the things we are doing. Looking at your efforts and love for your mom from the outside, all I see is courage and self discipline. The job you are doing is one of the most difficult you will ever do. I’m sure your mom appreciates the time and attention you give her. Just think of where she would be without you.
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