Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Family Obligations and Silver Linings

There will inevitably be lots of references to my mother in coming blog posts, so I should tell you a bit about her. Mom and I were never close; she was deeply in love with my dad, and didn't really know how to be loving to us kids. For all sorts of reasons, I left home at the beginning of my senior year in high school, when my youngest sister was still a baby and my middle sister still in grade school, and I didn't go back except for rare visits. My dad died in 1975 and Mom has always been a bit lost without him. For over 25 years, Mom and I lived quite contentedly a couple of states apart, with limited contact. My sisters and I haven't communicated in years.

I'll skip over a lot of yet another dysfunctional family history. Mom had a stroke in the last few months of 2002, but it wasn't diagnosed until New Year's Day 2003. Mostly the stroke caused a form of dementia, but it also affected her balance and made it very difficult for Mom to swallow or to speak audibly. She wouldn't agree to having home care where she was living, so I bullied her into coming to California. A couple of days after our arrival, she developed pneumonia; while she was in the hospital, the doctors decided that she absolutely had to have a feeding tube, since she couldn't eat enough to stay healthy.

I was extraordinarily lucky to find a good, small nursing home a couple of miles from my house, and Mom has been living there since 2003. In spite of the feeding tube, she has become increasingly frail, and the dementia has slowly become worse. It's not often now that she can speak loudly enough to be heard at normal sitting distance or even at 6 inches, so visits are pretty frustrating for both of us, though she's in the habit of saying very little at any time.

Mom always had very few interests, and in the last few years before her stroke, it was pretty much reduced to crocheting and listening to the radio. She was a talented crocheter through most of her life, but that was also becoming more difficult for her. After a few months visiting Mom, I took up crocheting again as an alternative to chewing my cuticles. We'd sit in the hallway and crochet together. I finished 5 full-size afghans that summer and fall.

One day that summer I got to talking crochet with another patient who was having rehab after knee surgery, and she invited me to join the seniors' charity crochet and knitting group at the local senior center. They were and still are a fun group of women, and it is an important part of each week to get together and ooh and aah over the pretty things we make out of cheap, donated acrylic. That Christmas I wanted to knit a really nice scarf for DH, and after a shaky start, I remembered what I'd learned, mostly from books, in the 70s and 80s about knitting. I found the Knitting Forum and the wealth of information they share. One of them 'introduced' me to WEBS, then I found Elann, and the rest is the history of high balances on my credit card.

Having a parent with serious illness and any form of dementia is a huge hit to your life, unless you can shove his or her care off on someone else. Having to be the only or main person responsible for your parent's care adds another layer of worry and doubts and especially guilt.
It took over a year after Mom's stroke for me to accept that I was doing as much for Mom as is possible, she is getting the best care possible in our income bracket, and that there is nothing I can do differently to make her happier. Trying to take care of her at home wouldn't give her as good care, and I'd be nuts. Mom had essentially no assets, and I was fortunate to get clued in early about the ways to deal with Medicare and Medicaid, so DH and I have had very little financial burden. That has made it possible for me to be a stay-at-home wife, and honestly I could not deal with the stresses of even an easy sort of job. That's another long story, but I had a major stress burnout about 7 years ago and had to retire early.

Having discovered the benefits of being a knitter these days, with the local and online friendships we can share via the Internet and the aids to mental health that knitting can be, is my silver lining in this situation. I never used to believe in silver linings, but I like this one.

Knitting and reading and furry-foot related topics will resume with the next post. Please do not adjust your blog reads.


Cindy G said...

I'm so glad there has been a silver lining. The stresses of caring for an invalid parent are huge. I'm so lucky my own mother is still in good, though increasingly frail, health. But my husband went through two years of highly physically and emotionally draining times caring for his mother in her final illness. And he was fortunate to have a brother who lives very close and was equally involved. So I'm really pulling for you.

SooZ said...

I feel the same way Cindy does. I'm pulling for you as well. I enjoy reading your blog. Very touching words.


Bri McStan said...

Your post today hits home to me as a professional in gerontology and as a person who took care of an ailing relative. My great uncle (stand in grandfather) had a series of strokes, one more dibilitating than the next until he was bed ridden, eating thickened food, and only talking to me or my dad about life in Pittsburgh. I'm glad for both you and your mom that you figured out the system and that it allowed you to have the life you need for you.

CatBookMom said...

Thank you for the encouragement. Three of Mom's older siblings (ages 96-82) are still alive and living on their own or in assisted living. They have been very supportive, and that has been a great help to me.