On a Thursday in early May 2021, I set out for Oskaloosa, the town my mom has called home her whole life and for the last 60 ish years, lived within a one block radius. She lived at 401 N D for a few years as a child, she and dad bought their first house at 410 N D and lived there for 10 years, then moved across the street to 401 N D, again for her, for the next 47 ish years, and then across the street the other direction to 319 N D for the next two years. She was deeply rooted in that small area of our neighborhood. It was her world.
My nerves were absolutely frayed and I was running on fumes. Without her knowledge, I, and a couple of strangers, proceeded to furiously pack up her possessions. I was going to extract her from all that was familiar and the life she had known for her whole existence. I had family friends take her out to breakfast and drop her off at her weekly wash-and-set hair appointment while the movers and I swooped into her apartment and frantically set to work.
It is a weird feeling to be in someone’s home and to go through all of their belongings without their knowledge. I’ve done it before but not for anyone still alive. Throw some things away, carefully pack some items and empty the cupboards. I had already sorted through hundreds of paper records going all the way back to my parents birth certificates and still had hundreds to go because my mom kept years of financial records and anything else she thought might need for reference. Every single thing in every single drawer needed touched, evaluated and then determined either how to dispose of or how to store going forward. I had been spending every available moment to take small bites of this for months but still had hours upon hours to go. We were disrupting the peace of her home and invading it with a sense of urgency. For her own good, of course. But I never shook the feeling of betrayal. Violating, for sure. I tried to remind myself it was for her own good.
Mom has “mild cortical dementia” and “Parkinsonisms”. Her short term memory is mostly gone and some of her long term is affected as well. She calls me several times a day and asks me about her vitamins and why she can’t find the phone number for her mom and implores me that she needs to take care of her parents’ bank accounts and their house that was sold in 1979. We go round and round in our circular conversations because she doesn’t remember what I just said. I agree with her when I can, or attempt to redirect, just to get her settled down and say “we’ll take care of it tomorrow” but if I don’t give her a satisfactory answer, she sets out on her own to “fix” it. That has caused some big problems but those are stories for another day.
Mom’s been on her own for the last few years. No one in our family is left in our home town and we sold the family home 3 years ago and moved her across the street to an apartment. My dad died 6 years ago and my brother Mike, 4. I’ve wanted to get her into assisted living for years but she was highly resistant (“I’m not ready!”) and I could only force her to a certain extent. Then Covid showed up. Even the nicest, most enjoyable facilities were locked down. Residents were kept in their apartments and couldn’t even see their families for months. That was likened to very expensive prison for me so I weighed the risks of her being on her on to her happiness living where she did, with the community she had, and her proclamation that she thoroughly enjoyed the people there, and I didn’t force the issue for the time being. But I kept up the work in the background. I thought once she lost her driver’s license that it would be the impetus for the move but I underestimated my mother’s stubbornness and determination. That, coupled with Covid, kept her there another year but I knew we were living on borrowed time. It was also taking a lot of my time, effort and sanity to keep her propped up on her own, especially during cold, snowy weather.
The family friends would take her once a week to get her hair done, out to eat and pick up the groceries that I ordered which were keystone to her life there. The groceries were important but the HAIR APPOINTMENT was critical. There was one week where it didn’t look like it was going to happen and a full-on meltdown occurred. With all of the trials and tribulations we’ve had in our family: cancer, heart attacks, paralysis, death; I have never experienced mom so upset in the moment. I have learned not to disrupt mom and her hair appointment, the hard way.
It was a struggle, at times, from my point of view. The couple that was so good about dedicating their Thursday mornings to her had some health problems which took them out of commission for a few months. The Hair Lady couldn’t always do it at the same time every week. Covid-related issues impacted our routine more than a few times. Scheduling was a house of cards. Sometimes mom went around me and called the Hair Lady when I told her it wasn’t going to happen and there were a few times that the Hair Lady actually picked her up and then brought her back home when she had an opening. Plus, I was trying to manage all of this from a distance, sometimes near and for a while, very far. The whole thing made my heart race, blood pressure rise and my sleep suffered greatly. It was either in the front of my mind or the back but it was always there and honestly, I didn’t know if I could pull it off. But, failure was no longer an option. It needed to be done, no matter how messy or off the rails it went. It had to be done. That didn’t make it easier. Harder, in fact, on me. The pressure caused me to crack a bit.
Mom relayed to me that she fell, twice in the last few months, which is incredible in and of itself as those memories don’t normally stick with her. But, as my neuropsychologist friend said, it laid down memories in a different way because it was traumatic. She had ventured out to Taco John’s, a few blocks away, with temperatures in the teens and the sun setting quickly. There was a lot of snow and ice on the ground, her coat’s zipper was broken long ago (oh the drama of trying to buy her a new coat), her worn out gloves weren’t warm and she had nothing on her head (wouldn’t want to mess up the hair!). So, she was likely hustling, which isn’t a great option with her normal Parkinson’s shuffle and poor balance, and took a bit of a short cut. According to her, she found herself on the ground, she could see lots of people in the McDonald’s drive-thru but “none of them would help me”. I explained that they probably couldn’t see her and they weren’t expecting anyone on the ground in the snowy area between the two fast food places. She said she struggled to get up for 20-30 minutes and finally a couple of workers came out the back of Taco John’s and saw her. They helped her up and she shuffled home. She did not take me seriously when I desperately explained that the situation was life-threatening. Not to mention the luck she had not to be seriously injured. Logic and reasoning had no place in mom’s mind. I was wasting my breath trying to get her to behave safely.
The next fall was in the rain. She was likely hurrying because she didn’t want to get her hair wet and evidently fell in quite the mud puddle. The reason I know that is because her butter yellow spring jacket that has long been her favorite, was covered from top to bottom with dried brownish water. I don’t know when or where that happened but the evidence remained. Again, no serious injuries but she was pushing her luck.
Previous to those falls, when she still had a car, she fell but didn’t remember. I found out because of local intel. It was on her birthday in January and it was absolutely frigid, probably not even getting above zero. There was a one inch layer of ice coating everything. Even though we had multiple conversations about staying indoors for a few day, she felt it necessary to attempt to clean off her car and then intended to drive it the two blocks to KFC for Sunday dinner. Two men, father and son I believe, drove through her parking lot and discovered mom front side down in the snow and ice near her car, not able to get up, with her standard winter garb of coat with broken zipper, no hat and worthless gloves. They got her on her feet and I’m assuming told her that this weather was not fit for her to be out. I’m sure they were not prepared for the stubbornness and determination that is Kay. What I was told is that she informed the men that she would be going to KFC and likely, because they are good humans, they put her in their truck and drove her there. I’m sure they expected to go through the drive thru but they did not understand my mom’s rules for life. She informed them that she doesn’t drive around with food in the car and that she would be eating in the dining room. So, again, good humans that they are, SAT WITH HER WHILE SHE ATE HER LUNCH and then drove her back home when she was done. Are you kidding me?! When I questioned her about it later that day, she didn’t remember and accused me of making the whole thing up. What if the people that found her were not good humans? What if no one found her in time? She laughed it off and only half took me seriously when I appealed to her vanity and said that she risked losing her nose to frostbite if she fell in such conditions.
She loved to eat out and preferably with people which drove her to walk to “restaurants” which was almost always fast food in Oskaloosa. She was crossing Highway 92 on foot on an almost daily basis and NOT at the stoplight. I was getting reports that the people witnessing this were terrified she’d lose at her game of Frogger. It was getting increasingly risky to have her living on her own and it now outweighed any benefit.
After months, actually years, of pre-work, meticulous planning, acquiring items, detailed scheduling with several involved parties, stressful days and sleep deprived nights, the day was finally here. I had been researching and visiting every potentially suitable facility within 30 miles of the metro, in addition to Osky, from the time my dad started to decline and then again when my brother needed skilled nursing and maybe a long term option and again for Mom and her specific needs. And Mom was stoically unaware. Not that we hadn’t told her. Not that she hadn’t seen the new place and actually agreed to live there, with a fair amount of pressure from me, my husband and the family friends that have supported her so caringly since my father’s death. None-the-less, the day was here and she was none-the-wiser.