I could always tell the nervous mothers from the laid-back ones. They went into extraordinary detail, writing down everything I needed to know – and some things I didn’t – about their child, before leaving them in my care for the evening. As a teenager, I’d babysat dozens of children. But this didn’t seem to matter to the nervous moms. As if any questionable thing I said would cause them to change their minds and forgo their plans to go out so they could stay home with their child. After all, nobody could take care of them the way mom could.
Last week when I dropped Dad off at Fountainview Center for Alzheimer’s, I was just like a nervous mom. I’d bagged up his medicines and packed extra toiletries and Depends, even though they were already provided. I’d loaded down the car with clothes, blankets, a comforter and pillow. And I’d written four pages of notes for Dad’s new care team so they could decipher his verbal cues and know how best to handle his irritation and restlessness.
I am not a mother. And yet I have an 81-year-old child, bathing him, dressing him, feeding him, combing his hair and tucking him into bed at night before turning out the light. In just a matter of days, all that has changed. I no longer need to wash his sheets every day or swing his legs under the table and push his chair forward so I can feed him a meal. I don’t need to walk him over to his recliner or crush up his pills and mix them in yogurt or applesauce, so they’ll be easier to swallow. I don’t have to track the next full moon to prepare for his heightened restlessness. I no longer have to synchronize nurse visits, pharmacy deliveries, chaplain visits or baths. I don’t have to stock up on rubber gloves, incontinence pads or Depends. I no longer need to wipe his sticky hands or encourage him to drink more water.
I’ve longed for this day to come, but now that it’s here, I’m a bit dazed and confused. I feel like an octopus who’s been juggling for 10 years, but in an instant, my tentacles are empty and I’m trying to make sense of my new reality. Like when your foot falls asleep and you start pounding it on the ground to bring it back to life. You’re waiting for the deadness to disappear and the feeling to come back and connect with what you see in front of you.
Perhaps this is how moms feel when they let go of their children, even if just for a couple of hours. But this is no babysitter. I’m not coming back to pick up my son. I’ve moved him to his new home.
Just as the nervous moms would leave and then call me to check on their children, so I’ve done the same with Dad. I’ve spoken to his day nurse, his night nurse, his doctor, the hospice coordinator, the hospice nurse, the social worker and the admissions director. How is he doing? How are things going? How is his mood? Are you having any issues with him? How is he sleeping?
I am my Father’s advocate. He cannot speak for himself and I am not there to translate his behavior. It’s like a puzzle I’m trying to solve when I don’t even know how many pieces there are or what they look like. I keep thinking if I can just toss them a clue or two, the puzzle will be solved sooner. Is he having a hard time falling asleep? Make sure he takes his Ativan and goes to the restroom before going to bed and he should settle down. Does he keep sitting up in bed, pointing to objects in the room and mumbling something about needing to fix this or move that? Tell him you’ve got it covered or that it’s too late to work on now, but you’ll resolve it first thing in the morning, since this always puts his mind at ease.
This isn’t a summer camp you’re sending your child to. This is a foreign atmosphere with strangers, albeit compassionate ones, that your loved one has been jolted into as his new home. People with Alzheimer’s cling tenaciously to routines and familiar surroundings, so when all that is suddenly taken away, they tend to physically and emotionally regress. Some bounce back. Some don’t.
So what do you do?
You pray. For peace and comfort, for a smooth transition, for good sleep and loving people to surround your loved one. You also try to send as much of their familiar home with them.
When Dad grew more restless at night, we increased his medication, which helped. But the jewel we discovered was when I’d prop my phone on his pillow, access the YouVersion Bible app and let God’s Word wash over him.
Like a collection of favorite songs instantly soothes an unsettled child, my Father let go of his restlessness ~ or perhaps the Alzheimer’s let go of him ~ whenever he listened to the Psalms, nodding his head in agreement at the end of each chapter before falling asleep.
But entrusting a cell phone to a nursing home is like throwing a hundred-dollar bill in the air and hoping it will magically fall back into your hand. So I’ve delivered the Bible on CD with a CD player to Fountainview, starring the Psalms and the Gospels since those are his favorite. His night nurse just called to let me know Dad slept through the night after she gave him Ativan and my suggestions for a smoother bedtime routine proved helpful. In that 2-minute phone conversation, my gratitude gushed like a geyser.
The lullaby is working. My mind is at ease. This nervous mom might be making progress after all.