Monday, April 19, 2021

Reflecting on things we cannot change

Last week we attended the funeral for my mother in law. It was a bitterly cold day, unusual for Texas in the middle of April, but appropriate. I was fighting my own feelings of bitterness.

After living with us for eight years, I had not seen nor heard from my mother in law in over a year when she died. My husband had visited her a number of times in the assisted living center she had moved to with almost no notice to us. Each time  he visited she was cold and distant and he returned home hurt and confused. We had no idea why she suddenly turned against us. After that the Covid-19 restrictions were put in place and he could no longer visit, he called her multiple times but she didn't pick up or call back.

To go back to the beginning, or the beginning of this episode in my life. My father in law was moved to a memory care facility and my mother in law was driving a thirty mile round trip every day to visit him, then returning to an empty house. We worried about her and after some discussion, we decided that we should have her come live with us. When we approached the subject with her, she refused immediately, but after some discussion she said she would consider it if we could get a house where she could have a large master suite on the ground floor as she couldn't manage climbing stairs and while my little house had no stairs, it didn't have the master suite she required.

It took us six months to find a house that would  be close enough to the memory care home, have the facilities my mother in law wanted and still work for us. It wasn't ideal for us, as we also would have preferred no stairs, but we could make it work. We had to spend time and money renovating and making a master suite upstairs for us, by combining two bedrooms with an existing double bathroom; eventually we all moved in together. Mildred's drive to the home was reduced to about six miles and our commutes to work had seven miles added to them. This was a fair price to pay. 

This arrangement worked well for five years however, when Mildred's sight became so bad that she could no longer drive we had to again make some hard decisions. We decided that my husband would quit his job and stay home to take care of her. She was still able to do all of the personal things, but she needed someone to drive her to her many doctor, dentist and optometrist appointments, not to mention getting to her regular manicure, pedicure and hair appointments. For three years Larry did these tasks and I continued to work to support the three of us and pay the bills. After the first year of Larry's early 'retirement' Mildred started having difficulty dealing with sales people, mainly due to her failing sight, she was unable to see to pay, but also she tended to get confused easily, particularly when dealing with unfamiliar accents; I started attending the nail salon with her in order to act as interpreter and general assistant, paying for her and making her follow up appointments.

During the eight years that she lived with us, Mildred accompanied us everywhere, she came to dinner with us every weekend, for Valentine's Day and our anniversary dinner, we never had a real 'date night' during that time. She even accompanied us on our occasional weekend visits to the casinos in Shreveport, where we made sure to get two connecting rooms so we were readily available to her if she needed anything, leaving the adjoining door ajar to ensure her easy access, with one notable exception.

On that one occasion, for our wedding anniversary, Larry booked tickets to see my favorite C&W singer. Gene Watson, in Shreveport. He arranged for his niece, Mildred's grand daughter, to stay with her for the two nights we would be gone. This was the first time we were leaving her and we were nervous about it but she assured us that she would be fine with her grand daughter and we called her a few times over the weekend to check on her. When we returned all was well except for one thing, I realized that they had both lied and Katie had not stayed overnight - the bed was not slept in and the towels I had laid out on the bed were unused and still on the bed. 

The last year that Mildred lived with us we purchased a three bedroom condo in Lago Vista, right on Lake Travis; our plan was to use it for weekends and eventually retire there. We decorated it and allocated a bedroom for Mildred. At first she happily joined us there for weekends, spending hours sitting in her recliner looking out at the lake, or reading, though at this point it was listening rather than reading as her eyesight was so bad I had set up her Kindle to read to her. We did buy her an Echo to read, play music and turn on and off lights, but she was not so comfortable with that. After a while she decided she didn't want to come to the lake any more at weekends and I said in that case we would not go overnight and leave her. She insisted that she would be perfectly fine and the condo was only 30 minutes away from the house. I was still uncomfortable about it so we reduced our visits and Larry returned to check on her in the evening if we were staying overnight, and we always returned early the following morning, we also invested in an emergency service for her. She was somewhat impatient with us for making this extra fuss, saying it was unnecessary and she was fine.

Despite the fact that Larry's brother and his son lived close by they rarely saw Mildred. They arranged to go out to eat with her if one of them had a birthday, and they had her over for Christmas and Thanksgiving most years, at first these visits were all afternoon and dinner, later they were at most two hours total and finally became a quick lunch. This lack of attention to Mildred and assistance to us was the main reason I was surprised to discover in early December of 2019 that she had been conspiring with them to get her moved into assisted living and within 2 weeks, one week before Christmas, they moved her out one day while I was at work. That was the last I saw of her and she didn't even say goodbye. Less upsetting was the fact that she took some pieces of furniture that she had previously given to us. We didn't really care about that so much as the entire thing was so very unexpected and without obvious reason.

To be fair, over the previous year or so, we had noticed that her behavior had become somewhat odd; there were signs that she was beginning to 'lose her edge'. She would suddenly trail off in mid sentence or completely change the subject half way through a sentence; she was also given to sharp outbursts of temper for no obvious reason and had completely lost her sense of humor, she almost never smiled or laughed any more. So I try to console myself that perhaps dementia was to blame, but it didn't help to ease the hurt that I felt then and still feel now. I wish that she would have talked to us about it, more importantly it would have really helped if Larry's brother had talked to us about it. Wishing doesn't make it so and looking backwards never solved anything.

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