CHRISTMAS 2013: Just three years ago, mom was opening up a basket of breakfast treats. I remember feeling a bit lost about how to manage through the holidays. It was only a few months after Dad died. With no short-term memory, Mom, with Vascular Dementia, was having a hard time remembering, absorbing, and even grieving her partner of 60+ years. I wanted her to have a nice Christmas and worked to find a cute little Christmas tree (shown behind her) in hopes she wouldn’t feel so alone in this world.
I remember at this time working with the staff in her Assisted Living community to help her manage. She was calling me repeatedly asking about Dad. She was also getting into physical disagreements with other residents and the community was having a hard time helping mom through this period. This was about the time I started to recognize that the community she was in really wasn’t the right fit for her needs. Mom needed a memory care community — not Assisted Living which addresses physical healthcare needs. She was always on the go and craved activities with meaning and purpose.
Thankfully, my sister came and spent several days with her and I had a nice reprieve from caregiving over the holidays.
Christmas 2014: I had found mom a new community, but one week before the move date, she had a terrible reaction to a pain medication that resulted in her being bed-bound for nearly a month. After being in bed for so long, she was weak and didn’t trust her own two feet. It was several months before mom was back on her feet and moving around. On this Christmas she was still using a wheelchair to get around.
I went to visit her on Christmas Day and after opening up presents and eating a little, she asks to lie back down in bed. I arrived with my ugly Christmas sweater in hopes of bringing some silly humor to the holiday. She was in good spirits and we had a nice afternoon together. Before I left, she thanked me for “making her feel human again.”
Christmas 2015: Ten days before Christmas I was in the Emergency Room with mom who was diagnosed with a broken hip. She had a mini-stroke somewhere in the midst of all the commotion. We learn she is too weak for surgery. Mom no longer recognizes me and is moved into the care of hospice. I visit mom daily and spent most days crying as she sleeps. On Christmas Day, her breathing is a little more jagged, and by early evening I get the call that mom died. As bitter as that moment felt, I also recognize that we just received a blessing. Mom no longer has to live with dementia and can now rest with Dad.
As I approach my first Christmas without having to balance life as a caregiver, or worry about how mom will spend her holiday, I recognize how quickly the journey can end. This year I will focus on the wonderful holidays I did get to spend with my parents. Reflected.