Groundhog Day

No sun shadows are happening here today. We haven’t had any winter, so I reckon we can’t have more. That is not to say there are no shadows. Like Bill Murray, I have felt myself pulled into a time loop the past couple weeks.

The day after I returned from my life-renewing time on Whidbey Island, relaxed and ready to be more mindful, Mama and her caregiver had an altercation. Mama “invited” her to leave employment, and she accepted.

Back to square one, when we had to persuade Mama two years ago that a regular caregiver a few hours a week was necessary; that I had come to live with her so she could stay in her home, but not to “work” for her. I have kept my boundaries, but my vision of a partnership between us, as I accompany her on this journey, has not come to fruition. I was about to find out why.

The first caregiver we hired lasted only a few weeks, mostly because Mama hadn’t chosen her, her daughters did. Fortunately, her choice became available; but she fell from grace long ago, and Mama threatened—for my ears only—to fire her many times. I suspect it was mutual; but they both went on. Mama said M arrived that day in a bad frame of mind. Maybe she did. But Mama has been in a bad frame of mind about the arrangement for more than a year, and was waiting for an excuse. That day the rubber hit the road, and all the threats were made good.

I was calm and determined to remain so when I returned from my café-writing/yoga day in Olympia, hours after receiving M’s phone call. I waited for Mama to bring it up. I listened mindfully throughout the elaborate and incongruous storytelling of why she no longer had a caregiver, a recounting that differed somewhat from M’s. When I engage in her dementia, what I mean to be conversation always ends with nothing resolved and both of us feeling like shit. This time when she finished, I simply said, “The bottom line is, you are without a caregiver.” I counted my resistance to pointing out the inconsistencies in her story a pre-Groundhog Day victory.

Her response: “I guess that’s what you’re here for, Gretchen. I pay your room and board, and your utilities. Could you afford that if you weren’t living with me?”

The statement churned up the bottom of the sea: the move back to my childhood home to live with my mother, dropping me into being the child again; leaving my independence, my community, and yes, my self-sufficiency; my loneliness; the struggle to feel like an adult; her lack of recognition for what I do for her; my terror of the future as I spend these years without retirement benefits. I don’t think I realized she thought she was doing me the favor, or that she considered room and board adequate compensation for upending my life. It was, I realized, why this can’t be a partnership for her: she is the mother, and she has a responsibility to take care of her child. She is not able to let it be okay that she is the one who needs care now.

I didn’t crack. I only reiterated my boundaries: that I was here to make it possible for her to stay in the house, and I would not be doing what her caregiver had been doing. And I reminded her that I had stayed, so far, 18 months longer than my initial plan. It was my one “slip up”; an attempt to let her know I was here by choice, not necessity. I saved my rage and my tears for the privacy of my solitude. And I made an appointment with the geriatric social worker/therapist I haven’t seen in a while.

We are trying out a new caregiver. She had a three-day honeymoon before she fell short of Mama’s standards (she couldn’t find the pea soup recipe, didn’t know how to use the VitaMix, and they didn’t get all the errands done). There’s another one waiting for trial in the wings. The choice will be Mama’s, and it may take a while; and no one will please her. She is powerless to step out of the loop Bill Murray found himself in. I am not, which may lead to some changes for all of us.

🙊  🙊  🙊

PS: To cheer myself up, I changed my blog look. Hope you like it.

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16 thoughts on “Groundhog Day

  1. Pingback: A Cog in the Wheel: the return of a caregiver | Writing Down the Story

  2. Pingback: A Cog in the Wheel: the return of a caregiver | Daughter on Duty

  3. One of the hardest things for me too. Am I engaging the dementia brain, or the one that came before? Did she encounter something ‘less’ about this person who was paid to give her care that is real but she can’t well express, or were her reasons capricious – I fire you because I can, because I can’t think, or just because. Yes, we have caregivers too. Some left on their own, and some because she said so. I can’t imagine my employment being at the whim of dementia’s ability to process the events of the day. I can imagine being the daughter whose reason for living here gives her a reason to use both sides of the ‘mother’ coin – the side that gave me life, and the one that knows how to take it away.

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    • Thank you, Katherine. Yes. Yes and yes. Because my mother’s dementia is subtle (in fact, she’s not even on the scale; my internet diagnosis is “significant cognitive impairment”), I constantly think I am engaging the brain that came before. It’s when she shuts down that I remember it’s not there any more, that she can’t process “why” questions any more than a two-year-old can. As for caregivers (including me), they say or do one thing that strikes her wrong in the moment and 100 things done well can never make up for it. The paid caregivers go, I stay. And I struggle to remember it’s not about me, and it’s not about her either, it’s about a worn out brain. Thank you for writing, my friend. Blessings on this crazy journey.

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  4. There are no words… You are making a courageous journey with your mother…. Know there are lots of people out here who care about YOU!

    PS the blog looks great!

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  5. The new look was striking when I arrived at the page. It sends a message of simplicity and clarity. Living with a person can be very hard, particularly if the relationship is unequal.

    Winter seems to have come to your life. You need to get out into the mountains. Drive up to Paradise for an afternoon.

    Winter may yet come to western Washington. The worst snow storm I remember from my time there happened in February 1972. I imagine you remember the university being closed down for 2-3 days.

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    • I do remember that, now that you mention it! I will keep my fingers crossed. Pre-climate change, however. Your snow is beautiful, though I expect not so much if you have to get around in it and shovel it. Because of my weekly I-5 trips to Seattle, I haven’t been on any back road adventures this winter :-/. I do think that is contributing to my malaise. But being with Elliot is wonderful. Sadly, another grandmother is on duty this week, so I am missing him. I am not a brave enough driver for Paradise in winter, though. Plus, without snowshoes or skis, there is no place to go when I get up there! Maybe next time the sun shines I will at least take a Lewis County drive.

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  6. Your edge of humor makes a lot possible, not all things perhaps, but a lot! Now, someone write the ‘card’ that might accompany the ‘could you…’ comment! Courageous sharing!

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  7. BIG LIKE the new look. Nice to freshen up a bit hey?! The invisibility of your VALUE …one CAN NOT put a monetary price on it. Making choice to upend…for a good reason, is a risk, to say the least. You are a brilliant, generous, courageous soul…AND doing an amazing job caring for your self in these days.

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  8. I like your new look and always love your writing…I am in the other situation. I live with my dtr, and pay her room and board, help a bit with her little ones and try to keep my “stuff” from overflowing into her space. I told her she’d have to let me know what I needed to do…I am not such a good self motivator…

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