Caring for a parent, conversations, crises, Death & Dying, Dementia, memory loss, Mental health, mother daughter relationship, Self-care

2016—It’s a Wrap

It’s been a wild year. Two family members slipped the bonds of earth, death book-ending life as we celebrated the birth of my fourth (and last) grandchild in May and my mother’s 100th birthday a month later. Beginnings, endings, changes, exhilarations, disappointments wrapped into a single hard year.

Mama was in the hospital twice in September with bowel obstructions, then fell after coming home the second time, breaking her wrist and shoulder. After spending ten days of the previous two weeks sleeping in the hospital, alternating nights with my sister, I was on-call 24 hours a day for the next six weeks to take care of her every need. I had help, Rebecca came every other night and I hired three new caregivers—increasing paid care from 16 hours a week to 40—but it was too much.

I have heard and read that every hospitalization and every fall accelerates decline in the elderly. And once the crises start, they keep happening. Rebecca and, especially, I had reached the limit of what we could do to keep Mama safe and ourselves sane. After looking at options, we moved her to an assisted living residence at Thanksgiving.

I’ve told this roller-coasting story in previous posts, and the days are still up and down. I am told it takes at least three months for an elderly person to adjust to a new living situation. We’re five weeks in, though it seems much longer.

Mama’s vision continues its decline to nearly nothing now. Though she insists the decline has accelerated, her eye doctor says it remains on the same trajectory it has been on for years. Still, to adjust to a move while visually impaired at 100 years old is unfathomable to me.

Her dementia is increasing too—or at least her denial of it is.

“All my tops are in the hamper,” she tells me. “The aid could only find this one I’m wearing.” It is clearly not her favorite.

Telling her I will take them home to wash, I check her hamper. “There’s only one top in here,” I tell her. I check her dresser drawer. “And there are six in your drawer.”

“Well, she told me there weren’t any!” Mama scoffs.

I don’t believe she asked the aid to find her a top. I suspect she tried to find one herself, maybe exploring the wrong drawer; maybe—with the loss of sense of touch due to nerve damage from the broken bones, and because touch and brain function are related—not understanding what she had her hand on. She needs to assign her inabilities to someone, she is unable to accept responsibility, unable to accept diminished capacity. This is the stuff of her dementia. This is what drives my sister and me crazy. It’s hard to help her when we don’t know what’s real.

(Just this morning I read that virtually none of the memory-impaired believe themselves to be so, whatever their age. I thought it was just my mother. And though cognitive decline seems to accelerate, in fact it remains gradual.)

I try not to dismiss everything she says—at least not aloud. I understand that she needs to feel a sense of empowerment when most of the time she feels an utter lack of power. I also think her blame game diminishes her happiness. I try to get her to look for the positives, to focus on what she can do rather than what she can’t. She has spent a lifetime thinking if people don’t know her struggle they will have no reason to pay attention to her. And they won’t know unless she tells them.

When I challenged the negativity in a letter she was dictating to me, she said she thought they needed to know her life is difficult.

“Why?” I ask, “especially if you aren’t balancing  those things with what is good?” I give her examples: “You have made friends, you have more visitors, you have a place to walk. You can walk. Your daughters visit you every day!”

“Well, why don’t you just write it then?” she says before she shuts down.

It makes me sad, but it’s who she is and it is not in my power to change it. Perhaps the old are only able to remember (inaccurately) what they have lost. She lost the familiarity of home and immediate attention to all her needs. Maybe those two things were more important to her quality of life than all she has gained.

Visiting Mama has yet to become a happy time of reminiscing and enjoying each others’ company. As I listen to her complaints I tell myself I can hear them, try to give her what she needs, and then I get to go home and light a fire. My life is better.


There have been some amazing sunrises from my home lately. I’ve reveled in the part I can see, but sometimes I yearn to see more, the part hidden behind the trees, the part around the bend in the valley around the hill. Someday, I think, I will jump in the car and go in search of a larger vista.

But the truth is, we can’t ever see the whole thing, what’s just around the corner. That is for tomorrow. And if we go looking for what’s coming next, we risk missing today. I could drive to the end of my road, turn left to a clear cut from which I might see the sun rising over the other mountain, but I would miss the glory of it over this one. Or maybe if I drove out the valley road and around the hill, I could see more. Or I might get buried in a forest and not see any of it. In either case, by the time I arrive it could be gone. Opportunity lost.

As the new year dawns, I am going to focus on my own cans and let go the cannots. I cannot change my mother, I cannot do all of the things I want to do, I cannot go back to my own previous lives. I can be present to my mother and at the same time I can make a beginning toward my future—the part I can see. I’m excited about what’s coming and ready for the challenge to make it happen.

We choose our path, we make big and small adjustments for a better view, for a better life; and with each adjustment we take a risk. For every choice we make, there is another one we don’t make. Life is filled with living and dying, with endings…and with beginnings. On to 2017.


16 thoughts on “2016—It’s a Wrap”

  1. For much different reasons, 2016 has also been a roller coaster ride for me. Your posts about your mother have been constant reminders to myself that I need to remain positive and how my attitude affects my family. My public self is always upbeat and positive, but my at home self not so much. 2017 also holds possibilities for me. Not all of them recognizable yet. But 2016 has taught me to treasure my life and my body. So thank you for being part of my own journey this year, even if it was from afar. I wish you joy, clarity, and beauty for 2017!


    1. And I wish that for you! You have had quite a go. You have been in my thoughts. I should probably complain less about my mother’s complaining. Her thing, not mine. (But good gawd a’mighty! She is being everything her mother was that made my mother crazy. Yesterday she had 8 complaints in the first five minutes I was there.) Anyway, here’s a to a better year, personally if not globally. We’ll have to make our own light. Light and love to you, dear one. G


  2. Although I have not read all your postings, I know the journey has been more demanding than you thought you could handle. I honor you for your dedication to your mother and your own recorded journey as you bump into one sharp corner after another along the path. To understand your mother’s plight and stay tuned to your own conflicting thoughts, feelings and desires is mature living. Enjoy your fire tonight!


    1. Oh, Susie. Thank you. This means a lot to me coming from you. I’m sure I could have handled it, and would have if there had been no choice. My family and I are blessed as others are not to have good options. I would have liked her to be able to live out her life at home, but it became less viable as she becomes more fragile; and as I arrived at the readiness to honor my own energy for something different. “All will be well, and all manner of things will be well.” We journey ever forward.


  3. If I imagine this all like an ocean, I can see the turbulent seas, the gentle waves and the stillness. They all seem to suit you so well. You are learning to sail your vessel regardless of circumstance. A privilege to watch you navigate this heart stuff.
    I sense you are becoming ready for the reconnection part with your Mom. I hope more than anything those moments will be realized.
    I also see someone fierce and determined and confident in her future. Go get it, Gretchen ! Build it and they will come. Action has magic and grace and power in it *
    Love love love the last paragraph you penned. So beautiful and so profound. Thank you.


    1. Thank you, Bonnie. I hope to realize that reconnection too. And it will be up to me to make it happen: my next, and perhaps the last, big challenge in this journey with my mother. I’m glad for your company.


  4. I think that about covers it. Your words are as beautiful as your pictures. I hope 2017 will be the best year you’ll have since you can remember.


  5. Wrenching stuff….
    Wishing you beautiful light through the trees and a warm quilt patchworked with all of the triumphs and small beauties that you have managed to craft this year. Thank you for sharing your vulnerable and courageous heart!


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