I nearly drove myself crazy with worry prior to a recent family vacation requiring nine days of respite care for my mom at a nearby facility. She had done well there during two and three day stays. But nine? It was total fear of the unknown on my part. And when I finally did tell Mom that she would be enjoying a nine-day “break” from us — only two days before it actually happened — her face fell. (Since Mom tends to forget things very quickly these days, I use this as an excuse to procrastinate more than usual.)
“Well, you need to get away,” she said as if trying to convince herself of this.
We ended up thoroughly enjoying our vacation, and my cousin Barbara was kind enough to visit Mom not once but twice while we were away (the second time with my mother’s sister Millie in tow, which would normally “take a village” but somehow Barbara always makes the impossible quite possible). I had also checked in by phone with the nurses’ desk during vacation and had been reassured that Mom was doing well.
On the ride home from Maine, I had the usual Jekyll and Hyde reaction — I missed my Mom and couldn’t wait to see her, but I knew that I would miss the independence and autonomy my husband and I had enjoyed during our stay in Bar Harbor.
Exhausted by travel we went to retrieve mom, who was sitting happily in the Day Room with a few of the permanent residents. I was surprised to see that she seemed rejuvenated by her stay. On the ride home, she talked about how good the food had been, and how they served it “all day.” (Truth be told, I provide Mom with her daytime meals at my own convenience, and it is not a solid schedule nor delicious fare).
And then it dawned on me that I had been indulging in selfish thinking. I wasn’t the only one missing my independence and autonomy. Mom was missing hers, as well. At the facility, Mom did not have to adhere to my spotty schedule and limited daytime interaction or any of my instructions or rules. She had plenty of freedom and food and companionship, and she enjoyed them immensely.
But she was fortunately excited to arrive home — mainly because she had missed the family cat. (Who wouldn’t?) And I could tell she was proud that she had managed so nicely while we were away.
“How many days was I there?” she asked later that evening, furrowing her brow.
“How many days do you think?” I countered.
“Two?” she guessed.
Mr. Hyde was urging me to provide an honest answer, but Dr. Jekyll hijacked the conversation.
“That’s right!” I said.
“Hmmm,” Mom said. And then that darn Dr. Jekyll rewarded me with guilt and a hot flash.