What happens to a person is less significant than what happens within him [her].
When I left Michigan in March, my mother was in a rehab center and my parent's caregiver was away. I arrived back in Michigan on July 31st with my husband and 18-year-old son to visit my parents who are now living on the ground floor of their home because my mother can't climb the stairs. Their bedroom has been relocated to the family room. Their large bed and television fill a good deal of the room and once their two reclining chairs are added to the mix, there's little room left for anyone other than my parents. To some extent, this is unavoidable unless they get a new bed. It feels sad to me though. Their room has become a bit larger version of the ubiquitous set-up at a nicer nursing home. It's great that they're still in their own home, but my mother's increasingly limited scope of movement makes me sad. It also makes me sad that my parent's live-in caregiver now lives upstairs and the physical separation seems to have led to a sort of emotional separation.
I don't know how to describe my parent's changed existence other than to think of it as a kind of diminishment. My mother has diminished physically, cognitively, and now spatially. Her life has gone from being bound by an entire house, to three rooms of that house. Much of the restrictions my mother has, she has chosen herself. She has chosen to participate less and less in the world. I'm not sure why, although I suspect it's a combination of fear, anxiety, and depression. Whatever the cause, it feels as though she has a foot in the other world. My father, on the other hand, can still drive, still walk and gets out into "the world" on a regular basis: going to church, grocery shopping, or just out to water the yard.
My mother still reads, looks forward to watching the ABC Nightly News with Diane Sawyer and Jeopardy (when the Olympics aren't on), and loves to listen to music. On the other hand, she has become obsessed with her bodily functions, drinks too much water, and anxiously awaits each item in the days routine. Today, I asked her if she gets bored. "Of course!" she said, looking at me as though I were an idiot to ask such a question. But when I proposed several things she might do, she wasn't interested. And, three days into my visit home, I'm stumped. I know how to buy her supplies for her catheter, talk to the visiting physical therapist about whether she should get a four-point-cane, and buy her the juice she likes: but I don't have any good ideas about what to do about her isolation and boredom. Below are two takes on the subject.
Sometimes the simplest solutions are the best
After two days spent rushing around shopping, picking up my aunt to go to a doctor's appointment, meeting visiting nurses, physical and occupational therapists, I finally got to spend some quiet time this afternoon visiting with my mother. "I was looking forward to your visit," my mother said, "but I'm not enjoying it that much. You're so busy and don't even have time to visit." I listened to what she said and looked at her sad face and I knew she was right. I slowed down and spent most of the afternoon and evening taking the time to visit. During the time I spent with her and my dad, I learned some important things:
- My mother is often lonely, even though she lives with two people and my sister visits often.
- Her live-in caregiver does a great job of attending to her physical needs and a not-as-good job of attending to her emotional and spiritual needs. (But is that her job?)
- She doesn't enjoy many of the things she used to do or can't do them now.
- Except for reading and listening to music, she's never enjoyed hobbies like crossword puzzles, playing cards, or other things that are good for a sedentary life style.
- Her best friend lives over 100 miles away.
- The only family member who lives nearby is a sister that she has little in common with.
- She's still grieving for her sisters, two of whom died earlier this year.
- She needs someone to take the time be present with her on a regular basis.
I haven't thought out what I can do about the list of things I learned, at least not yet. What I do know is that tonight - after an afternoon spent just being with my mother - she kissed me good night and told me she loved me. It's a start.
What kinds of things have you done to deal with a bored or isolated parent?