Emotional Nightmare: Breaking the Promise to Be Mamma's Caregiver
The guilt was overpowering, the fear was tormenting and there seemed to be no way out. I was incapable of keeping the promise I had made to my mother—the promise to care for her myself when she became too old or disabled. Now, she was an Alzheimer's victim.
Until recently, aged citizens in the Caribbean usually lived with their children or close relative till death. If they became “disgusting” or “miserable”—terms commonly used to describe senile old folks—the situation remained a family matter. That sense of family loyalty is what I would be up against, if I had my mother admitted to institutional care.
There were no siblings to help me decide.
Facts Underlying The Promise
My mother was a teenager when I was born. Soon after my birth, she was offered the opportunity to migrate to another country “to better herself” as folks here say. Her mother would not allow it; my mother had to take care of her child—me. Caring for her now seemed like my chance to compensate her for my being an obstacle then.
Later, my mother’s younger sister was also offered the opportunity to migrate. She left, and my mother helped to care for her six children. My aunt consequently died and my mother became guardian for her nieces and nephews. She must have wondered "Why me?" but she did the best she could.
My mother also became the caregiver for her mother—my grandmother—and rendered sterling quality care. After being caregiver for me and so many others, it was only reasonable for my mother to receive excellent, personal care in her old age. That is what I promised to do—look after her physical and medical needs, supply spiritual and emotional comfort, be there for her as much as was humanly possible.
I moved in with my mother to care for her. Several professional health care workers and experienced caregivers warned me that the job was greater than I could handle, but having made that promise, I had to try. There were difficult decisions, for example:
- Should I stay up all night to monitor her hyperactivity or should I get some sleep and wake up prepared to undo her rearrangement of the house? Not to mention the fear of her safety while I slept.
- Should I drug her so we could both sleep and then toss and turn over what felt like I was dehumanizing her? I doubted myself with almost every decision I made.
After three years, I had proven my incompetence. My mother needed the undivided attention of a trained caregiver (twenty-four hours a day) in a safe, comfortable, healthy environment. My stamina and skills were sadly lacking.
- She could have been cared for by a trained in-home caregiver, but enough of those were not available.
- There were a few private health care facilities on the island which were reputed to offer adequate care, but I would have had to find fairy godparents to help meet the expense.
- There was a subsidized facility but it was not clear on what basis the agency accepted or denied patients. Still I applied without any guarantee that my mother would be admitted.
While I pursued my mother's admission to the home, I searched my mind for other options, hoping to find one which would pacify the discomfort I felt about breaking the promise. The more I searched, the more dissatisfied I became. There were no solutions for my fears based on what I anticipated her attitude would be.
I was terrified to think of her response when she discovered that she had to leave 99% of her belongings behind. There was only room for a minimum amount of clothing, not for overflow luggage. Although I was pleased with the arrangement and cleanliness of the rooms, I was afraid that my mother would be aggravated by the lack of space.
Distance from Home
My mother complained almost daily that nobody cared about her anymore. That was because she forgot which relative came by and when, and it was true that the frequency of their visits lessened since I was with her. When she moved so far away from home, their visits would be even more sparse. I wondered what the sense of abandonment would feel like for her.
Future Loss of Complete Control
Although my mother could no longer keep up with her gardening, she still monitored the fruits on the apple, avocado, banana and pomegranate trees. She knew when they were ready to be picked and she had a distribution system to make sure that we shared evenly with others.
She chose to do her own laundry. She thought that no-one else would treat her clothing as well as she did. She had limited control over when and what she ate. She called relatives overseas when she remembered them.
How would my mother accept that even the limited control she had would be taken away when she left home? She would lose her independence too. The guilt, the fear, the uncertainty accompanying me every day were forces to be reckoned with.
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My mother spent nine months in the home for the elderly before I removed her. Disrespect, disorganization and lack of professionalism bothered me. Among other disturbing incidents, I was gravely upset when I showed up to take her to church, and the staff was not sure which dentures (from the set of three or four) were hers. The last straw was the surprise black eye she had. There was no report of how it happened, and if I had not visited I never would have known. I expressed gratitude to the facility. They too, may have done the best they knew how to do.
I renewed my promise and arranged for occasional respite by admitting her to other facilities for temporary care. During that time, when my mother was most dependent on me, I felt closer than ever to her. After one week in a facility she had been for the first time, my mother fell gravely ill and lasted for another three weeks before she passed.
My sensitivity toward caregivers has heightened. Whether at home or in a public facility, they need all the help that is available. I still hear individuals promising that their loved ones will be cared for at home for as long as they live. I have no verbal response. Instead I whisper a prayer for the caregiver and the patient.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
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© 2013 Dora Weithers