An Only Child and an Elderly Mother

2012-05-10 00.02.49

I have started this post many, many times. It’s not just the fibro fog making the words difficult to find, it’s that actually committing my thoughts and fears to the page forces me to accept that they are real, tangible and inescapable. But I’m a grown up and I hope that writing this all down will be cathartic, help me to cope and if anyone else out there is going through a similar time, perhaps they will realise that they are not alone.

My mum’s health, mental and physical, is deteriorating and her mortality scares me.

I’ve documented elsewhere on this blog the problems I’ve had with my mother over the years. You can read about them here if you are interested. To summarise, ever since my dad died 31 years ago I’ve had to look after my mum. She does nothing on her own, goes nowhere, sees no one unless I am with her. It’s been difficult. I am an only child and there is no one with whom I can share the load.

I used to blog about all the funny things she said and did but it’s been over a year since I added anything because, truthfully, I don’t find it funny anymore. Mum was never an intellectual: her interests were limited to TV soaps, reality shows and the National Enquirer. Age has deteriorated her mind even more and there is almost nothing I can talk to her about. I love her dearly, but the gap between us has grown to Grand Canyon proportions and we have nothing to say to each other.

Recently, mum suffered from a bout of labyrinthitis. She was dreadfully sick and unable to walk. I got the emergency doc out to see her and had to insist she go to hospital as there was no one to look after her. She couldn’t come to us because all the beds are upstairs and she is scared of stairs (amongst many other things) and we were in the middle of a house move with boxes and bags of stuff everywhere. He eventually acquiesced and after a three hour wait, an ambulance finally came to take mum to ARI where she stayed for 10 days.

She was released almost two weeks ago, still unsteady on her feet and desperately in need of care. Despite her protestations that she eats well, I do her shopping and I know that stuff goes uneaten and undrunk. She doesn’t look after herself. Her house is dirty. I want her to be better looked after. I thought I had convinced her to come and live with us again when we move, but she kept changing her mind. She doesn’t like where we are moving to in Argyll. We spent holidays down there most years when I was a child and I loved it. My dad loved it. Beaches, rock pools, safety for kids to go out in the morning and come back when they got hungry. Heaven. But mum wanted to go to Blackpool and play Bingo and the one-armed bandits. Time was moving on and decisions had to be made, plans needed to be put in action if she were to move down with us. I had to say enough and that she’d have to stay where she was. I can’t force her to go where she doesn’t want to be.

I kicked up enough merry hell to get carers in place for her at her sheltered housing. Someone comes three times a day to make sure she takes her pills and to heat some food in the microwave. It took until day three before mum started telling me they were “at it”, deliberately leaving her til last and only pretending to be unwell when a relief carer was sent in her place. These people aren’t paid enough to deal with the shit that gets thrown at them.

Mum is forgetting loads of stuff now too. Things that she would have remembered a year ago leak from her mind or hover before her, just out of grasp. It’s difficult to watch her reach for details that just aren’t there anymore.

Before she was released from hospital they gave her a stick and showed her how to use it. She can’t. She carries it with her when she walks but is physically and intellectually unable to co-ordinate the movements required to use the stick successfully. And she still staggers.

I spoke to her doctor who sympathised but told me that ultimately, there was nothing she could do. She still judged her to be competent of making decisions but urged me to seek power of attorney before that changed. Meanwhile, if mum says no to seeing the geriatric psychiatrist or to going in to a home, she will be left where she is. And she is saying no to both of these.

In just over two weeks I’ll be moving more than 300 miles away. An eight hour drive. Mum will be left in her sheltered housing cottage where she forgets or refuses to use the alarm to call for help; with carers coming in and spending no more than 30 minutes with her in total each day; unsteady of her feet; unable to remember what she had for dinner the previous day, the name of her carer, how to use the remote on the TV… I could go on.

The guilt I feel is overwhelming. I’ve looked after her for 31 years and now, when she needs me more, I’m leaving her due to circumstances outwith anyone’s control. My sleep, already disrupted by FMS has got a lot worse, IBS is a bitch and I find myself sitting, staring into middle distance instead of getting on with all the work that needs doing, like a rabbit caught in the headlights.

I’m letting her down. I know I am and I’m not looking for sympathy or for people to tell me I’m not. I am just powerless to do anything about it and that’s something I’ll have to live with. Like many other adults, mainly women, I am caught between doing what’s right for my husband and myself, my daughter, and my 83 year old mother. Have I made the right choice? Only time will tell. The only comfort I have is that the decision wasn’t easy and it was made after weighing up all of the options available to me. And I am making a promise to my daughter that I will never, ever put her in a similar position. I will march willingly into a home to see out my days rather than put any burden of care onto her. I’m the parent. It’s my job to look after her.

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25 Comments

  1. Rachel
    May 24, 2014

    Tough times. Totally tough times, and I won’t insult your enormous brain by typing something ridiculous here other than: Keep on keeping on. I’m wishing you all the strength in the world to get through everything. Keep writing it down when you can. We’re all ears.

    • Nettie
      May 24, 2014

      Thank you, darling Rach xxx

  2. Margot Kinberg
    May 24, 2014

    Nettie – What a powerful post. What agonising decisions you’ve had to face, too. And it doesn’t matter what anyone else would have done in your situation, you’ve chosen the best options you could given everything. I can only imagine how hard this all must be for you. {{}}

    • Nettie
      May 24, 2014

      Thank you, Margot x

  3. Anne Harvey
    May 24, 2014

    Dear Annette, I know how you must feel and you have my sympathies. Your mother doesn’t sound to be in a good position right now but then neither do you with your own health problems. Look at it another way, if anything happens to you, she’d be no worse off than she will be when you move. I’m saying these things because I had to go through the torment of putting my mother in a home in the last few months of her life because looking after her was affecting my own health. It was the hardest decision I had to make but at least I knew she was being cared for 24 hours a day.

    • Nettie
      May 24, 2014

      So sorry you had go through this too, Anne. Much love xxx

  4. Glynis Smy
    May 24, 2014

    My heart goes out to you, Nettie. Dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s four weeks before I left UK. I felt awful leaving him and mum but needed to leave for various reasons. He passed away and I am back in UK as carer for my mum. Leaving made me stronger to cope with the task. You need to step away and don’t feel guilty. You are in same country. If needed you
    will be able to cope better when you step back a bit. Thirty years of caring is long enough, she made choices that suited her, now it’s your turn. A support team is there, you need to visit with news, and care where and when you can. Go, enjoy your new home with the knowledge you have done your very, very best!! Hugs x

    • Nettie
      May 24, 2014

      So sorry about your dad and much love to you and your mum xxx

  5. Judith Eton
    May 24, 2014

    Although I have traveled to many countries in my life, I am always shocked when someone half a world away so beautifully expresses my own thoughts and feelings. My mother passed away at 89, not before moving across the United States to live with me, only to return to Florida 8 months later. Like yours it was a difficult relationship but I still felt as though I was leaving a toddler at a bus station. I am always happy I am not alone with my feelings, just know someone out here shares your plight. Your writing is lovely……

    • Nettie
      May 24, 2014

      Thank you so much for taking time to comment, Judith, and for your kind words. It means a lot that you found my story helpful. x

  6. Margaret Morton Kirk
    May 24, 2014

    I understand, absolutely – my mother died 11 years ago, leaving my disabled father on his own in Inverness, while I lived in Bournemouth. My only sibling lives in San Diego, so effectively I was an only child. There was never a real choice for me, so ultimately I left a decent job (and my daughter, who’d just started university) and came back up north.

    My father died 2 years ago, and while I am glad I did what I did, there’s no getting away from the impact it had on my life, and clearly your situation has impacted on you.

    I don’t think you can get away from the feelings of guilt, but you have done so much for your mother through the years, so please don’t feel guilty. It really is your time, and as the previous comments said, you are in the same country in case of emergencies. Go and enjoy living where you want and don’t let your understandable but unfounded feelings of guilt hamper you.

    • Nettie
      May 24, 2014

      Thank you, Margaret. Your kindness is much appreciated x

  7. Jacqueline Pye
    May 24, 2014

    What a difficult time, even more than it’s been over the years. I’m wondering how well your mother relates to you from her point of view. If she is becoming more inward looking and mentally enclosed, she may cope without you better than might be expected. Either way, you need to have a present and a future for you, husband and daughter and I bet the other two are right behind you. With luck they’ll see you through the initial pain and out into a fresher, more invigorating lifestyle which will benefit you all. (Didn’t realise you have fibromyalgia; I have it too, but thankfully not too badly. Stress doesn’t help it, they say.) Anyway, all the best for your move, and I’m thinking the cliche’d saying, the darkest hour is just before dawn. (Don’t yawn.)

    • Nettie
      May 25, 2014

      Thank you, Jacqueline. Sadly, I am, and always have been, her entire life. It’s a big responsibility to carry and one I can’t handle at the moment. So sorry you have FMS too. It’s a nasty illness. xxx

  8. joskehan
    May 25, 2014

    Nettie I can understand the guilt feelings. My mother died when I was a kid, but my Dad lived on and married again twice. The third wife didn’t want him when he became ill with Parkinson’s so my husband and I sold up everything and moved to the other side of Australia to take care of him. When he was on his feet again, he wanted to take up his life again with the third dragon…he died alone. In a park. In a city he didn’t know. In 42deg C heatwave. I still feel guilty. My two older sisters don’t. I wish you peace of mind and the acceptance that you cannot do everything in this world – things we expect of ourselves. I have fibro too, and as someone else on here has said, stress makes it worse. Take care of you Nettie. You need the strength to carry on the best you can. Hugs. xxxx

    • Nettie
      May 25, 2014

      So, so sorry, Jo. It’s funny how I think you have nothing to feel guilty about yet I do. Peace and strength to you xxx

  9. Di Horsfield
    May 25, 2014

    Thinking of you. Wishing you strength and happiness. Enjoy your new life. Staying where you are would change nothing. Moving will change nothing. Guilt is a bitch. Please keep writing down how you feel even if you never share it with anyone. Much love as always xxx

    • Nettie
      May 25, 2014

      Thank you, Di. The support from you and others has been a great help xxx

  10. Ailsa Abraham
    May 25, 2014

    I do understand. My own mother didn’t make that age but with strokes and alcoholism she became very difficult to handle. It’s a very tough call and no matter which way you play it you are going to feel dreadful. I can only say what the others have – your own health will suffer even further if you allow the guilt to eat you up. It is like the mother you knew died some time ago and left you with this shell that you have to care for. My heart goes out to you and you know where I am if you ever need to scream, download or even cry with me. xxx

    • Nettie
      May 25, 2014

      Thank you Ailsa. My husband and daughter are very, very supportive, but having such understanding from disinterested parties does make it a little easier to cope with.

  11. Kath Travis
    May 25, 2014

    Oh Nettie, my heart really goes out to you.

    Am in a similar situation to you but a bit further down the line. It is such a ‘no win’ situation to be in. I’ve just read one of your previous posts about shopping with your Mum and have been there. We’d take my Mum to Sainsbury’s every week and I’d come back with a pounding headache and she’d come back with a trolley full of stuff that she wouldn’t eat and often wouldn’t know what it was. The worst used to be that she would insist that she needed a jar of coffee even though she’d bought one the previous week and would have the biggest tantrum if she didn’t have a jar of coffee. Again people would look at me if I was an axe murderer, as I’d get very annoyed/uptight with her. I heard one lady mutter something, I asked if she would like to take her round!

    Anyway, three years of her being totally wilful (she did/does have dementia), but this was on top of a totally ‘I know it all and you know nothing’ personality. She had a series of falls and eventually it was agreed that she needed to be in a care home. Managed to sort one out and get her settled in, now the home doesn’t want her as she is too much for them. Am still trying to sort her affairs out and get a court of protection.

    Have had plenty of stress related problems and feel I want to get on with my life, but feel that she is lurking waiting to put the spanner in the works. I feel so bad about this, but there is only limited fragmented help for people dealing with elderly parents – not necessarily with dementia. I was told by a neighbour that there is a Dementia Café in a near by town that I could take my Mum and talk about dementia – I told her no thanks I have enough dealing with it.

    So sorry to have rambled on about it, but you put it so eloquently.

    Oh and when we cleared her house out we found 12 jars of coffee!

    • Nettie
      May 25, 2014

      Oh, Kath, my heart goes out to you. My husband’s mother had multi-infarct dementia and got to be too much for her home to handle. She ended up in a nursing home where she saw out her days. It’s never easy, no matter how you handle it. So sorry you are going through this now and thank you for taking hte time to comment x

  12. Mags Cullingford
    May 25, 2014

    Nettie, what a sad story and a terrible dilemma for you, but I don’t see what else you can do other than what you are doing. You can’t be asked to sacrifice the present and future to the past.

    • Nettie
      May 25, 2014

      Thank you, Mags x

  13. david gale
    Nov 20, 2016

    This may be a different tale as I am gay male aged 55 with same problem though now married (albeit for 1 year) finds it difficult moving away from my mother
    My mother whom is 86 and generally good health is lonely and drinks since I left home. I d always lived with her even though I had my own place some 15 mins away in London. Truth be known I was lonely so liked going home to her place rather than an empty flat . My then BF was in process of divorce and carving up family finances so we did not live together. I was happy with this situation though was not happy in my job and had chance of early retirement and drawdown of private pension. Of course stopping work especially the job I did social work where you were undervalued over pressured and challenged over reasoning for providing the most basic of care package for older people I was glad to let go as it was very demoralising and devalued my calling into such profession. I supported emotionally my partner with his divorce and forged an acceptance from his two teenage children and indeed his x wife. We married and remained living in my flat in London and though I see my mother and chat daily the thought of moving to albeit 80 minutes away from london feels me with dread as I worry about my mum as she is lonely and now drinks at home and has had falls. Needless to say she will not move and is in denial about her drinking but she does not really keep her flat clean and can be hit and miss on eating . I feel torn and depressed as I feel obligated to look after her and yet my husband sees it that I am putting her before him and feels I don’t want to be with him. I reason that I would feel happier if I got a part time job in London and alternated between him and her but he feels I am abandoning him, yet feel I cant do it the other way around ie get part time job outside London and stay with mum in London part time. I feel so guilty and afraid. Its not as if my husband would be on his older son who is in his early 20s will live with us. I am ok with this as I know it means a lot to my partner that his son is accepting to us both yet truth be known I am saddened that my partner is so hard on my reasoning and feels I need to cut apron strings. My confidence has gone and my MH has deteriorated to a point where my self esteem and motivation to even leave house or get dressed has fallen into a black hole. I think I ve suffered low self esteem and depression all my life and everything has come to the surface now and I don’t think I can leave London or start afresh with this constant fear and anxiety I have . I hated my job but feel more in a pickle now than had I stayed in a thankless job and wished id stuck it out just to have not be in a position to have to make any choices . I might add that my husband needs to move due to his work but would not necessitate the sale of our London flat. I AM GRATEFUL for the circumstances of not having cash flow problems but apart from my partner and my mother I have no friends and no confidence in my self and wallow in the past and feeling I have been a waste of a life . I often think I have never loved myself so perhaps i’m not truly capable of loving my partner as I should appreciate his feelings as I have not flown nest and developed as an independent adult . Truth is I MISS still not living with my mum and am saddened by her decline and feel I need to look after her and keep her company and keep chores up to date. She would not consider home care and has no friends and very limited social life. She sees herself as young so day centres or older peoples activities is not her thing. I see her memory getting poor and her confidence /orientation outside her own home declining as she no longer goes to west end or jaunts out like she use to and I know she misses me as I do her and I feel guilty for her actions ie (drinking) and loneliness as she has no company to stimulate her any more

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