“I can’t figure this place out,” my mom says. “What’s it all about?”
She’s talking about the assisted living facility where we moved her almost a year and a half ago.
“It’s your home, Mom,” I say.
She’s been confused about the place since the day we moved her. That day was tough — she resisted greatly — but then it got better. She started to accept it, believing, I think, that it was a temporary situation. Like a vacation. She compared it to the little resort in the Catskills we visited when I was a child.
“I wonder what they’re going to serve for dinner tonight,” she says, looking forward to the meal.
But then her attitude shifted as time wore on. The “vacation” never came to an end, and I guess it got old. She never goes anywhere, so I can understand why. I also have to wonder if an endless vacation, as desirable as that might sound, can feel like a life without purpose.
In assisted living, my mom no longer needs to cook or clean or pay her bills (my sister Kathy and I handle all the paperwork). She has no work and no place she has to be (except for meals and to get her medication). She has nothing to accomplish. Being in assisted living is like relinquishing all responsibility for daily life.
Sometimes I think this situation is actually making her Alzheimer’s worse.
I wonder if she would have deteriorated so quickly if she had stayed in her apartment, where she lived for 20 years. I wonder if her own apartment would have grown unfamiliar to her by now.
But there’s no use wondering, because there’s no going back. She’s where she is now, in a place of chronic confusion.
“My living room furniture is here,” she says, puzzled, looking around at her “new” apartment, where she has now lived for almost 18 months.
“Is this my place?”
Sometimes she gets the place confused with other places where she’s lived. Sometimes she imagines the small one bedroom apartment is a house, with different floors where all kinds of activity are happening.
“The kids are sleeping upstairs,” she says.
“What kids, Mom?”
“You know, the kids.”
“But there isn’t an upstairs, Mom,” I say. “You live on the top floor of the building.”
“Oh,” she says, but I can tell she’s not satisfied. It doesn’t make sense to her, and one minute later, she’s asking me again what it’s all about.
It’s like her memory is being poured out of her head like grains of sand from a glass, and she’s cupping her hands, trying to catch the grains before they fall to the ground. But they slip through her fingers, and she has to work harder and harder to hold on.