Dealing with an aging and possibly ailing parent involves a lot of tough decisions: how much time and effort will family members be able to put into the relative's care, what types of medical and personal support will he or she need, will he or she have to go into an assisted living program or a nursing home. The decisions surrounding the care of someone who needs help can be heart-wrenching.
In my own case, I was faced, along with my sisters, with finding a place for my mother, who had developed Alzheimer's. We weren't able to maintain her in her own home, and had no ability to bring her into ours. We found an assisted-living program, moved her in, stayed for a meal, and then walked away. I remember that moment, of putting one foot in front of the other, realizing as I was doing so that I was taking a step at a time away from my mother-that I was walking away and leaving her in the hands of strangers.
It was not a good arrangement. The assisted living program was understaffed, and the staff that existed wasn't trained to care for someone with my mother's behavioral issues. They resisted any attempt I made to find alternative treatments for her, and finally, after some incidents common to individuals suffering from a worsening case of Alzheimer's, my mother was asked to leave the facility. During her stay there I had never been able to let down my guard, because I had no confidence in their ability or their desire to provide the care my mother needed.
I had to find another living arrangement, and did so, this time in a small, well-staffed nursing home specializing in Alzheimer's patients. My mother ended up receiving excellent care from, and developed a close relationship with, two young women, RNs at the facility. Suzanne and Tracie were kind, loving, supportive, and understanding, and my mother, in what seemed like a second childhood, thrived under their care. And I, the active daughter who had had to fight for her care, who had had to keep an eagle eye on the staff of the previous facility, had to accept the importance of these new caregivers in her life, accept that they could do something for her that I couldn't do, and let go.
This time the result was positive. The fact that my mother was being cared for by kindhearted, compassionate people allowed me to relax a little, and I was able to maintain a comfortable relationship with her, freed of much of the daily responsibility of her care. The presence of these two caregivers in my mother's life gave us a chance to get to know each other in ways we never had. In the end we came to an understanding of each other and our relationship, one that may not have happened had I been burdened on a daily basis by her increasing physical needs. In the end, letting go of some of the responsibility was a gift, both to me and to my mother.
Aldene Fredenburg is a freelance writer living in southwestern New Hampshire. She has written numerous articles for local and regional newspapers and for a number of Internet websites, including Tips and Topics. She expresses her opinions periodically on her blog, http://beyondagendas.blogspot.com .