7 Moments Every Adult Caring for Their Parents Goes Through
Only after the local police started charging $40 for answering each false alarm did this hard truth set in: Mom had to move. She was calling 911 at least once a week. Dutifully, the cops would rush in to investigate yet another burglary, only to find Mom's "stolen" wallet between the seats of her silver Lexus or in the pachysandra in the backyard. Almost as often, fire trucks came roaring up her driveway, only to discover a hard-boiled egg scorched in an enamel pot on the stove, the smoke thick enough to set off the alarm my mother couldn't hear from her disheveled bedroom.
Mom was in the middle stage of Alzheimer's, a point where she had enough functioning gray matter to pretend that everything was fine. "You don't know what you're talking about!" she'd snap at the mere suggestion that she might want to move from her suburban house into the city 45 minutes away where my brother and I both lived. "I want to stay here." For months, we argued, reasoned and begged. Still she refused to pick an apartment.
So with the help of my brother and my mom's sister, we hatched a plan that at the time felt incredibly clever: We'd move Mom out of her house without telling her. I rented her a two-bedroom apartment less than a mile from mine, close enough that I could check in on her often and big enough to accommodate the in-home caregiver she'd eventually require. My brother hired the movers who would empty out the house she had lived in for 47 years. My aunt lured her into spending a few nights at her place, while we rushed around making her new home appear identical to her old one, a challenging task given that we were swapping a French Tudor for a modern high-rise.
When the stained Persian rug we knew she couldn't live without didn't fit, we had the entire base of a stone fireplace chiseled away to make room. When the low marble shelf that had run along the back wall of her living room proved too long, we called a carpenter to shorten it, then arranged her knickknacks and photographs on top exactly as they had been at home. Japanese fishing floats filled the crystal bowl on her dining table, catching the sunlight through the window exactly as they had for the past four decades. In our bleary, deluded eyes, we had done it; in one expansive leap of magical thinking, I even thought Mom might be grateful.
Of course, Mom wasn't grateful. Or happy. Or even for a moment fooled. She has Alzheimer's, but she's not stupid. Indeed, I was the fool for thinking she wouldn't notice, or wouldn't mind. This is where my caretaking had led me, to a place where I couldn't tell the difference between what was genius and what was insane.
Of course, I could have just left her in her home, like she wanted. Maybe she would have wandered off into traffic or perished in a fire ignited by yet another forgotten meal on the stove. Or maybe she would have been fine.
Now, there's some magical thinking.