Breaking My Promise to My Mother
The guilt is overpowering. The fear is tormenting. The judgments are soul-crushing. Nothing changes the fact: I am incapable of keeping the promise I made to my mother.
Here on this Caribbean island, it is almost heresy to talk about options concerning elderly care. Until recent years, aged citizens lived with their children or close relative till death. If the old folk were “disgusting” or “miserable”—terms commonly used to describe my mother’s present condition—only trustworthy persons were privy to that fact. That sense of family loyalty is what I am up against.
“You know that your daughter will do the same thing to you,” somebody scolded me, on learning that I had broken my promise.
Truth is, I will discourage my daughter from making the promise I made to my mother; and if she already did, she has my consent to change her mind.
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 usually say. Her mother would not allow it; my mother had to take care of her child—me.
My mother’s younger sister had six children when she was offered the opportunity to migrate. She left, and my mother helped to care for her children. My aunt consequently died and my mother stood in as guardian for her nieces and nephews the best way she could.
My mother’s mother—my grandmother—lived with her in her latest years, and my mother gave her sterling quality care. After being caregiver for me and so many others, it is only reasonable for my mother to receive excellent, personal care in her old age. That is what I promised to do—have her live with me, look after her physical and medical needs, supply spiritual and emotional comfort, be there for her as much as is humanly possible.
I received several warnings from professional health care workers and from experienced caregivers that the job was greater than I could handle; but having made that promise, I had to try. Now that I have proven my incompetence, I have to explore other options.
My mother's need is a safe, comfortable, healthy environment in which caretakers offer compassionate care to an Alzheimer’s patient.
- She could be cared for by a trained in-home caregiver, but so far no such person is available.
- There are a few private health care facilities on the island. They offer adequate care, but I would have to find fairy godparents to help meet the expense.
- There is a government-subsidized facility which is in another village. I have been advised that the home was donated by a family from that village, with the stipulation that first preference be given to residents in the immediate community. There’s no guarantee that my mother will be admitted, still I hope.
While I pursue my mother's admission to the home, I search my mind for other options, hoping to find one which would pacify the discomfort I feel about breaking the promise. The more I search, the more dissatisfied I become. There are no solutions for my fears based on what I anticipate her attitude will be.
- Limited Space
I am terrified to think of how she will respond when she discovers that she has to leave 99% of her belongings behind. There is only room for a minimum amount of clothing, not for overflow baggage. Although I am pleased with the arrangement and cleanliness of the rooms, I am afraid my mother will be aggravated by the lack of space. I hope that I am wrong.
- Distance from Home
My mother complains almost daily that nobody cares about her anymore. That is because she forgets who comes by and when, and it is true that the frequency of their visits has lessened since I am with her. When she is so far away from church members and relatives, their visits will be even more sparse. I wonder what confusion plus the sense of abandonment will feel like for her.
How do you usually handle your emotions?
- Total Loss of Control
Although my mother can longer keep up with her gardening, she still monitors the fruits on the apple, avocado, banana and pomegranate trees. She knows when they are ready to be picked and she has a distribution system to make sure we share with others. She still has some control there.
She chooses to do her own laundry. She thinks that no-one else will care her clothing as well as she does. She has control there too. She has limited control over when and what she eats. She calls relatives overseas when she remembers. How will my mother accept that so much of her control and her independence have been taken away?
I am still privileged to be in control of my life (within my surrender to God). The guilt, the fear, the uncertainty accompanying me every day are forces to be reckoned with. How I remain in control is the topic for another chapter.
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Update: Renewal of Promise
My mother spent nine months in the home for the elderly before I removed her. Disrespect, lack of professionalism and organization were very obvious and made me uncomfortable about leaving my mother there. I have renewed my promise to be her caregiver and I am learning to cope with God's help.
A wealth of information about the disease as well as free caregiver training is available online.
Look for Free e-learning workshops on the page to which the adjacent link leads. The courses have been of optimum benefit to me, and I highly recommend them.