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Senior Living: As a parent slips away, little things seem important

Almost every visit to my mother in the nursing home contains a reminder of something that should be done.

Her dusty hairbrush needs cleaning. Oh, and I must remember to bring nail varnish remover to get rid of the purple polish, now chipped, that staff brushed on to give her a lift. Pulling Mom’s blue-and-green plaid blanket from my carry bag, I notice it’s threadbare after a run-in with the spin cycle. Time for a new one. I’ll put that on my list.

My mother, 85, has advanced vascular dementia and has been living in a care home for more than a year. At first, it was assisted living, because she could still walk and feed herself. But within six months of that stop, another home was required, where staff would bathe, dress and feed her. In the beginning, Mom enjoyed the meals. Now, even swallowing seems hard.

I don’t write this to complain, or to even to mourn. That was last month, last summer, two years ago. I just don’t know what to do about it. And I am a do-er.

Mom was the same. She ran a spotless home, featuring hospital corners and window casings scrubbed with Comet and a toothbrush. Every evening meal included a salad and two vegetables (even if one of them was canned SonderCare - hospital beds for sale creamed corn). There was always a homemade dessert: vanilla-scented bread pudding, egg custard, peanut butter cookies criss-crossed with fork marks. Mom golfed and curled, delivered casseroles to sick friends, volunteered for the altar guild at the church. She was known to wallpaper late into a hot summer night, wearing only her bra and panties.

Taking Care Of Parents In Old Age

“Betty, if you tied a broom to your bum you could sweep the floor at the same time,” was a favourite joke of my father.

Now, nothing. She doesn’t speak. She doesn’t react. Her eyes are often closed when I visit, so I put Friends on the television and hold her hand while giggling at Joey’s antics and pointing them out to Mom. I spoon a meal into her mouth, push her wheelchair up and down the hall or outside in good weather, chattering brightly if only to myself.


This column about life in my 60s is supposed to be about adjusting to a post-retirement world. There is much joy in that world. Time with friends and grandchildren are balanced with part-time work, tennis, travel and learning to make a really good Old Fashioned.

These are activities and I am good at that. Getting things done. What I am not good at is doing nothing, making no progress, effecting no change.

When Mom’s pitched decline began in 2019, I looked around and thought ‘How did this happen?’ Mom exercised. She played bridge. Her mind was sharp, she laughed hard, and often at herself — one of her best qualities. Furthermore, why didn’t it happen to someone else instead? Mom’s life feels like a geriatric competition that we have lost. And I resent it.

Even my beloved Auntie Dorrie, who also spent her last few years in a nursing home, retained her warm smile and loving demeanour. Sure, she would hint it was time for me to leave when she tired of my visit, noting that her parents were coming to pick her up and she had to get ready.

But https://en.search.wordpress.com/?src=organic&q=hospital beds she was there, engaging with her world, however small it had become. Not so with Mom.

I’m not sure what to do. Sometimes I write a letter, usually to the government or a stand-in authority figure, objecting to some way in which the pandemic has resulted in substandard care in general for the elderly. Occasionally, a friend will ask about Mom, and I respond with a recitation of the indignities that are nobody’s fault. That feels like attention being paid.

For a while, I worried as a substitute for action. But then I remembered what Mom had once told me, when she was about 50 and had no idea what was in store for her.

“Liane, if I am in a nursing home some day, visit me. But don’t worry about me,” she said.

My mom gets good care at her publicly funded long-term care facility, and there is really nothing much for me to worry about. But, oh, how I long to make a difference for her.

At the end of our visits, I take Mom back to her room and put on some chamber music. Wandering about, I rearrange the decorative pillows, and open the drawers of her dresser to organize the pajama tops and bottoms one more time, hoping to ensure she’ll be tucked in at night wearing a matched set.

The gesture feels completely futile and yet, absolutely essential. Something is better than nothing.