As many of you know, my mother has Alzheimer’s and we have been in the process of taking care of all the things a life contains and needs attending to when you begin to loose the capacity to manage them.
My mother can no longer live alone. But it’s also time for my brother, who has Down Syndrome, to live on his own and experience the next step of his growth. They’ve lived together all his life… all 36 years. He’s ready for the challenge of living on his own, but like me, he’s not ready to take on the responsibility of taking care of my mom, which is requiring 24 hour a day presence and management.
I could write an entire book about the experience and the countless emotions and issues that come when having to make decisions for someone else’s care, end of life planning and general course of life. Perhaps one day I will, but not here.
For me right now it comes down to this:
My mother needs to be comfortable, respected, happy, stimulated and free to still live as much of her life as she can without feeling like she’s been put away and forgotten. I need to find this for her, while managing the very real issue of limited finances as well as her resistance, denial and grief over what is happening to her. And on the weekends, when I go home to the cabin and my husband, I’m dealing with my own exhaustion, grief and resistance to being the person to manage another’s life when it causes them so much grief as well.
There are private living homes for the elderly that provide care while maintaining freedom, dignity and an active lifestyle, especially for those like my mom who is totally healthy and needs to remain super active, but is losing her memory. These places of course are expensive.
So far, places like this that I have found are either extremely costly, as in upwards for $4000 and more a month. The other part of it, is that it is an intimate living environment. It’s not only about finding a place that can meet your care needs, but also where your parent or loved one can fit in with the home culture. You have to fit in with the personality or culture of the home. It’s like moving into a house with 4-6 roommates, while going through a vulnerable and tender time in your life.
I’ve left places in tears, I’ve left places with a definitive “Hell No” and I’ve left places dejected, because it just wouldn’t be a good fit.
Until this week.
Finding A Place
Through a family friend, I was given the number of a place that was set up by a fabulous Cuban couple who is deeply involved in the community and who are both social workers but also avid hosts for every single person that comes into their lives no matter how.
From the moment I walked into the house, I was hit with the language and accent of our peoples, as well as offered 5 different dishes of deliciousness to nosh on, all of them Cuban influenced.
The talk was loud, raucous, affectionate and warm in that way I know from my childhood. This was to be the first of several get gatherings to discuss my mom’s care, her needs, our families needs and the way things were at this particular house. My mom came to visit as well on one of the visits and we spent hours talking about old family recipes that I hadn’t had since I was a little girl, but that Guri, the woman that owns this home and was hosting our meeting had made for us.
The Food Of Home
This entire process is scary. It’s fraught with guilt and sadness and fear and grief and so many questions with unsatisfying answers. My mom is entering into a period of her life that is terrifying and has no real good outcome and I’m trying to lead her through it without really having a clue as to what to do and how to do it.
But I’m telling you, sitting at that table with food that we had both grown up with, talking to people that spoke our language, had our same references and shared the recipes of mine and my mothers youth, tied us all together in a way that made it feel very much as if our family grew that day.
It made my mom and I both feel at home, safe and like this wasn’t about placing her in a facility, it was about helping her move in with family. And this happened in large part because of the food we shared.
The Deeper Meaning Behind Food
I keep coming back to this in my personal life over and over again, but this last week much more powerfully than ever before.
Food can be a thread that keeps us linked to both our places of origin, family and culture in a way that keeps us rooted in meaning and in belonging.
For us, my mom and I, this last week was a healing salve to what has been for the last few months an angst and grief ridden process with no end in sight. Through food we were able to find a place that is like home for us both and a place that we both feel good about including in our family so my mom can live there.
Food heals. Our history with food over the course of the generations of families we each come from, heals. Sharing it with one another… heals.
I’m so grateful.