When my sister and I prepared to move our mother from Florida to Ohio, we worked furiously to plan everything. All of our plans fell into place. Resources were made available to us when we needed them the most. The move was proceeding as planned. Before we could turn our vehicles north, we had to drop my rental vehicle at the Tampa airport, at which time I would then drive mother and her car on to our final destination. Because of this little side trip, we planned for my sister to drive my mother’s car to the airport. My brother-in-law in was to bring up the rear in the U-Haul. However, our plans dissolved before we even set foot into the first vehicle. Mother didn’t see things the same way we saw them. She refused to let my sister drive her car. She stood in the middle of the street in front of her house screaming at us. “If I can’t drive, I’m not going!” No amount of coaxing would change her mind. My sister threw up her hands and climbed into the U-Haul with her husband. We had no choice but to let mother drive her car. I prayed all the way to the airport (about an hour’s drive). In the convoy, we put mother’s car in between the U-Haul and me. By the time we reached the airport, mother was so scared she gladly handed me the keys to drive her car the remainder of the trip.
Looking back on this scene, now nine years later, I almost cry. On that sunny March day in the middle of that Florida street, my sister and I were angry because mother would not comply with our plans. We were so bent on “helping” mother that we did not take time to acknowledge her feelings. The day had been a difficult one for her. She had just lost her home. She was moving to another state. She was not sure of herself enough to drive her own car. Mother was losing control in many ways and she was feeling overwhelmed. My sister and I thought we were doing the best we could for her. However, in all of our planning for the move, we failed to factor in the emotional side of the equation.
At the beginning of this adventure, I was clueless. Although mother had been failing for several years, the enormity of the situation had yet to hit me. Not only was my mother on an emotional rollercoaster, my sister and I were on the ride with her. We were unable to communicate effectively with mother. After several attempts at trying to help her understand something, we all would become angry and shut down. Frustrations mounted on all sides. If we asked mother to make a decision, she returned a blank stare. After several attempts, we just made the decision for her. Unfortunately, this only created resentment on both sides. Mother resented our perceived interference. My sister and I resented mother for putting us in this position. The resentment continued for several years.
As the saying goes, “hindsight is always 20/20.” If I had to do this all over again, I would handle a few things differently. If you are at the beginning of a journey similar to ours, my biggest piece of advice would be to slow down. My sister and I were not equipped to handle all of the particular nuances of dementia. Although I had done a little reading, I really needed to do more research. I believe a counselor or therapist could have helped me avoid many of the pitfalls into which I fell. A counselor would also have helped me come to terms with my own feelings about this move. If I had taken my feelings out of the equation, I think I would have been more considerate of my mother’s feelings. At the time, the situation looked dire to me and acting quickly appeared to be the best option. I think slowing down and brainstorming over the issues in more depth would have made the situation a little easier. Slowing down would also have given me a little more time to process my feelings about the ways in which this move was going to affect my life. Physically moving mother closer to me presented more challenges than I ever imagined. Denying or avoiding your feelings will only backfire and cause you more pain in the end. No matter how difficult it may be for you to own your feelings, you must if you are to survive the aging process.