I saved the story, partly as a talisman, partly because it was so tough living through it I couldn't think of writing it down. Still can't, not the whole story, not a round by round recap. The important thing is that a few hours after I post this Mom and I will walk into one of the nicest assisted living operations in town, and then one of us will walk out, presumably me.
Two weeks ago she came for an unscheduled weekend when she refused to join my sister's family at The Lake, followed by the rest of the week with me as my sister started her new job--she's a professional cog--and my wife went north for a summer course. I was already pissed at my sister for the argument, convinced that avoiding conflict as much as possible was key, while she and her husband seemed to be taking every opportunity to say, "Mom, you are now old and out of your head and you have to let us decide." I was still thinking this about 45 minutes after my wife left, when my dear old gray-haired mother swung a pick-axe at me. I came to understand that when she wants an argument she will get it.
She wanted to go to Florida. Now. Off to the airport. Now. Don't tell anyone. You can come back in two days.
I tried ignoring her. Then I tried calmly changing the subject, then even more calmly explaining why I couldn't suddenly disappear into the swamps even if I wanted to. And all the while she got nastier and more hurtful.
And this essentially went on for four days, with her sleeping for hours in between bouts and me not sleeping at all. By Monday morning she was calling her Florida bank every half-hour and telling them she was being held prisoner. Thank God she was such an obvious lunatic. Monday afternoon, when I went upstairs and caught an hour's sleep she put post-it notes all over the house. Tuesday morning her bags were packed and placed at the front door, and she was poring over the Yellow Pages for "Airport Transportation", though she seemed to have no ability to actually dial the numbers correctly. I unplugged the downstairs phone and told her the battery was dead. She managed to let Larry escape, a fact I discovered about an hour later, though fortunately he was still on the deck. Then she refused to eat, and by Wednesday morning she was refusing to speak to me, either. Her bags, which had returned to her room, were now in the hallway by the bathroom, and she was going through the Yellow Pages again. I fixed some breakfast and took it in to her, hoping she'd eat once I left, but no dice. I deadbolted the doors and got another hour's sleep.
When I came downstairs she was still giving me the silent treatment, so I went outside and watered plants. I came back in, walked across the kitchen, and she was out the back door like an 80-year-old flash.
And so was Larry, who decided now was a good time for a backyard game of Catch the Cat, and as I went after him I caught in the corner of my eye my dear old arthritic mother hoofing it down the deck steps, out the gate, and down the driveway. Our street's pretty quiet, and anyway at this point if I was going to lose my mother or my cat it was going to be the one my wife wouldn't blame me for for the rest of our lives. I concentrated on the cat.
She was 600 yards ahead of me by the time I got to the street, chugging away in the 90º heat with her purse tucked under her arm, darting surreptitious looks back to make sure I was following her. I marched her back without much concern for the pace. Back home, she called her lawyer and told him she'd gone out for a walk and I'd come after her and threatened to knock her down. "But I don't think he'd really do it," she added.
And, totally unexpectedly, that broke the fever, and coincidentally solved the problem. The lawyer--who'd handled granting my sister power of attorney and who was an old friend of hers--told her she couldn't go anywhere until her doctor visit, then set up a meeting with us for the next morning. Mom went to sleep for a few hours, and when she woke up she told me, "You have a lot of nice birds in your backyard," and asked for a cup of coffee.
The meeting was infuriating. The guy started right in with "You have Alzheimer's. Even though we don't know that you do, it's almost certain, and you have to let your children take care of you." This was precisely what I had been avoiding saying to her, because we do not know yet. The Alzheimer's thing is an extrapolation (by my sister) based on one of the drugs she's taking and what the children of Mom's late husband said. The very word panicked her. She has an appointment in three weeks time, and once we get the results we'll know what's behind her condition from a clinical standpoint, but until then my focus was on insisting she needed security. And here I think I'm going to a meeting, and we'll be discussing things, and this guy starts in with the "you've got an incurable brain disorder" business.
And the goddam thing was, she sat there and took it. She started to lash out at him and then stopped and listened. And then she "got it."
And that was all the law-talkin' guy was interested in, and he'd pretty much gotten up to leave when I said, "Wait a minute. She can't go back to Florida right away, we need to get her into assisted living. Which I thought would be the whole focus of the meeting.
"One thing at a time," he says to me, sotto voce, and I'm about to go sotto voce all over his ass, when Mom says she thinks that's a good idea. And lawyer guy talks about his own mother, and mentions one of the places I'd looked at, and now Mom is rarin' to go see it.
And so it hasn't exactly been smooth sailing since that moment, but we went on the tour and she put down a deposit on a one-bedroom, and my sister reports she's remained excited about moving in. She goes this morning to stay for a few days gratis, as a try-out, and we hope she'll find it a lot of fun and the constant barrage of events and daily trips (Euchre three times a week at the Y; I have to find out if they play for money) and the new companions will do her some good. The place wasn't my first choice (that one had an indoor pool), but it's highly thought of and she likes it. Plus there's a wise-cracking receptionist with a heart of gold. Really.