Change of Plans
Updated: Oct 20, 2020
My mother, who suffers from advanced dementia, had been living in an assisted living facility outside of Detroit since shortly after Dad died. She wasn’t without family there--my sister lives a few miles away--but I missed her, and my sister was feeling overwhelmed. I began looking for a place in Southeastern Connecticut for her to live.
I found a place where the rooms were comfortable, the staff seemed kind, and where my mother could age in place as her dementia progressed. In January, I placed her on a waiting list. I imagined visiting her after work, listening to jazz as we looked through old photo albums.
Then in February she broke her hip. I flew out to see her, and for most of the next week I sat by her hospital bed. We watched silly animal videos and ate hospital food from trays. She was thinner than I remembered, but in good spirits.
When it was time for me to catch my flight home, I explained that I was going back to Connecticut, but soon she’d be living near me and we’d be able to see each other almost daily.
But in mid-March the pandemic worsened. Both Michigan and Connecticut stopped allowing visitors into long term care facilities. I took her off the waiting list of the facility in Connecticut. Why put her through a confusing move if I wouldn’t be able to see her? At least where she was, she was surrounded by people she knew.
For a while, I was able to speak with her on the phone after dinner. Then she forgot how to answer the phone. Then she got pneumonia and had to go back in the hospital. At that point, Detroit was one of the worst hot spots in the country. It turned out not to be Covid, but by the time she left the hospital, she’d lost the ability to say more than a few words.
Months later, the infection rate has dropped in Michigan, my sister is allowed to visit my mother outdoors, and a volunteer—a former staff member who was laid off due to the pandemic--arranges a weekly video chat for my mother and me. Last week, when l told Mom to imagine that I’m giving her a hug, this volunteer risked her life to hug my unmasked mother.
During our most recent chat, Mom looked happy, even joyful. She was surrounded by old Valentine’s Day cards from Dad and she had her robotic cat on her lap.
But I know things are changing. The volunteer is primarily in the facility to play scrabble with a resident who is dying, and she has gently informed me that she won’t be visiting much longer. The weather in Michigan is getting colder, so my sister’s outdoor visits will be ending soon, too.
The pandemic has been kinder to me than it has been to most people. I have a husband and pets to keep me from being lonely. I’m still employed, and I have hobbies and interests which keep me from feeling adrift. I am more aware than ever of my good fortune.
But I am so worried for my mother, who won’t understand the isolation that’s about to come, and I fear we’ll never see each other again in person.
Submitted anonymously on 9/4/2020