It’s been two weeks since my mom’s double knee replacement surgery and thankfully she’s finally home and resting comfortably in her own bed. The days after the surgery were followed by a lot of tense and scary moments, as she battled through the pain and sudden realization that she (at least for the moment) could no longer care for herself. Depending on the help of others is just not something my mom is used to doing, and the sudden loss of independence left her feeling scared and anxious. Thankfully these feelings and her anxiety resolved themselves over the few days she was at the rehab center, and she is now pretty much back to her normal self; although still not thrilled at that she needs to rely on others for help. Every day brings noticeable improvement to her mobility, which in turn gives her the satisfaction of knowing that soon she’ll be back to handling things just the way she likes!
The one thing that really surprised me through this process is the way that my siblings and I reacted to the situation. We saw our strong, independent mom become a sad, crying, scared, mess. If she had been anyone other than our mother, I would have easily attributed the change in personality to being nothing more than a temporary reaction from the stress and pain of the surgery. However, because it was our mother, my siblings and I jumped right onto the anxiety roller coaster, and joined our mother in her feelings of helplessness. Truth be told, we just did not know how to cope with seeing her in such a fragile state…it was as if we were all overcome by “Deer In Headlights” syndrome. None of us saw this coming, and none of us knew what to do about it.
As the days wore on and my mother’s release date came closer, my siblings and I tried to come up with a plan for our mother so that she would have the help she needed upon being discharged. Originally, since I work from home and since someone is always here, we made the decision to have her come to my home and stay with us until she was able to go back to living on her own again. By staying with me, my two brothers who live out of state would have peace of mind knowing she was here and that someone would always be with her, while at the same time it would allow my sister, who has a son with Autism and who works outside the home, to help with her care when she was free to do so. After the terrible scare that we had with her, my brother who lives in North Carolina decided that he would change his plans and stay in Pennsylvania through the end of the year so that he could be home and help her recover “in her home”, which is where she is most comfortable. At first this seemed to be a good idea, until I realized that there may a strong possibility that she may not be ready to be on her own come January 1st.
Knowing our mother as well as we do, we all realize that she will do everything in her power to try to regain her independence way before she is ready. My mom does not know how to ask for help, or even how to openly and happily accept it. My concern now is that when my brother leaves, she will no longer going to be willing to come and stay at my place, and instead will do everything in her power to regain her independence…even if her new knees are not ready. Even on her first day home, while barely able to climb up the two front steps or get into her bed without help all while grimacing in pain, she still gave us all permission to leave her alone citing that she would be fine. Even with the doctors warnings that she would need help, and that a fall would be dangerous, and that she should not overdo it…she is still not heeding those warnings. I saw all of this coming so days before her discharge date, I approached my brother to express my concerns over letting her go home. To my surprise and sadness, my brother refused to even hear my concerns over the situation. He wouldn’t give me the courtesy of listening…he refused to even acknowledge that I was trying to have the conversation, instead sending me away feeling as if my concerns were unfounded and just plain silly. He was here, he was handling things, and therefore it was none of my business…at least until he leaves. That was essentially his message to me. Never in my life had I ever had this type of interaction with one of my siblings…I was shocked and devastated by the way the conversation ended.
I am still completely shocked by what transpired last week. I’ve always had a good relationship with my siblings including my brother, and yet last week I saw our relationship unraveling before my eyes. My brother has no children, and it’s wonderful that he can take the time off to help take care of our mother, but at the same time he will be going back home in just 12 days. Then WHAT??? Who’s going to help our mother then? My other brother has already returned home to New York where he lives and works, my sister has a full-time job and a son with special needs, and while I work from home…I work from MY HOME. My business is here, my phone lines, fax lines, my office equipment…all here. Who is supposed to step in and be in her home to make sure she is getting at least one or two warm meals a day? Who is going to be there when she gets in and out of the shower (to make sure if she falls she gets help)? Who is going to go downstairs to get her water so she can take her medicines? Who is going to be there to make sure that if she decides to venture down the stairs on her own that she doesn’t suffer a fall, and if god forbid she does, who is going to be there to notice and get her help right away? Who???
I am the mother of 5 children, between the ages of 2 and 17. I am responsible for transporting my Kindergartener to school in the morning and then picking him up at noon on the days that he is with me. I am also responsible for picking up my 12-year-old at 5pm after her practices, and the picking up my older two boys at 5:30pm after their practices. Not to mention I then have to take my 17-year-old to work in the evenings, then add to that other school activities and functions. My mother lives 30 minutes away from my children’s schools….so just how in the world am I supposed to always be there for her while still managing my children’s schedules? I do not want to have to choose between my children and my mother, yet I feel as if that’s what I am being expected to do. In a way I feel that as great as it was for my brother to sacrifice himself and his life for 3 weeks so my mother can be comfortable in her own home, at the same time I feel like he is going to leave my sister and I in a situation that is going to prove impossible for her and I to manage. I get that by being home my mother may be able to recover more quickly, but let’s be real, he’s not going to be able to be here long enough for her to be considered recovered! So what now?
I never thought that my family would be one of “those” families that bicker and fight as it relates to the care of their loved ones. I just never thought this could happen to us. I’m hoping and praying that my brother is right…that she will be ready to be on her own come January 1, but something tells me that he’s wrong. Just a few minutes ago I spoke to my mother about Christmas. She asked me how I would feel if we canceled our Christmas day brunch (just 6 days away); she wanted to know if I would be upset. I told her that of course I would not be upset. When I asked her why she didn’t think she could make it, “I just don’t think I’ll be ready yet. I’m still really struggling getting around and being on my feet”. My hopes that things will be okay by the 1st of the year have been shattered. If she doesn’t think she’ll be ready to spend more time on her feet in 6 days, how in the world will she be ready to be on her own when it comes time for my brother to leave, just 6 days after that? Now, how am I supposed to pick up where he left off and still tend to the needs of my children in two separate homes? I am so disappointed in my brother’s decision, and even more disappointed that he has put all of us, including our mother in such a predicament. He will go home, while the rest of us are left trying to figure out how we’re going to make this work.
While I’m happy that my mother is home, and even more happy the she is progressing nicely, I am devastated by how the next few weeks are probably going to go. Because of my brother’s decision, my sister and I will be left no choice but to give her the independence that she so wants, but is not yet ready for. We will have to leave her alone from time to time to take care of our children, all while hoping and praying that she stays safe and is okay while we are gone. She is now confined to an upstairs bedroom in her home, unable to make it down the steps to her kitchen without help. In my home she would have stayed in our spare bedroom downstairs. With her walker she would have had full access to the living room, dining room, and our kitchen, all on the ground floor. She would have had the grandkids cheering her on, helping her get back on her feet, and she would never be alone (unless she wanted to be of course). That’s what makes me the saddest, the fact that she will now be spending so much time alone…unable to easily fend for herself. Even sadder is the fact, that she will also miss Christmas morning with her grandkids, an event that she has been a part of for 17 years in a row.
Also weighing down my heart is that I now feel as if I have to find a way to repair my relationship with my brother. Even though I feel his decision was wrong, I know deep in my heart he really thought it was the best decision at that time. I feel hurt by the way that he treated me, but as I said, I know he was just following what he thought would be best and advocating for my mother. Honestly, I don’t think he realized at the time how difficult her recovery would be. Who knows, maybe if he had known, his decision might have been different. In any event, I’m giving him and I time to cool down a bit, and after the new year I will again approach him and try to find a way to make peace. With any luck we’ll be able to talk about it, and discuss what we can do differently to prevent this from happening in the future. I love my brother and my family dearly. I know that he and I will get through this, and in the end our relationship will be stronger. I really believe that!
Have you ever encountered conflict among family members with regard to the care of your loved ones? How did you handle it? For those of you who balance taking care of your parents as well as meeting the needs of your children, how did you achieve that balance? I would love to hear your stories and advice.