Sunday, August 9, 2015

I'm too old for this

Dominique Browning wrote a piece for the New York Times titled, "I'm too old for this." It resonated. Not just the first part of the article about the deterioration of our looks at 60, but mostly the latter part of the article on the freedom to ditch old baggage and suffocating expectations. She was finally going to be herself. The idea of living light and right always perks me up. Then my family intervened.


And the rains came.

I'm not "chatty." When I do talk, I talk too loud. I think too deep. I care too much. In writing, particularly on Facebook, where developing thoughts should never be written lest a misunderstanding occur, I write them, hoping for a connection, or someone on the receiving end to help me grab my thinking and move forward. I always intend to be meaningful, and most of the time caring (except for incidents where hate speech is involved- but that is a different topic for another time).

Apparently, I should just shut up. Basically, that's what I think I'll do.

How does this jibe with the, "I'm too old for this" freedom we are supposed to have at a certain age? It doesn't, at least not if you care at all about what others think, which is basically the point of the article.

You shouldn't care. And I do. I do a lot.

 
Looking for a clear view

I worry about this because it means my development is stunted, and I'll never be free. I believe in my heart I've done the right thing. But, I'm shamed. I retreat and apologize. Then feel awful, because I've reconstructed the incident to be what I'm told it was. But, it wasn't. At least for me.

Not that many months ago, I sat with one of my mentors in Sri Lanka sharing lunch. He spoke about his attempts to not speak negatively. But, he said that whenever he opened his mouth, judgments came out. His answer was to meditate and be mute.

I'm with him. And I wish others would come along.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Phone Call in the Middle of the Night



Our son's car after a head-on collision 

I am not awakened when the telephone rings at 11:30 on a Saturday night. My husband is and is filled with dread, like he is always filled with dread when the phone rings at that hour. But, he knows that as soon he hears what the caller has to say that everything will be okay. It's always okay. But, this time, everything is not okay. He wakes me gently and in the softest voice says, "Get dressed. James has been in a car accident." That is the only part of the conversation Rich can remember -- "a car accident"-- even though I ask him about it over and over again because I think there must have been even one more word that will tell me my son is safe. He can't remember.

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I tell myself stories on the drive to the hospital about various accident scenarios that could have happened that might be somewhat serious, but not all that serious. I tell myself he had a safe car. It had airbags. It was older, but well maintained. It had good tires. Didn't we just replace the tires? This was an early Saturday night for him so what's the worst thing he could have been doing? He did not drink and drive. Did he? He almost never drove on the freeways. Did he? So, what's the fastest he could have been driving on a side street in this rain-- thirty or forty miles an hour? Is that right? And I pray in that very quiet car, in between the conversation that I'm having with myself in my head, and the questions I ask my husband out-loud about the phone call. But, then we hit the main street just outside of our subdivision that will take us directly to the hospital. It has been under construction for months, but open. Now it's barricaded. Ambulances, police cars and flashing lights are everywhere. And I know. Rich turns the car around. I don't remember the rest of the drive to the hospital.

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Rich drops me off to park the car. I hurry into the Emergency Room entrance and am met at the door by a nun, a couple of nurses and an ER doctor. This frightens me. They shepherd me into a cold waiting room with green walls, blinding florescent lights, vinyl tile floors, and molded-plastic chairs and I say to myself, it's like this because people vomit in here.They say something I don't remember. I sit down opposite the door and am left to wait with the nun, who repeatedly asks me if I'm okay. I say, "I don't know." I notice that she does not touch me. I realize I feel like I'm made of sand, no steel, and think, "that's why she doesn't touch me, she thinks I will fall apart or hurt her." Rich finds me. I tell him I'm waiting on the trauma physician. Our eldest son and his fiance arrive, and Daniel asks, "He'll be okay? Won't he, Mom?" I am the mother and my role is to say that everything will be okay. This time I say, "I don't know." I realize I haven't moved in my chair. I wonder if I've spoken any of the words out loud that I think I have. I close my eyes and pray.

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A police officer appears and seats himself opposite me, and says that our son, heading south bound, and the first of two vehicles traveling north bound, collided, which caused James' car to recoil to the right. When he tried to steer back onto the road, he over-corrected directly into the path of the second north bound car. I think to myself, "He was just going home." The officer tells me it took him an hour to cut James from his car. I remember Rich saying, "Jaws of Life." I think to myself, "So this happened at 10:30 at night?"And I wonder why I didn't know that this was taking place less than a mile from our house? Aren't mothers supposed to sense when something happens to their children? I didn't even have a twinge. I feel crushing guilt. Then I realize that I don't know if I could have lived through the hour it took to free him from his car and I thank God for not knowing. Then I feel ashamed for not wanting to be with my son. There is some talk about the condition of the road: a curve, the road construction, a transition from gravel and blacktop to cement. It is unclear who crossed the line. There was no sign of intoxication. James may have been speeding. I look up and lock eyes with the officer, and he says, "But, that could have been just a matter of perception." I nod. The other two drivers walked away. There were no witnesses. There was no time to break; therefore, no skid marks. The crash will not be investigated. I thank the officer for cutting my son from his car and for not placing blame on him. Whatever the outcome, I don't want James to have to live with the blame.

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The trauma doctor comes in and methodically runs down a long list of possible injuries including brain, neck, and eye damage resulting from the profound impact to the left side of my son's face; his beautiful face. The doctor stops mid-list to look at me because he realizes he has forgotten to tell me that my son is not dying. The only thing I truly understand is that the bones in his face have been shattered. He has swallowed and inhaled a great deal of blood. They are inserting a ventilator to breathe for him, and a tube to drain the blood from his stomach. They will place him in an induced coma. We won't know more until tomorrow after a head-to-toe scan when the specialists are called into assess his condition. They ask us if we want to see him but warn us that we probably do not. Rich does; and emerges from the ER and folds in on himself, sobbing. I feel guilty for not going into console my son.

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Go home and sleep, they say, there is nothing you can do.

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I do go home and take a Valium, which allows me to sleep for a couple of hours. Then I wake. I wonder where I am, what happened and why I feel like someone died. Then I remember. I rise very early and go to see my son in the Surgical ICU.

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This was followed by weeks in the hospital with family and friends, praying with and talking to James while he was in a coma; comforting him when he woke-up sobbing because he thought he was dead; watching him thrash in restraints, while being weaned from the ventilator; trying to console him because his eyes were swollen shut and leaking bloody spinal fluid; preparing him for major surgery to reconstruct his face just five days after the accident; suffering with him while he dealt with the pain after the surgery, which, according to the trauma doctor, "is like the accident all over again," but without the benefit of the coma or the medications they could have administered to him while in it.

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James was very lucky. He suffered no optic nerve or neurological damage. His blood levels returned to normal as his spleen healed. The hole between his nasal passage and brain repaired itself after the 6 hour surgery by a team of 3 maxillofacial surgeons to drop what was left of his nose back in place and reconstruct it, his cheek, and the bones that support his eye socket. All told, the surgery included 2 cranial bone grafts, 10 plates and 60 screws.

The lead surgeon called-in specifically to operate on James' unique set of facial injuries was trained at our "charity hospital system," which is considered to have the best emergency medical training in the country. He told us that he had seen and repaired the most egregious of facial traumas, including those in the days before airbags, and many due to bullet wounds. However, James' injuries were worse. Every time he picked up a bone, there was another broken one to take its place.

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Our "charity hospital system," which has served the poorest of the poor for the last 200 years regardless of ability to pay, is in the process of being dismantled in favor of public-private partnerships. Earl K. Long, our Baton Rouge facility will be shut for good in 2013. Charity in New Orleans, the largest hospital in the system, was destroyed by Katrina and hasn't yet been rebuilt. This year, in the face of staggering Medicaid cuts, it was proposed that an additional 6 hospitals be downsized to 10-bed "shells" and another in Lake Charles that served 78,000 people last year, closed. In 2005, this 10-hospital safety-net served a total of 650,000 individual patients, which is approximately equal to the number of uninsured Louisianians, according to the 2010 Census. Where will people without health insurance get their treatment in the future? Considering that our state has officially decided to opt out of the Medicaid Expansion portion of the Affordable Care Act, I would imagine that our poor (we have the sixth and second highest poverty rate for adults and children in the US, respectively) will seek their care in emergency rooms.

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Otherwise they will go without. They're used to going without.

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James is home now, with boots on two multiply fractured feet, a swollen, asymmetrical face, and a weepy, decidedly smaller, misaligned eye. He'll need more surgeries but they can't start for another 6 to 9 months or until the swelling fully subsides. He has tried to reconstruct the day of the accident but can't remember a thing after two in the afternoon. He was on his way home from visiting his girlfriend-- a waitress at a pizza place. The receipt she retrieved shows he had a pizza and a beer. Photographs reveal an obviously totaled vehicle, with a front-end demolished to the extent that just a sliver of a space remained on the driver's side. We wonder how he fit into it. The engine dropped just like it was designed to do so that it did not crush his legs. All front and side airbags deployed. There was blood, but less than you would think. We don't know why his facial injuries were so severe. We don't know who or exactly what factors caused the accident. The accounts of the other two drivers, traveling together, differ, and James hasn't given a statement because he can't. The police and the car insurance companies have closed their investigations.

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James is trying to accept that he will probably never know what happened.

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We struggled; especially in those early weeks to support him while he grieved over his injuries and the loss of his looks. I enlisted the help of a therapist, because my parenting skills seemed at-best inadequate and at-most inconsistent. I am trying to squelch the anger in my voice, stop looking for instant solutions, and stop saying, "You were so lucky." James has decided to defer his scholarship and sit out fall semester. He retained his room in the rental house he shares with friends, although he has yet to move back in. He doesn't want to go out or socialize. Most of his time is spent in on-line gaming or watching television. He goes to bed late and wakes up late. He says he wants to take an on-line course. I try not to ask if he's registered. His recovery will be at his own pace, not mine.

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We are taking a semester and sometimes a day at a time.

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About six weeks after the accident, I was driving to work when I abruptly veered off to the side of the road and turned off the car. It took me a few minutes to steady my breathing and pry my hands from the steering wheel. It struck me that I had forgotten to make sure that James was still covered under our health insurance policy. He is 21 and I knew that adult children are only covered on their parents' policies until the age of 23 as long as they are enrolled in college full-time. It was too late to revisit the decision about James returning to school. Even if we could enroll him, he just wasn't ready. I had visions of us forcing him to take classes and then trying to make him study for them so that he wouldn't lose his scholarship. How else could we possibly pay for these bills we keep receiving for tens of thousands of dollars, and which, so far, have been paid in-full by our health insurance company? We couldn't buy him an individual policy because his injuries resulting from the accident would be considered pre-existing conditions. No insurance company would have him. Stories about families who had to file for bankruptcy after events like these flooded my mind. I tallied up what we could retain and what the court would take from us. I had just started a new job after being laid off from a healthcare company last year. We were still digging ourselves out of debt. Then I remembered that I did not have to worry about any of that because of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Adult children up to the age of 26 were now covered under their parents' health insurance policies, period, no filing of school registration materials, no more bureaucracy; I had forgotten that I hadn't had to file school registration materials with our insurer for the last two years. It's almost unbelievable to me that a very short time ago, the ACA had almost been repealed.

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To be honest, when I first heard about the ACA's coverage of adult children, I didn't think much about it; in fact, I thought it was insignificant, sort of a public relations carrot to dangle in front of the masses to appease them while they waited for the substantial provisions to go into effect in 2014. We were professionals with advanced degrees, had always worked, and had always had health insurance. Our eldest son, the one who does have preexisting conditions found work after his MBA and has health insurance. James wouldn't have any problems because there was no doubt that he would be in school and therefore would be covered under our policy; and if he wasn't in school and even if he wasn't employed, we would just buy him an individual policy (I hear they're supposed to be cheap for people his age and that, "the market" takes care of that). He was perfectly healthy -- the one child's insureability I did not have to worry about.

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We are about ready to go to one of James' many doctors' appointments; and despite all that has happened, I feel grateful, or maybe "lucky" is a better word. We were just lucky that James' accident occurred during a period of time when this little piece of the Affordable Care Act was in effect. Due to a complex set of factors, including the timing and outcome of a Supreme Court opinion, we could easily have been on the losing end of this situation. Lucky. So lucky.

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We need to make sure that everyone is just as "lucky."

Let's support our hard won healthcare legislation. Let's help our president to help others to be as "lucky" as we have been.

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Friday, January 27, 2012

When I'm Unemployed

I haven't written a post in a very long time, probably because of the confusion cluster associated with (my former) work and my slow slide and then abrupt drop into the cesspool of unemployment being laid off which technically began in early December December 5th to be exact (yes, Happy Birthday and Merry Christmas to me). I'm handling this a lot better than I thought I would I'm not nearly as bitter as I normally would be, considering that I do not do well am usually immobilized when I am not employed (and lookie here, I'm writing and not even hate mail to former colleagues). However, I'm finally old enough "ancient enough," something not lost on my former employer when they decided to send me a waiver of an age discrimination claim to sign in order to receive the pittance they call my severance payment to figure out how to stave off any negative emotional consequences that black hole of depression, which means that, I have remedied that pain in my ass pain-in-my-psyche by a pain-in-my-(literal)-neck-and arms, which I'm thinking about using to file a workman's compensation claim so that I can really stick it to my former employer I prefer, by the way.

Due to expert advice from busybodies Facebook friends and coaches of all sorts, looking-for-the-good in the not-so-good has become a mask I put on every freaking morning part of my new life.  And because I like to catalog things, I've created a list of the truly horrible consequences benefits that come from being unemployed useless. So, here is the beginning of what might become a very long list of stuff, depending on the length of my leisuredom my positive take on the five benefits of being unemployed. So far it:

1. Allows me the flexibility to work at any time of the day or night that pleases me sleep in, not shower, and work in my pajamas all day until my husband begs me to wash myself if I want him to sleep in the marital bed;

2.  Gives me the freedom to go out for lunch at a nice restaurant at whatever time I would like and for as long as I would like (wait, I don't have the money to eat out anymore so I chew on Kraft cheese food, something that could remind you of Brie if you hold your nose) and with whom I would like (let's face it, there's noone to eat with because everyone else has a valuable career they're chasing and my former co-workers can't stand me);

3. Allows me to spend quality time with (gripe at) my husband, children and mother (if you can't kick your family when you're down, who can you kick?). 

4. Gives me the satisfaction of hearing from numerous recruiters and potential employers about what a wonderful career I've had and how much money they would like to pay me if only I would consider their offers (who am I kidding, all I receive are rejection letters, and sometime email notices telling me that I've already applied for a certain job 3 times).

5. Having the satisfaction of spreading the benefit of my experience to not-for-profits doing volunteer work (screw that, I couldn't be elected to my neighborhood board, even though there was a dearth of applicants).

So, here you are, proof that tough experiences produce profound growth incredible suffering and  the space to give back a waste of talent.

Check back later for more tidbits from this incredible learning experience. I would bet that they never stop coming.



Sunday, July 31, 2011

What is your Dream-Life?

After looking at pictures of a friend's life in Africa and pictures of what seemed like a daily safari, a question crept up on me and it hasn't let me go. The question was: What would your perfect life be, Denese, if you had it to fashion all over again? I know that I am a 53 year old captive, by my own design by the way, of my family life here in Louisiana; but still, it's a question I have to ask as I go forward on this journey, which might last another 30 or more years.

Here are a few of the things that come to mind:

1. I need to live on or within steps of the water, preferably the Ocean or Gulf, but rivers and lakes will do;
2. Give me a walking/biking and skating path outside my door to trip about on in the early morning after I wake;
3. Let me walk or if I have to drive, give me an ultra short drive to my dry cleaners, favorite coffee shop, restaurant, library and bookstore;
4. I need to live within walking or mass transportation distance from cultural activities, like the theater, opera and art museums; Please save me from suburbia and/or commutes and the strip malls and concrete avenues that come with them: they depress me;
5. Let me gather with like-minded individuals who understand there is a need to focus on things that count (e.g., fair treatment and rights of human beings, poverty, racism, adequate nutrition, happiness) and not things that don't (like issues that are manufactured by isms, including but not limited to anti-gay marriage);
6. Bless me with meaningful work paid to a degree that I can support myself in the present and in retirement, with a little left over to help my kids/grandkids/friends. Even when I'm old, give me the opportunity to contribute and be rewarded for what I give;
7. And let me live in a place where "community" is possible. To know the bonds of friendship, conversation, shared food and drink over a long span of time is priceless. No matter the amenities of the physical space where I live, that's something I don't want to give up (again).

Please help me to find such a place not only in Oregon in the summer, but in Louisiana for the other 9 months out of the year. I've waited an awfully long time (18 years) to realize these dreams that are central to who I am. I've put in my time for everyone else and I think I'm due.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

This is still my country & I'm fighting for & celebrating it

For the last 10 years or so I feel like I've been fighting a battle to reclaim the heart and soul of my country (one person at a time). In this effort I spend an inordinate amount of time:

  • arguing with bloggers who think that the individual mandate in health insurance reform is unconstitutional. 
  • wrangling with co-workers who think that we should be able to do whatever we wish, even if that means shirking our responsibility to shoulder our own weight (and sometimes a little bit extra if we can) in the social contract we call our society.
  • debating with folks who claim that they don't owe their neighbors anything.
  • and tangling with those who think that the middle class should support public goods and services but exempt corporations and the rich from those same responsibilities.

I'm tired of lecturing people who don't have compassion for their fellow human beings. A lot of good it does. But, you already knew that.

No argument I can drum up, no matter how persuasive, is going to convince my increasingly Libertarian-minded friends and family that they should do anything for anyone else unless they choose to do so at any specific period in time. This apparently leaves out supporting legislation for assistance of any kind because someone else might not want to give in the same way or in the same amount that I do. My question is, "When will your act of benevolence occur, when you're passing the plate during Christmas services?"

This brings me to what has become my biggest fight of all-- maintaining my Christian orientation. Many of the people who thrum the drumbeat of Individual Freedom, State's Rights and Anti-Federalism are Christians. I am one of the few people I know who still labels herself a Christian. Most of my compassionate friends have abandoned Christianity because of that community's move towards conservatism, individualism, anti-multiculturalism, anti-minority, anti-poor and anti-anyone or anything that is not successful. Since when were vulnerabilities considered weaknesses-- or an abandonment by God?

Buddhism is much more appealing to people who think like me, because of the philosophy's concept of Oneness. I was brought up with this concept in my Christian home, but honestly, I am hard pressed to find it articulated in mainstream Christian circles today. I think this is because you can't market it very well with the self-obsessed.

So, what am I to do? I could get "with the program." Honestly-- I get the idea of reaping rewards for belonging to the right (religious/ethnic) group. It's an easy spirit to groove to: tantalizingly simple and self-affirming. It's great being right and therefore chosen and living a life of abundance without guilt. I've had a lot of success in my life so it's easy to correlate the two (success and Christianity, that is).

The truth is that my conscience won't let me do this, which is unfortunate because it would sure be a lot easier if it would. You see, I *know* that in large part I've gotten to where I am because of  our family resources, the color of our skin, and the hearts of my parents and in-laws who have lifted us up with consistent emotional and financial support over so many years. I can't imagine not having a family to bail us out of too many doctor bills or tuition payments (for grad or preschool). I don't know what we would have done as a young family without my parents buying us a mattress, bringing us a chicken, or buying me a dress for graduation.

I know everyone doesn't have the support I do.

So helping others with health insurance, which I consider a necessity-- no, more than that, a fundamental right-- is one of the easier decisions I've made. Plus, I can live with myself. I sleep at night.

So, Happy Independence Day from a Patriot who will keep on fighting.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

When Another Woman Inspires Your Partner-- Thinking Through My Response

Rich is home from Portland and in fine spirits. He is up early, singing to himself as he readies himself for work. He kisses me goodbye on the forehead before he darts out of the house and into his truck for the commute to work. He was so unusually kind and attentive last night (as compared to his moody demeanor for the last many months) as we ate dinner and watched my Netflix-movie-picks (he usually hates them, by the way) that I had to ask him about the reason for his change of heart and new bouyant persona.

Given that opening-- and my seemingly innocuous, non-threatening invitation to share-- he felt comfortable enough to tell me that the impetus for his jolly change of heart came from his heart-to-heart with a female, Chinese collaborator, with whom he talked at length for the past week when he was at his annual meeting out-West.

Deep in-take of breath, trying to maintain my composure. Big smile.

I hear that the topic of conversation for this very "Christian" woman and my "Agnostic" husband is--doing the right thing, acting the right way, being the right partner. Apparently, he's been moved by her example (her experience-- she's engaged).

Tell me why I'm not thrilled over this development?...Isn't any vehicle for the dissemination of important news heaven-sent? Why do I feel so suspicious?

I should be thankful. Right?

Friday, May 6, 2011

Why I Keep My Mother at Home

My mother has mid-stage probable Alzheimer's Disease or some related dementia and as my friend Susan says, "has become toxic." This week she is suspicious of and furious with me because of the form we need to fill out for her Long Term Care (LTC) Insurer. It requires her caregiver to mark the amount of time she spends on each task listed at the bottom of the form. Toileting, transferring, bathing and other Activities of Daily Living (ADL) are arrayed in the little box at the end of the page. So are "constant supervision due to cognitive limitations" and "medication supervision," as well as "cuing" for other ADLs, all of which apply. The major task in taking care of my mother is to be present, as she shouldn't be home alone anymore for the whole day. And when one of mom's three insidious chronic diseases present themselves, she needs ferrying to the doctor's office sometimes multiple times a day. Plus, someone should be there to make sure she eats, is safe getting in and out of the shower and dressing.

The problem comes because my mother doesn't think anything is wrong with her so she wants her caregiver to mark down only that she does "housekeeping," which is clearly not just unreimbursable but is likely to get the LTC policy discontinued. This weekend she accused me of making her caregiver commit fraud by lying on the insurance form.

And then today she tried to sell a Currier and Ives print from my childhood without telling me. She asked both of my children if they wanted it, but not me. I think she is trying to hurt me. My eldest says I'm making more of it than it is. My husband agrees with me. And here you see the beginning of a feud in my own home.

Therein lies much of the problem.

I have these forms spread out on my kitchen table, trying to fill out the ones that need tending so that mom gets reimbursed. Mom showed up in our bedroom today where I was hiding out, and wanted to see every form before I mail it, which means I have to confront her with the truth, which means that mom will be furious and life will be very nasty for a long, long time, or at least every week when I have to deal with LTC housekeeping. I did not sleep last night.

I really think that subterfuge and lying are the way to go here.  Agree with her to her face, and send in the forms like crazy behind her back.

Our family therapist, mom's physician and a friend all tell me that maybe it's time for mom to be moved to a more appropriate environment, if only to save my sanity, marriage and possibly my relationship with my mother. However, sending her away seems like breaking a sacred trust. Just as I wouldn't send my husband away in similar circumstances, or my children, I wouldn't send my mother away. So, other than that, why do I keep my mother here in my house?

I think while writing, so I thought that writing the reasons mom should be at home would help me to better consider my alternative courses of action. So, here we go...

My mother lives in an addition on our house because:
  • She took care of me for the first 18 years of my life, sometimes when I was not so loveable and I owe her the gift of living where she wants to live.
  • She has helped us tremendously as a married couple with emotional support (when she was able) and financial support (when she was cognitively intact) and we owe her this much.
  • She paid for the beautiful addition on our house where she lives; we committed to caring for her and shouldn't renege on that promise unless we can come up with the money the addition is worth to set her up in another living arrangement. The sky will fall before that happens.
  • I'm a gerontologist and I know what happens to elders who are moved without their consent; they die.
  • She shouldn't be moved unless she wants to move.
  • She paid for a LTC policy and has the money to bring in a caregiver to take care of many of her needs during the day, which lightens the burden on us.
  • Paying for a nursing home or other extended care arrangement would be like throwing away money because her LTC policy wouldn't be needed or used; what a waste.
  • She is a part of our family; our children, grandchildren, grand nieces and nephews love having her here; so do we, but less and less often these days.
  • Her garden improves our quality of life; if she wasn't here it would be a weed bed or filled with stones and ugly red bark dust.
  • What would I do without my mother's love, because surely I would lose it if I moved her?
  • I could never forgive myself.
  • And finally: Some things you just do.
    I knew that there was never another course of action but to keep mom at home, but writing it out helps me see the many reasons why that's so. At this point, if I could just get her to stop barging into our house to use our washing machine (she has a beautiful one in her own place) I think that half of the battle would be won.
     
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