Until recently, my 91-year-old mother lived with me. For almost six years, she was my “plus-one.” She accompanied me to restaurants, galas, cocktail parties, work events and on nightly strolls. We were inseparable — so much so that my dates grew accustomed to tables for three. We attended bridal showers together, went to weekly Mass and every weekend sang along to the same Time Life collection of music from the 1960s. These years have been the most meaningful of my life.
My beautiful, vibrant mother is now battling mild cognitive impairment (MCI), and believe me, it’s not just her battle. It’s a part of my every waking moment. If she can’t sleep, I can’t sleep. I mirror her apathy toward socializing, loss of appetite and overall lack of joie de vivre. I see her vibrancy fading, and it breaks my heart every day.
Some say I’m the best daughter in the world. The truth is, I’m not. During walks I would get impatient; at restaurants I would roll my eyes as she would struggle to make a decision. She always knew what she wanted in the old days, even long before we arrived at our destination. She was clever, witty and charming — never did she struggle for anything. Now, in addition to her memory loss, she is experiencing hearing loss, yet her pride won’t allow her to wear hearing aids, so we struggle with every word. My saving grace is I that always end each conversation with “This doesn’t mean I don’t love you, but … put your damn hearing aids in.”
Before, I used to think I was Wonder Woman most of the time. My sister and my friends would often confirm my belief. I didn’t fly in an invisible jet, but I did enjoy my lifestyle. I’d be reminded of my freedom as I would listen to my friends talk about how their babies kept them up all night. I didn’t have children of my own by choice. I was never willing to make those sacrifices — that is, until one day six years ago when I moved my 85-year-old “child” in with me. Talk about being enlightened. I had no idea just how much love I had to give. All of a sudden I was given a new raison d’etre, and I could not be happier.
She had a fall on June 17. It was my greatest fear. I knew it would mean we would be separated from each other, and due to the new complications of the COVID-19 world, I knew it would be for an extended period of time. She is accustomed to seeing me daily. Even when I’m impatient and rolling my eyes, I bring her comfort, and she is glad to be with her baby daughter. “Who would have thought when you were born that I would one day wind up living with you?” she would say nightly, after ranting about how unfair it is for a mother to live with one of her kids. She would refer to herself as a burden, but I would tell her that for the first time in my life I have a little family to come home to. She gave me a reason to come home, a purpose, a joy I’ve never felt before. I am forever grateful to have captured these moments on video where I tell her how much she has enhanced my life and how I look forward to seeing her when I get home from work every night.
Having many stairs in my house made it impossible to plan her return home upon discharge. The lovely skilled nursing facility that provided her with the best care could not prevent her agitation and confusion as I would stand outside and visit her through a window. My visits had to become less and less frequent as both of our spirits plummeted. I could see the light dimming in her eyes, and I could feel it dimming in mine.
In all consideration, the decision to move her to Belmont Village was an easy one. Based on Belmont’s reputation, not just in Los Angeles but across the country, I knew there was no other place worthy of caring for my mother. She now needs more care than I can provide. She needs more socialization than one person can give, and to be honest, I need it too. I need to reset my heart. I need it to stop racing every time she quivers. I need to reset my body after sleeping with one eye open so I could see when the light would go on in her bedroom in the middle of the night, signaling she was getting up to use the restroom. I became trained to bolt into action, pedaling my feet like a cartoon character to get to her in time. Then I would try to go back to sleep — this was our routine. I never realized until sometime in June how much of myself I had sacrificed for her. It became clear I had caregiver burnout; I went from feeling like a loving and devoted daughter to one who hated some of the things I said out of sheer loss of patience. I did not like who I became. Being unkind is not how I was raised, and it’s not who I am.
Friday was discharge day. I was scheduled to pick her up at 11 a.m. I was wide awake and ready to go at 5 a.m. I doted, making several trips to Belmont Village, dropping off a few furnishings, her favorite clothes, hair and makeup items, and her treasured jewelry, plus a few of her favorite midnight snacks. Simple.
It was very early when I entered the quiet and beautiful community. It was just me in the hallway. Then I heard a knock on an apartment door from a nurse saying, “Good morning, Betty, how did you sleep? I’d like to check your temperature if you don’t mind.” I had been so overwhelmed, and suddenly I was overcome with a sense of calm — one I haven’t felt in many years. I felt that my beloved mother would now be a part of this incredible community, one with caring staff and management, whose residents look out for one another and enjoy a very special lifestyle. I opened her apartment door, sat on the sofa and cried, thanking all of the angels that got us to this place and feeling grateful knowing my mother is in the best hands possible.
Admittedly, my professional title is “Community Relations — Belmont Village — Burbank.” I’m part of an amazing team of handpicked human beings who choose to serve seniors as their career path. My partner, Grace Jones, and I do everything we can to provide counseling, comfort and sometimes hard truths about the perils of seniors living alone. There’s nothing we take more seriously. We understand how every individual has different needs, wants and expectations. All of our residents and their families know that our word is golden; we deliver exactly what we promise and then some.
As of Friday, I am now a daughter whose mother is under our care, and I couldn’t be happier. My sister and I will be on a mailing list for families, and my mother has an official account number in our database. I am no longer just in sales and marketing — I am a family member of Belmont Village, a very grateful one.
I can attest for all of you adult children out there who may be struggling with what’s best for the seniors in your life: We are here to act on your behalf as a counselor, daughter or friend, to provide care and compassion, conversation and friendship, light and love — whatever is needed on any given day, under any circumstance.
And whether COVID-19 remains a threat (it has never entered our building; we remain COVID-free), we will all still be here to make sure our residents are enjoying their best quality of life possible — and hopefully you will get to meet my plus-one!