Undoing My Mom

Today is my last day of bereavement leave from work and I spent most of it canceling out my mother. I’ve spent the last four years keeping her current, making sure her Social Security money kept coming and was accounted for, updating her Medicare coverage, renewing her newspaper subscription, arranging doctor’s appointments, changing the calendar page in her room each month, replenishing supplies of her personal items at the care facility, maintaining her presence in the world.

Even with the funeral planning, it was about getting her cared for. Picking out her outfit, her favorite poem, the hymns she loved, getting her buried between my dad and one of my sisters, Mom’s baby girl.

And now I’m undoing it all. Erasing her. Canceling her out. She’s no longer on the Social Security or Medicare rolls. Medicaid and supplemental insurance have removed her from coverage. I still need to go to the bank and close her account. I never realized how many people I would have to tell, “My mother died.” How many times I have said it this past week, and it’s a wrench every time.

All of the clothes she’ll never again wear, her empty wheelchair, her calendar –they’re all sitting in my house waiting to be sorted and repurposed. And after that’s done, then what? I don’t know. I really don’t.


Ensure is the New Martini

Nursing home drama can be intense. “Orange is the New Black” has nothing on “Ensure is the New Martini.” Which is why I’ve moved my mom twice within the past week and she’s now in the same room where she started out.

She’s been in a two-person room, with a shared bathroom  between it and the one-person room next door. Recently the facility placed a man in the room next door, which is very upsetting to my mom’s old-fashioned sensibilities. She did not care to share a bathroom with a different gender, even though they’re obviously not both in there at the same time. Meanwhile, Mom’s roommate moved out. And one of the ladies two doors down from my mom moved out. The obvious solution was to emigrate my mother down two rooms. She’d be in an end room with its own bathroom. And her new roomie had always been nice to her.

The problem is the new roomie had been close friends with her previous roomie before either of them ever moved in. So she was mourning a loss, and people aren’t always rational when they’re mourning. I think that’s what led to her yelling at my mother to get out of her room and saying she didn’t like her, before then trying to remove my mom’s things, as much as she could while shuffling along with her walker. I was already on my way for a visit when the nurse called me to tell me about the kerfluffle.

I found my mom dabbing at wet eyes, and the head nurse speaking with the roommate, telling her she could have ended up with someone much worse than my mom in the new companion department. The lady apologized and said she’d do better, but my poor mom was good and scared. She asked to go back to her old room before they gave it to someone else and the option was gone. I felt like I did when someone was mean to one of my kids in grade school.

Usually, my mother manages to stay out of the drama, but there is always something going on. And really, Ensure is the new martini. It’s the after-dinner drink of choice in the skilled nursing setting. I think it’s only a matter of time before there’s a TV show about a nursing home, in a knock-off version of “Orange is the New Black.” There won’t be all of the sex, of course, but there will be the occasional resident stripping. Good thing they’re usually too arthritic to get very far before a staff member intervenes.

Think about it. It’s a facility filled with people who didn’t necessarily choose to be there. People from all walks of life, who otherwise might not have had much to do with each other. Some have connections with the outside and some are on their own. I’ve heard of one instance where a visitor smuggled in some hooch and possibly more. There are cliques and shifting alliances, and you have to watch your stuff to keep it from walking off to someone else’s room. That last doesn’t really happen too much, and when it does, it’s usually a matter of confusion more than anything. But it does happen some. I’ve even witnessed parallel scenes of residents being made to shower when they were pretty resistant to the idea, though it was done much more gently and with more respect in the real life nursing home than in the fictional prison. And no, it wasn’t my mom involved – she’s still meticulous about her hygiene.

I hope whoever moves in with my mom next is a real sweetheart. And a little part of me hopes whoever moves in with the other lady is not quite as much of one. But the bigger part of me knows I should try to be understanding. Mostly, I hope next week is boring.



Elders Living Alone – Making Sure They Eat



UPDATE: I’ve made a couple of corrections below, where I mangled Debi’s intent on her suggestions. Sorry about that. Also, an addition at the bottom.


Since my mother is in a skilled nursing facility, I don’t have to worry about meals. But for many adult children of older parents, a big concern is making sure Mom  or Dad is eating enough of the right foods. If you live nearby – close enough to visit at least a couple of times a month – there are steps you can take to help.

The following suggestions come from Debi Boggs (Thanks, Debi!):

While visiting, cook in large batches – enough for a meal and at least two servings of leftovers. Freeze the leftovers in single-serving portions. Use resealable bags if washing dishes is a hardship, or something your older relative just doesn’t want to deal with. You can be extra green in your own home to make up for this.

Pizza “kits” make an easy meal. Buy one or two balls of pizza dough at the store, quarter them, stretch them into pizza rounds, and place each round on a sheet of parchment paper. Each quarter will fit into a gallon-sized resealable bag. Take two small bags for each large, pouring the correct amount of sauce in one and the correct amount of shredded cheese in the other. Place these in the larger bags. With a marker, write assembly and baking instructions on the outside of the gallon bags. These kits will stack easily in the freezer.

Roasted vegetables also freeze well and are easy to microwave.

Make a grocery trip and stock the kitchen with a significant inventory of low-prep or no-prep food items: oatmeal, fruit cups (look for the ones packed in real fruit juice), low-sodium soups, coffee, tea, yogurt with the latest possible expiration date, pre-chopped salad, frozen brown rice, canned vegetables. Of course, fresh is healthier, but canned veggies keep for a long time and are a much better option than going hungry.

Whether Mom or Dad is doing the grocery shopping, or having someone else do it for them, a standard grocery list is a good idea. Print and laminate a list of items they consume on a weekly basis. This way, the list can be carried in a purse and re-used.

For those on a budget, check out Aldi’s if there’s one in your area. They usually have the best prices on plain yogurt, canned goods and oatmeal.

The idea is to make it as easy as possible to get good nutrition.

Anyone else have handy tips? Feel free to share in the comments.