In the days following her arrival at the Sunrise Assisted Living my mother settled into her new neighborhood while I popped in to visit her once, twice, sometimes three times a day.
The staff often assured me that my mom was doing wonderfully well, amazingly well for her age, and at one point one of the friendly staff members said to me, “You’re welcome to come over every day, but you know you don’t have to. And you don't have to feel guilty.”
But I felt that I did have to. And it wasn't about guilt. Well, maybe it was, a little. But whatever my underlying interior motivation, I wanted to come every day.
One day I met the daughter of one of the residents and we agreed that putting one’s mother into a care facility felt like putting one's small, vulnerable child into daycare 24/7. They were always on our minds. We worried about them, worried whether they were well, whether they were happy.
And though my mom appeared to be doing well and happy enough, there was no denying that she traveled in and out of a state of confusion. She wasn’t sure where she was or why she was there. She seemed to think that she’d be moving soon, though she didn’t know where she thought she was moving to, or, for that matter, where she’d just moved from. But on two occasions she took pictures down from the walls and wrapped them in clothing for the move. The aides had to re-hang her pictures.
The nurses and aides informed me that she sometimes wandered around the building, lost and confused, and had to be walked back to her neighborhood. A couple of times she'd wandered into other residents' rooms in the middle of the night - most residents don't bother locking their doors - and flipped on their lights. One time she went around and said good-bye to the residents who were sitting in the living room, telling them that she loved them all and would pray for them all, and that she was leaving.
It turned out she was right.
A week and a day after my mother arrived at the Sunrise one of the nurses informed me that my mom was heading in a direction that would necessitate her moving from Assisted Living to Memory Care, "sooner rather than later." The nurse offered to give me a tour of the Memory Care unit the following evening.
The following day was Thursday, November 21, one week before Thanksgiving, and that evening was the Sunrise Family Thanksgiving dinner, to which family members of the residents were invited to share a Thanksgiving meal.
Tables were nicely set for the visiting families,
On our way to the unit we passed pretty lounge that I hadn't seen before where Dennis the Sunrise cat apparently liked to hang.
The whole unit was considerably smaller than the Assisted Living wing and was well staffed, and the nurse assured me that my mother could wander to her heart's content here and that all the items in the unit were touchable, and if a resident picked up something and brought it to their room, well, that was permissible, too.
There were residents sitting silently at tables or in chairs or wheel chairs and a few wandered about. The nurse showed me two vacant rooms, one in each neighborhood, one room that opened into the living room, the other set back down a short hallway.
In any case, these rooms lacked the vanity with the extra cupboard space above and the mini-refrigerator below,
Both rooms depressed me. The whole Memory Care unit made me sad. I hoped my mother wouldn't have to move here too soon. In fact, I hoped that maybe in time, in a few weeks or so, my mom would become acclimated to her new surroundings and maybe with some therapy her confusion would clear so that she would be able to stay in her present neighborhood with her new friends.
"Which room would you like for your mother?" the nurse asked me.
"Which room?" I asked. Now I was confused. "I need to pick out a room already? I mean, my mom's not moving right away, is she?"
"Tomorrow," said the nurse.
That was what she had meant by sooner rather than later.
On our walk back from the Memory Care unit I struggled to hold back tears.