My mother's anxiety had nothing to do with her imminent move from Assisted Living to Memory Care; she still had no idea she was moving. My mother was in a state of turmoil because she needed to talk to a priest. Or rather, she needed to talk to a priest because she was in a state of turmoil and needed to confess. Immediately.
I tried to explain to my mother that it was unlikely that I could find a priest to come over and visit her that day, but that the following weekend I'd take her to the local Catholic church for Saturday afternoon confession.
But she didn't want to wait until Saturday, she couldn't wait. She needed to see a priest right now. Her eyes were filled with desperation.
I was seized with the terrible notion that maybe my mother, who'd always had a clairvoyant streak, was having a premonition of her death on this day and was seeking last rites before she died.
I consoled her as best as I could and told her I'd look for a priest.
In the meantime I suggested that she join the other residents in the Bistro where there was a special holiday musical performance,
The staff decided it might be best to let my mother have lunch in her old neighborhood then after lunch break it to her that she was moving and lead her directly to her new room in the Memory Care unit, which was what we did, putting the finishing touches on her new room while she ate lunch.
To my great relief my mom appeared not to particularly mind the move to her new neighborhood and new room, and seemed to be distracted from her preoccupation with finding a priest by the newness of her surroundings and the kindness of the Memory Care staff, who were showering her with attention.
Tom and I left my mom, hoping she'd acclimate and settle in a bit and maybe even forget about wanting to talk to a priest.
When we returned to check on my mother a few hours hours later she was sitting in the Memory Care living room among the other residents, looking distressed.
"Terrible," she said sadly. "They're not going to let me go."
My heart sank. My mother knows she's in a locked ward, I thought.
But it turned out that wasn't what my mom meant. She explained to me that she'd gone off to look for a priest and they'd told her to come back, that there was no priest here.
"But I know there's a priest here," she said, "there has to be. This is a Catholic place."
When I told her that this wasn't a Catholic place she said, "I know it is. I saw nuns here."
My mother had mistaken several of the caregivers, Muslim women wearing head scarves, for nuns.
"I need a priest," my mother beseeched, "now."
I decided I had to try and find my mother a priest. Now.
I came up with the idea of calling the local Catholic parish where we'd been taking my mom to Mass every Sunday morning since her arrival. I thought maybe I could drive my mom over to the rectory to talk to one of the priests there. Or maybe one of them would at least talk to my mom on the phone. The church secretary was kind and sympathetic, but one of the priests was out of town and the other was unavailable until the next day. Would I like to call back tomorrow?
For no other reason than that I didn't know what else to do, I called my sister-in-law, my mother's former guardian, in Seaford, Delaware. I told my sister-in-law of my mother's plight, but she had no more idea what to do than I did. However she agreed with me that it was unlikely that my mother would find peace until she'd made her confession to a priest.
A little while after I'd hung up with my sister-in-law she called me back. My sister-in-law had called the parish office in Seaford and talked to the parish secretary there, who came up with the idea of calling a priest who'd been my mother's pastor there years ago, a kind, good-hearted man who'd since retired and moved to Annapolis, Maryland. The parish secretary called the priest, who told the secretary that he'd gladly hear my mother confession over the phone right then. So the parish secretary called my sister-in-law who called me. I could see the relief in my mother's face when I told her that Father would hear her confession over the phone.
I called Father from my mother's room, then I handed her the phone, left the room, and shut the door.
Out in the hallway I met one of the Memory Care caregivers who asked me if I had any ideas on the best way to handle my mom. I told her that my mom generally didn't need handling, that she was usually a friendly, nice person, but that today she'd been upset anxious over not being able to see a priest. The caregiver was understanding and sympathetic and said she'd be glad to pray with my mom if that would comfort her. I thanked her for her kindness.
About fifteen minutes later my mom exited her room and handed me back my phone. Father was still on the line and wanted to talk to me. He assured me that my mom could call him whenever she wanted or needed to. I thanked him profusely.
The ministrations of that kind priest dissipated my mother's fear and anxiety and she was now transformed back into her old good-natured self. She smiled at and gave a hug to the caregiver who'd asked me how to handle my mom.
By then it was dinner time, and so the caregiver led my mom to the dining room and introduced her to her new neighbors.
The following afternoon when I arrived at the Sunrise Memory Care unit, nervous to learn how my mom was faring, I asked the caregiver who I followed down the hallway to the unit how my mom was doing.
"She's really being hard," I heard the caregiver say.
"Oh, no," I said, "she's being hard?"
The caregiver laughed and turned around to face me. "No, no," she said with a smile, "I said, 'she's a real sweet heart.' She's so nice. She helped me all day. She helped with the other residents and she helped feed the ones who needed help eating. She's a very nurturing person."
"Well, she was a nurse," I said.
I decided that the Sunrise staff knew what they were doing after all.
And I sent up thoughts of gratitude for that good, kind-hearted priest.