One mid-morning a few days after my mom moved to the Sunrise Memory Care unit I came for a visit and found her sitting at the dining room table with some of the residents. One of the more high-functioning residents from the other Memory Care neighborhood down the hall had come over to my mom's neighborhood and was sitting at the table.
"She's so sweet, she's my new friend," said the woman, referring to my mother.
"Isn't that a pretty blouse she's wearing?" said my mother of her new friend.
My mother then proceeded to tell me how well some of the other residents had eaten their breakfasts that morning. Evidently my mom helps with the feeding of the residents who need help then she eats her own meal afterward.
If I bring my mother cookies or other treats I make sure to bring enough for all the residents as my mom likes to offer around, pressing cookies into the hands of the non-verbal residents, who nonetheless are responsive enough to take and eat a cookie.
I visit my mother every day. Or at least I did until the Christmas holidays, when my sister and other visiting relatives sometimes substituted for me. And then I was out of town for a long weekend in December, during which time my daughter or son popped in for visits. And then I stayed away for a couple of days when I was sick with a cold.
In any case, I've visited my mother most days since her arrival at Sunrise. Since her move to Memory Care I generally find her to be her sunny old self. But sometimes I'll find her gripped with anxiety and worry over herself or one of her fellow residents, all of whom she worries over like a mother hen. She's prone to Sundowners, a phenomenon explained to me by the Sunrise staff as the tendency for the elderly to be gripped by anxiety and confusion in the evening. Subsequently I try to spend time with my mom in the morning or early afternoon, before Sundowners sets in.
Still, I believe that the wonderful caregivers at Sunrise do their best to give my mom and all the residents as good a life as they can, and we, my mother's family, do what we can to make life good for her,
The next day, Christmas Day, we took my mom to Christmas Mass then brought her to our house for lunch with the family.
The next day, Thursday, my brother and his wife arrived from New Jersey for a visit, and I suggested that on the following day, Friday, we - all ten of us - take my mom out for to an early lunch.
But when my brother and his wife arrived on Friday to pick up my mom for lunch she had no desire to go. In fact, she appeared to have no desire, period. She seemed 'way down in the dumps. She said her foot hurt. We wondered if a hurting foot would be sufficient cause to send our mom into what appeared to be a state of depression. Or was Sundowners setting on my mother earlier, and more virulently, than usual that day?
Concerned, my brother approached one of the caregivers and told her about our mom's seemingly depressed mental state.
The caregiver elucidated what, in retrospect, probably should have been obvious to us all: Consider, said the caregiver, that you've all been running your ninety-nine-year-old mother non-stop for the past week: taking her out, visiting her every day, bringing gifts over, bringing the children over, making cookies. The poor woman, said the caregiver, is wiped out. Let her rest today and you'll see, she'll be better.
And so we all did let my mom rest that day, and sure enough, by the next day she was happy to see us again, and her foot no longer hurt.
In the future I must try to remember that, at ninety-nine-and-a-half, my mother isn't as young as she used to be.