My parents returned to their care center in the fall of 2020, when school resumed and I could no longer ensure their protection from the virus. Shortly after that, one of my sisters moved in to provide caregiving that allowed our parents to live together despite our mother's increasing dementia. My father died in September of 2022. The following March it became clear that our mother Meredith needed to move to the dementia unit.
Meredith has been at "Journeys" for the past nine months. The caregivers are skilled, cheerful, and well-intentioned. Any concerns we've had (Why wasn't her clock adjusted at DST? Why is she in bed with her shoes on?) say more about us as anxious (guilty?) children than about her quality of care.
My mother voiced a repeated wish while transitioning into memory care. She wanted to attend Sunday school and church each week. My sister who lives in Ft. Dodge manages this request with fidelity, and we other siblings fill in when needed.
Last summer, I drove to Ft. Dodge weekly with my accordion in tow. I played old-timey tunes on the patio or in the common room, and residents tapped their toes and sang along. Meredith beamed. She was making a gentle adjustment to her new living space.
When school began in late August, I slipped back to monthly visits. This worked for a month.
Then, as life does, mine unraveled: I was needed in New Zealand, where two of my sons live. Within days of my return to the States, my mother-in-law, 94, was hospitalized for an infection that ultimately necessitated her move from her beloved farmhouse to an assisted living facility.
A week later I headed to Utah to welcome a new grandbaby and offer a pair of hungry grandma arms.
The short of it is this: I only visited my mom once between November and January. I excused myself with the sad truth busy children of demented parents lean on: She didn't know I wasn't there.
It was the third Sunday in Advent that I was again in Ft. Dodge. My sister and I took our mom to Sunday school. Meredith only speaks when the class (usually about five people with an average age of 70) reads in unison short prayers from the study book. Her classmates are generous to our vacant mother: "You pointed this out to me once, Meredith," one says, noting a scripture.
After class, we moved into the sanctuary for the service where my sister and I sat on either side of our mom. Throughout the service, we held her hands.
Three weeks after my advent visit, my sister sent me a text: