Is It Time Now? A Story About Decision-Making for an Aging Parent

Today started with a surprise phone call from Betsy. Betsy is my sister-in-law who has taken on the part-time job of driving my mom to appointments, the library, the grocery store etc. every week. She lives 15 minutes from my 88-year-old mother Ginny and my mother adores her. She’s been our godsend for about two years; ever since we had to “retire” Ginny’s car.

“Hey, I wanted to tell you something that happened on Monday with your mom” she shared.

“Oh. Of course. What’s up?” alarm bells going off.

“She had a doctor’s appointment I was scheduled to drive her to on Monday” she began.

“So I called her that morning, but it was really weird. She said that she wasn’t home. She said that she was already at the hospital and to go directly there” she continued.

“I said, Ginny, you can’t be at the hospital because I am calling your home phone number.”

“Betsy, I am here at the hospital” she insisted. “They put me in a three room area. Don’t go to my apartment. Just come here.”

Betsy has my full attention.

“So, I just left the house right then and drove over to her place. I went upstairs and she did answer the door. She seemed ok at that point. I took her to the doctor’s. When we were driving home, she turned to me and said “I may have dreamt that. Let’s just keep this little incident to ourselves.”

“She knew Melanie, she knew and she didn’t want you or Hailey (my sister) to know. Of course, I’m going to tell you everything” she added.

“You HAVE to tell us everything, Betsy, you have to. And I know you do. Thank you. I’ll let Hailey know” I replied.

This is not the first experience with this type of behavior. I explored a similar episode in The Unwelcome Visitor. At that time, we told her what she was facing was a dream, although she was insistent it was not.

I think Ginny is now allowing herself to understand that she does wake up from vivid dreams sometimes even though it takes her a while to sort out that they aren’t real.  Although I’m glad she figured this one out, she also wanted to “hide” her behavior from us.  And she pulled Betsy into it. That’s a problem.

It’s just a few weeks later and we are back in Clearwater (we live across the state) to spend some time with mom and celebrate Hailey’s birthday.

That evening, Betsy and her husband, Dennis and I and Hailey and her husband go out to eat. There is a lot of information to share about Ginny.

Betsy has the most disturbing update. It had happened about a week ago. The first half involves Betsy driving mom to the bank to cash her weekly check she writes out. They pull up to the drive-through and Ginny pulls out a piece of paper. It is not a check, but a page from the check register.

“That’s not a check, Ginny” Betsy explains, surprised that mom would pull it out from the stapled register.

“Oh, well, you know” is mom’s classic reply she uses to remain vague when she doesn’t have a real answer or can’t hear you.

She proceeds to pull out a pen to sign the piece of paper and Betsy says again “You can’t use that Ginny. The bank won’t accept it. It’s not an actual check.”

It finally dawns on her what Betsy is saying and they leave.

Fast-forward to Monday morning. Ginny had called Betsy Sunday night saying that she had “really messed up” the checkbook. While tearing out the one register page, other pages came out too. She asked Betsy if she could take a look; maybe she could fix it. Betsy agreed that she would park and walk up to see the extent of the damage when she came to get her on Monday.

However, when she arrives, there is mom, sitting in the lobby. On the floor next to her is a large tote bag. Her favorite companion Button is sitting on top.

“Ginny what are you doing down here? I was supposed to come up” Betsy asked while keeping her eyes focused on the tote. “And why do you have this bag?”

“Well, I had a dream that mom was picking me up, and she never gives me enough time to get ready so I packed before she got here” mom replies.

“Mom” is Hailey. This is not uncommon. Betsy’s mom Pat called her mom in the last few years of her life. It’s some type of transference. The child literally does become the parent.

Betsy takes a peek in the bag and can see slippers and some articles of clothing.

They opt to run errands first and Betsy places the tote in the car. After the errands, it is taken back upstairs with no further words.

 OK. She correctly realizes that it’s a dream, however she still packs for a “dream” trip. And her confusion over her checks is something else entirely. The mounting number of these incidences is worrying. Is it just everyday senility (normal cognitive function decline) or an early form of dementia? Honestly, I don’t know.

This puts us (and so many others who face this) between that proverbial rock and a hard place. Is it time NOW to move her into a facility? She has lived alone in a comfortable apartment building for 18 years. After a rough vertigo episode last year, we had explored independent/assisted living homes, but they were simply too expensive. Instead, we chose to bring in a home healthcare person to engage as well as keep an eye on her once or twice a week. It was a compromise that Hailey and I paid for because Ginny has only modest finances to lean on. Then, her finances changed with word of an inheritance gift. So, given the current situation, do we use these new funds to increase her in-home care or start to look at homes again? Or save it for as long as possible? The rates at these facilities would mean that her inheritance would last just over two years. She would be 90 ½ years old. Is that going to be enough?

Adult children can fly blind as they care for an aging parent. There are unknowns that make us second-guess decisions. Is Ginny’s current behavior going to get worse or recede? Months have passed between The Unwelcome Visitor and now. And what else is she hiding from us? This could affect decisions. And of course, there is the sad question of how much time is left? These are some of the reasons why “Are we doing the right thing?” “Is it time now?” “Should we wait longer?” “Is this the best thing for her?” play in a constant loop in our heads. It’s hard enough to try and make informed decisions for our own lives, it’s doubly stressful when you’re balancing the needs, safety, money and quality of life for someone else.

Interestingly, The Groves has continued to call Ginny occasionally. This was an Independent/Assisted Living facility she had visited almost a year ago (Click here for story.) The last time they spoke, they said “there have been some changes around here.” Mom did not think to ask specifics so we don’t know what they are referencing.

We will wait until her inheritance arrives, and then talk to her about options. Although she enjoys her in-home healthcare person, she also doesn’t like company “underfoot”. We’ll see if there’s interest to investigate The Groves again. And we’ll keep updating the fluid pieces of information we have until the pieces fit together for the “right” decision.

If you have a story or insights based on experiences with your own parents, I would love to read them and share with others.

One comment

  1. I started to write about my mom’s experience here, but I realized it is too long to leave here on your blog. I went through all of this two years ago when my ninety-two-year-old mom passed away. It went on for about five years, and I wrestled with many of the same feelings you are experiencing. Rather than filling up your blog with this long tale, I’d prefer to send you an e-mail. My email address is (I don’t see your email address on your blog, so I’m just offering.) I am not a doctor, but I would be glad to share my experiences if you are interested. It is a tough road caring for a loved one, and I commend you for your blog.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.