The Long Goodbye

As elderly parents enter the final season of their life, adult children face the challenges of caring for them, and preparing to say goodbye.

March 16, 2024 | | Headwaters Nest

Looking at the sparkly ring on my finger brings a pang of pain and guilt. It’s my mom’s white gold ring with three gleaming diamonds. She had it designed about 15 years ago by Anne-Marie Warburton who works at the Alton Mill. Transforming three diamonds and a couple of small chippy ones into a modern design kept the memory of her mom and my dad’s mom with her, everywhere she went.

The ring is gorgeous and I’m happy to wear it, but on my hand it feels more hefty than its actual molecular weight.

About a month ago, my mom’s hands became so thin that her rings would no longer stay on. This was after a serious battle with Covid. She lay in her bed, feverish, delirious and unable to get up. My husband, Derrick, and I took turns sitting on the tiny wooden chair in her room and looked in on her for a few hours a day, every day we could. We gowned up, with mask, face shield, booties.

My mom moved into long-term care in August of last year. Years before, her dementia had progressed to the point where she needed 24-hour-a-day care. My dad stoically took on the task of caring for her as her needs grew. We all became acutely aware of the burden on him and offered to help, and did help, where we could. But dementia is a peculiar disease. It’s pervasive, and the needs of the person with dementia are nuanced and change from moment to moment – leaving caregivers feeling useless a lot of the time and a burden themselves.

Illustration by Shelagh Armstrong

My dad, Jim, and my mom, Carol, had screeched into a condo in Orangeville after she broke her hip from a fall, and the weather and challenge of living in rural Everett became too much to handle day in and day out. My dad had lost his driver’s licence at the same time due to his decline in eyesight. It was not a celebratory time as we greeted people in this lovely new condo full of lively people. Covid had chewed up how people were relating, and the move felt like a shock.

Soon the critical care my mom needed could wait no longer. Working with community care folks to arrange her move felt like a puzzle, even with our awareness of “the system.” My dad, Derrick and I all have good language and advocacy skills, but still it felt like the ground was shifting under us in the swirl of balancing home care, help and next steps. I can’t imagine what this journey would feel like if a person was on their own without advocates or struggled with language. As we forged toward the day of her move, it felt a lot like we were walking into a tunnel, where the sounds are screamingly loud and muffled at the same time. We bundled up my mom and put her in my car.

Now, she’s tired and it all feels so soon. She’s been very well cared for, but her body and brain are fighting what feels like the final fight. Dementia hits people in different ways – wildly so. Some of her humour and love still come out, but only occasionally. Her moods can still seem so surprising. A lot of discomfort, anger, and complex layers of feelings surface for her as she still finds her own way to advocate for herself: “I hate how this tastes.” “These people are greedy!” “This sweater is awful; undo the zipper!”

I hate that my son, Adrian, sees her like this, and he hates it too. His Gramma has always been kind, giving, sweet and generous. She connected him to the world of animals from an early age – showing him how to groom her horse, Kiera, and how to feed the barn kitties, look after their whippet, Jet, and then their greyhound, Zara. She asked him to fix her computer or TV and he obliged. She only cooked the food he wanted, gave him as much syrup as he liked, allowed sugar cereals, and met him with a smile on vacation. We placed carrots out the front door in Florida for Santa’s reindeers when we visited at Christmastime.

We want her to live forever. And we know she can’t. She fights a fever to get up and take a walk, and this is when I see she’s still my forceful and spirited mom. I imagine her brain lining up chores to do, animal whispering to be done, a horse to tack up and take for a trail ride with me through Mono Cliffs park. She will lead the way, and then when we’re home, we’ll drink tea and discuss the weekend ahead.

This season of her life has been so unexpected, and yet it shouldn’t be, as we’ve already been on a long and relentless journey.

I move her halo of icy blonde hair that lies softly on the pillow, and twirl the twinkling, heavy ring around my finger. I carry you with me every day, Mom.

More Info

Calling all environmentalists

If you are a future-minded young adult, consider joining the Bruce Trail Conservancy Youth Council to share your skills and your voice in support of preserving this ribbon of Ontario wilderness. The Bruce Trail is one of Ontario’s largest land trusts and the steward of Canada’s longest marked footpath. The council is a network of conservation-minded youth who advocate for preserving green space, give advice on youth engagement, discuss environmental matters, and participate in events. The BTCYC is seeking passionate individuals ages 18 to 25. (If you’re under 18, the BTCYC suggests you speak to a parent, review its minors volunteering policy, and get in touch).

Feeling snacky? 25 cents will do it!

One of the happiest little spots to snack out in Orangeville is at … the public library? Yep, you’ve got it. The permanent home of the town’s community food vending machine is at the Mill Street branch of the Orangeville Public Library. This is a perfect pit-stop-on-the-go for hungry kids and families. Veggie sticks, salads, and fresh wraps or sandwiches drop for just 25 cents each and are prepped by Orangeville’s food bank. That kind of easy access to good, affordable food is a win for everyone. Mill Street Library, 1 Mill Street, Orangeville

Looking for a summer job?

Get help finding a job, starting a new business or learning a skill. These are some of the opportunities the Ontario government provides for youth seeking summer employment. Of special note: if you’re a youth who self-identifies as Indigenous and interested in working in the natural environment, there are fantastic natural resource jobs under the Indigenous Youth Work Exchange Program. Point someone you know in the right direction to connect with these well-funded possibilities.

Pass it on

Pssst… the time to buy or renew your Family Parks Pass is now. Offered by Credit Valley Conservation in partnership with Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, it’s no secret that this is one of the best bangs for your buck. At just $144 for the year, it provides admission for up to six people arriving in the vehicle registered to the pass. Locations include four popular CVC parks (Island Lake, Belfountain, Ken Whillans and Terra Cotta), plus nine TRCA parks! See the website for additional benefits and to purchase your pass.

About the Author More by Bethany Lee

Bethany Lee is a freelance writer who lives in Mono.

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