Title: My Mother My Child
Genre: Non Fiction Self Help
Author: Susie Kinslow Adams
Publisher: Write By The Sea Press
Purchase on Amazon
About the Book
My Mother My Child is an easy-to-read heartfelt story of caregiving filled with practical helps and resources for every family. Thought-provoking questions at the end of each chapter are suitable for individual or group study.
MY MOTHER MY CHILD
Author, Susie Kinslow Adams
Chapter 1, with Discussion Guide
Miracles, Moves, and Mother
My mother always held a special place in my heart. She had made the best of a very rough life. Mother worked hard and seldom complained about anything, although there was much opportunity to do so. During the years I lived by Mother, especially after Dad died, we would spend time going out to eat or visiting some beautiful scenic place not too far from home. One of my fondest memories is of the two of us sitting on her front porch enjoying soft breezes and crisp morning air.
“How could anyone ever look out at God’s creation and not know He is real?” she would ask. Then she would continue to elaborate on the beauty of her surroundings. An outsider driving by would see shabby yards and small homes in need of major repair and probably complain at the rough streets. My mother could see good neighbors and beautiful flowers among the weeds. She was thankful for her comfortable home and the reliability of her very old automobile parked out front.
Mother had a sharp mind and a quick wit. She was ready with an answer for any problem one might have (and quite sure hers was the only answer to consider). Her tiny home was clean and orderly; you could count on a good pot of stew and cornbread when you stopped by for a visit.
After Russell and I moved away, I especially looked forward to coming back home to those familiar sights and sounds and hearty welcome from someone who dearly loved me. During the ten years we were in California, my visits were short and too far apart. However, I never worried about Mother’s well-being because she was active in a good church, a Bible study group, and had several other widowed friends with whom to socialize. On the surface she seemed quite self sufficient.
I never noticed when she got old and weary; when she quit caring for her little home and herself as she once did. When I began to realize how terribly unclean her house was, I attributed it to her being too busy to keep it up. One year I made a planned trip home without Russell. I thought if I could thoroughly clean her house for her, she would be able to keep it clean. I know how it is when you get so far behind it seems impossible to catch up. As I began to clean Mother’s home one evening, my cleaning stopped abruptly when I was told, “This house is clean enough for me. If it is not clean enough for you, you can just go home!” Ouch!
I must admit, I think my focus was more on the unclean house than on why my mother would let it get that way. What was happening to her? Could I have done something to help her then? Perhaps get some help in each week or check with her doctor concerning her over all health and her medications? But my visit was short; whatever I could do in a week’s time would not make much of a difference in the over all picture.
The day before I was to head back to California, I drove Mother to the store in her old but faithful car. As we neared home, we were stopped by the police. He announced “my” tags were expired. After learning I was driving Mother’s car, he asked for her driver’s license and registration. When she couldn’t seem to find her license, the officer graciously told us to go straight home and park the car. Back home we searched the unending piles of mail and papers on her tables and found only an expired license. Wanting to help, I took Mother to take a test and get her license renewed only to learn she had lost her license due to too many traffic tickets. No driver’s license, no tags, and no insurance, yet she was still driving her car all over town.
Something wasn’t right but I had a plane to catch in the morning. What could I do at this point? How could I help her? Should I alert church friends, neighbors, and the police? If I took her car keys, she would find another set or have copies made. Anything I could have done would simply be a temporary fix until I got out of town when she would do as she pleased anyway. My heart ached as I thought of leaving. How helpless I felt.
My heart and mind were eased somewhat knowing my cousin Penny checked on Mother every few days to make sure she was okay. Penny would take Mother back home with her when she could coax her into it. While there, Penny would trim her nails, wash her hair, and stuff her full of good food and special treats. Mother enjoyed those times, but she soon pressed to get back to her own home.
One time when Penny was visiting family on the west coast, she had a persistent feeling she should come home early from her trip. Those urgings became so overwhelming that she had her flight changed and returned to Missouri a week early. She immediately called Mother and was relieved to hear her familiar happy voice assuring Penny she was okay. In fact, Mother had a Bible study planned the next day at her house, and had been very busy with all the preparations.
The following evening Penny was not too alarmed when Mother didn’t answer her phone. “Perhaps,” she thought, “Aunt Nevie has just gone to the store for something.” However, when there was no response the second day, Penny was on Mother’s doorstep. Unlocking the door, she found Mother on the floor, somewhat dehydrated.
Apparently, after the Bible study group had left, Mother sat down to rest on a low sofa instead of her usual recliner. She was short, quite heavy, and not as agile as she had thought. Realizing she could not get up from the couch on her own, Mother slid onto the floor. She was sure she would then be able turn around facing the couch and pull herself up. Once on the floor though, she had neither the strength nor the mobility to get up on her own.
“Aunt Nevie, why didn’t you call someone when you couldn’t get up by yourself?”
“I would have called if I needed help. I was going to get up soon.” In her mind, all she needed to do was rest a spell and try again. Eventually, she reasoned, she would be able to get up from the floor.
What would have happened if no one had checked on her? Suppose Penny had not followed the persistent tug of her heart to return home early? Did God bring Penny back home at just the right time to help her Aunt Nevie? She is convinced He did, and so am I.
A few months later Russell was called as Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Fair Play, Missouri and we moved back home. A few weeks after our move, Penny brought Mother to visit us and we would again see God’s timing. During her stay with us, Mother became suddenly ill, was hospitalized for the first time, and our lives changed forever. For eight years I would be the primary caregiver for my mother and, although I didn’t realize it then, would watch her slip into what we often call “second childhood.” Some of those years Mother communicated normally and was up and around even fixing her own lunch. Other times she would not be able to walk without help or carry on a conversation.
Mother’s life, too, changed drastically. She found herself living with her children in a strange new house and in a town she couldn’t locate on the map. Everyone who came in and out of the house was a stranger to her. Gone were the days of getting a hamburger with old friends after Bible study. Gone was her freedom to go anywhere by herself or pick up the phone and call a neighbor to come over. Only in looking back now do I recognize how very, very different life had become for Mother as well as for Russell and me.
Growing up, our home was pleasant, comfortable, and full of love, yet boundaries were clearly marked. Dad, Richard and I never pried into Mother’s affairs. As an adult, I knew a few details concerning where certain papers were kept should they be needed. Asking for more information was sure to bring a clear sign it was none of my business. Discussing Mother’s financial well-being was clearly out of the question.
Have you watched children raiding Mom or Grandma’s purse for candy or gum? I’ve seen all ages, even dads, digging through a woman’s purse looking for something they needed or wanted. Not so with Mother’s generation. You did not raid Mother’s purse; you didn’t pick it up or look as though you were going to touch it. Her purse contained personal belongings and was not for anyone, not even her husband, to explore.
When I began to accept the fact Mother was not stable mentally, I knew it was up to me determine where she was financially. Late one night, after she had gone to bed, I took her purse into my bedroom, closed the door and held it to my chest. I felt like a criminal getting ready to rob someone. I was betraying my own mother by going through her personal belongings. It is difficult to explain the trauma of such a seemingly small task. Any time I considered approaching her about her finances, old fears of the past would rise up. I would picture her telling me to mind my own business. Here I was now with kids and grandkids of my own, still afraid of the wrath of Momma. It took nearly an hour for me to open her purse.
Those feelings of betrayal surfaced again when I had to explain to Mom the need for me to be on her checking account. I had to be able to purchase her medicines and pay her doctor and her household expenses until she could return to her home. To my surprise, the changes were made easily with smiles of approval from Mother. God was taking care of the situation again! In the beginning, I kept Mother’s purse by her chair and ask her to give me the checkbook when I needed it, making sure to tell her what I paid for with the check. It was important she have plenty of cash in her wallet so she had access to spending money and feel in control of her finances. She was proud to offer to pay for lunch when we were taking her to the doctor, or to be able to buy from kids who came by selling their wares. I’m sure she did not understand everything, but having cash on hand seemed to make her feel secure, more independent and a real part of the decision making process. How difficult it must be on adults when they begin to realize they are no longer responsible enough to handle their affairs.
Russell and I talked at length about Mother’s care. We both agreed from the very first she would be in our home as long as we could care for her no matter what it cost in time, money, or personal convenience. Putting her in a nursing home was not an option for us unless we were convinced it would be in her best interest.
During Mother’s first hospital stay, many decisions had to be made quickly. A caring nurse helped Mother understand the importance of being prepared for these occasions, and encouraged her to sign papers appointing me as her power of attorney in health care matters. By slowly and carefully going over each option, Mother was able to make good choices on her own about what she wanted done in each situation. This step became even more beneficial as time went on and decisions became more immediate and increasingly critical.
I feel it is necessary to note here the importance of each family member making those end-of-life decisions as early as possible before emotions get in the way. If we had delayed taking action much longer, Mother would not have had the presence of mind to make those important choices. Without a Durable Power of Attorney and Health Care Directive, it would have been difficult if not impossible to determine her wishes. Even though we had to evaluate our decisions constantly to meet her ever-changing situation, a clear understanding of her desires was invaluable.
We must be prepared for unexpected events which can change our lives drastically regardless of our age or our circumstances. When Mother closed her front door to go on what she assumed would be a short visit out of town, she could not have known she would never return to her little home. In a matter of time her two children would be making decisions concerning her home and belongings she could no longer make for herself. I was thankful I could legally take care of her financial and business matters. This in itself did much to free my attention to focus on her health and personal needs.
Russell and I and my brother, Richard, continually discussed options available and kept communications open so there were no surprises later. I felt it very important my brother review her finances periodically so he would know exactly where every penny of Mother’s money was being used. He did not see the necessity, but it gave me peace of mind. I never did get comfortable making decisions about her money.
As time passed, it became apparent my mother would not be going back to her home. Being her only daughter, it became my responsibility to determine what to do with her belongings. Her home was a couple of hours away so I packed a suitcase and headed for Webb City. Those days alone in her home remain some of the most difficult of my life. Each room and every piece of furniture held memories of better days. Drawers and cabinets were packed with “stuff.” Treasures once important to Mother were now meaningless items to store or dispose of so the house could be rented or sold. When I realized I could not take time to sort each paper, I dumped drawers and boxes of papers into large trash bags to bring home. Later, as time permitted, I could filter out the important papers, if any, and discard the rest.
In the years since I cleaned out Mother’s house, we have taken inventory of our own home. We sorted and disposed of boxes full of papers and things which would mean absolutely nothing to our children. At one point, I even sorted my cabinets and kitchen drawers. Any item we were not currently using was put in a box for some agency helping the needy in our community. Together, Russell and I made lists of important papers and where they were stored. We insisted our two boys sit down with us and listen as we told them of our insurance policies and where to find them. We also told them of our prepaid burial policies and where they were. The boys, of course, did not want to consider these issues, but it was very important they become informed should something happen to one or both of us.
When Mother finally did come home to live with us, food preparation was a big hurdle for me. She had been an extraordinary cook, serving as head chef for many years in a fine restaurant. She could make banquets from meager supplies. Now I would be preparing all of her meals. Would she like what I fixed? Would I cook everything right? Did I know enough about what she needed to eat to do a good job of planning? I would soon learn no matter what I prepared, she would practically inhale it to the last crumb, and we would all be healthier as a result of my wiser food choices.
It seemed every part of Mother’s life was changing overnight. Her pretty blouses and slacks gave way to loose-fitting dresses or robes. It was much easier for her to slip a dress over her head than to put on pants. Like a child, there were days when her clothes had to be changed three or four times. Each time I was given a choice between frustration and fun; I chose fun.
Finding clothing to fit her short, wide frame without falling off her narrow shoulders was a challenge. I am so thankful for mail order catalogs, the internet shopping venues, and an old Montgomery Ward store. I bought her the most colorful clothing I could find. Using lacy nightgowns as a slip, I matched them with simple polyester house dresses.
“You is a beautiful girl, Mommy!”
She would giggle and reply as I changed her garment, “I is a beautiful girl.”
“You is a soggy girl, too!”
“You is, but I loves you anyway.”
As far back as I can remember, Mother had difficulty finding good fitting shoes for her swollen ankles and feet. For the first several years, I had to buy men’s bedroom slippers to get the width she needed. Additional care had to be taken that any foot wear not have slippery soles on them. Her slippers, like everything else she wore, had to be washable because, as I told her, she “leaked.”
As she lost weight, her feet and ankles slimmed also. How exciting it was to shop for pretty ballerina slippers to match her colorful dresses. What joy to watch her hold her feet up and smile at her new shoes and slim ankles; like a little girl with her first pair of dress shoes.
Mother found it difficult to lift her short, heavy legs up into the bed on her own so we devised a system to help her. While sitting on the bed, she would put both her feet on a footstool which Russell had shortened for this purpose. Slowly and carefully I would raise her legs and guide them onto the bed as she gradually reclined. As long as she had strength to help me, I did very little actual lifting myself. With a little encouragement and direction, it was amazing what she was able to accomplish.
My concern that Mother would be lonely in her new surroundings was an entirely misguided concern. Without our asking, ladies from our church began visiting Mother, whether or not we were home. Returning one day to find a fresh bouquet of flowers on her table, I questioned her about the company she had while we were out.
“No one was here,” she replied.
“No one? Who brought those beautiful flowers?”
“They were just here.”
As the mother I knew began to disappear, new challenges surfaced constantly as Russell and I adjusted our lives to her changing condition. One of the more difficult things for me to reconcile was the fact getting help meant people would be in and out of our home throughout the week. I enjoyed company; those who would sit and visit or maybe eat a little something, and go home. I was not comfortable at first with people coming in and wandering throughout our home, but I knew it was necessary for the well being of our entire family.
When neighbors, Jessie and Wilus Ahart, learned we were caring for Mother, Jessie offered to stay with her one day a week and other times as needed. She was even willing to stay overnight so we could go to a retreat to get away. This took much pressure off when we needed to get home later. We could call Jessie to come over and pull the blinds, close the door, turn up the heat or whatever was needed. Whether it was a sudden storm approaching or an uneasiness she sensed, she checked on Mother as though caring for her own family. She grew to love Mother right away; it showed in the way she cared for her. Jessie loved to quote the Bible and talk about the Lord. This seemed to please Mother. Often we would come home to find the two of them watching a gospel music video together.
“We’ve had the best visit,” Jessie would say. “We’ve been talking about Heaven, haven’t we, Geneva? And we are going there, aren’t we?” Momma would smile and nod in agreement. Clearly this was a mutual admiration between the two as well as a welcomed respite for a weary caregiver.
Those four years at Fair Play were challenging as we constantly faced new obstacles in Mother’s care. Physically she would go back and forth from being strong and walking on her own to not being able to get out of her chair without help. At one point a nurse had to come every day to care for Mother’s swollen legs. They were so full of fluid they had to be wrapped daily. Open wounds would redden and weep. We wondered if she would ever be able to walk on them again. With good care and her own resilience, she was soon able to move from room to room with the aid of her walker.
Personal care was a hard issue for me to deal with. Since my children were ten and eleven when I became their mother, I had never cared for a baby or small child. I had no skills in that area, and the thought of bathing my mother and caring for her was difficult to comprehend. Oh, I wanted to do it, I just didn’t know how. Perhaps this will sound silly to folks who have raised little ones, but for me, bathing Mother was monumental.
At first, Mother seemed to be caring for herself pretty well although needing help with personal care was inevitable. I dreaded confronting her with the possibility of me helping her. I was relieved when the doctor ordered a bath aide to come out three times a week.
Mary Long was our first experience with a regularly scheduled bath aide. Right away I knew she would be good for Mother. Watching Mary pamper Mom as she bathed her was a comfort to this worried daughter. Mother’s communication skills were very good when Mary first came to care for her, so they had ample opportunity to get acquainted. They shared about their families and their likes and dislikes. By the time Mother had quit talking Mary had developed a loving relationship with her. I learned so much about how to care for my mother from Mary. I’m convinced her good care and what she taught us kept Mom from having any bedsores or serious skin problems at home.
When Russell resigned from the church in Fair Play, this meant moving out of the church parsonage. Finding a home within driving distance of Mother’s doctor became a priority. Convinced our finances were such we could not consider purchasing a newer home, we began our search by looking for a reasonably priced fixer-upper. We soon realized those homes “needing a little repair” in our price range generally needed a demolition crew.
Our search was both fun and challenging as we considered what would be comfortable and convenient for Mother and at the same time meet our personal needs. After looking a few weeks, we were thrilled to find the home we were sure, beyond any doubt, God had saved solely for us. The things we had wanted were all there: big picture window, large room for Mom, extra bathroom, front and back porches and trees in the yard. What we had not expected to get were extra wide doorways which would easily accommodate her wheelchair, access to the home without steps to deal with, a fireplace, an oversized shower with easy access in her bathroom, a huge walk-in closet in her area, an eat-in kitchen, a big dining room, and an acre of ground surrounded by fields and woods. Only God could know how important every one of these things would be as we faced another four years with Mom. And God knew we would not have time to remodel anything.
March 29, 2000, my calendar says “Move everything possible today.” That means Momma, too. How were we actually going to be able to get all this done without added stress on her? We described our new home and encouraged her to help us decide what we should take with us. We even asked her opinion on the pictures and furniture we should keep, all the while knowing she wouldn’t remember. We decided to sell most of what we had in a garage sale and replace only what we needed in the new house.
Down came all the pictures from the walls. Chairs, tables, and accessories were quickly moved out as they were sold. At the same time we were moving boxes of personal items into our new home. Finally, the only thing left in the church parsonage was Mother sitting alone in her wheelchair in a big, empty room with nothing but a small borrowed television set in one corner.
“Mommy, where is all our stuff? You look kind of lonesome there all by yourself in this big old room.” I wondered what she was thinking as she slowly smiled at me.
“Do you think we ought to move you, too? Shall I call for the transportation van to take you to our new home?” Her wide familiar grin and nodding head told me she was ready to go anywhere with us. Someone who doesn’t comprehend what is being said or is not able to retain information needs things repeated again and again. We described our new town and home so many times we tired of the telling. However, it seemed to help Mother feel part of the move and comfortable with the strange activity around her. I never ever wanted her to feel like she was an added-on part of our family or in any way a burden to us.
Watching Mother’s eyes light up as she was unloaded in Buffalo was all the assurance I needed that she would be fine with the move. Thinking she would be tired from the trip, I started to wheel her into her new bedroom, but she had other ideas. She wanted to see the entire house, into every room and through every doorway. When she had explored everything to her satisfaction, she was content to settle down in her own room for a much-needed nap.
My greatest fear in the move was losing our dear helpers, Mary and Jessie. Miraculously, God had worked this dilemma out as well. One day while still in the old house, Mary came in with the saddest look on her face. She told us most of her work would now be in Dallas County; Mother was actually her last client in Polk County. At the time we had been dreading the thoughts of telling Mary of our move, she had been hesitant to tell us she could no longer come to Fair Play. What joy to say, “Mary, we are moving to Dallas County, too!”
When Jessie and Wilus heard about our new home, they were actually excited. Jessie said, “Buffalo is only a good forty-five minute trip for us. We will look forward to the drive to the country. Call us anytime you need help.” Wow! They were happy! We were happy! Mom was still in good care! And God had again proven to be faithful far beyond my wildest dreams!
Three months after we moved, Russell was called as Director of Missions of the Dallas County Association of Southern Baptists. Retirement was short-lived and we were on a new journey. And, so was Mother. Little did we know what an adventure it would be for each of us; especially how good it would be for her. She would get more attention and love than ever, and we would come to know more than we ever wanted about caring for the elderly and the truths of what we call second childhood.
#1 Miracles, Moves, and Mother
Discussion Guide – ACKNOWLEDGE THE PROBLEM
- Why should the mother’s unkempt home and vehicle problems have been red flags revealing a deeper need? What are some reasons family members may ignore these signs of pending problems with a loved one?
- If you are living away from parents or elderly loved ones, how are their needs being met? In what ways can you become better informed of their circumstances?
- Even though Susie did not live in the same state as her mother, what could have been done to get help? What are some specific resources for the elderly in your state?
- Have you discussed care for aging parents with siblings or others? What options are available to you? Why is it important to include the parent in these discussions?
About the Author
Susie Kinslow Adams is a wife, mother, and grandmother whose earliest memories are of caring for grandparents and offering hugs and hope to shy or struggling classmates. Her work alongside her husband in ministry has provided years of experience with groups and individuals from children to senior adults. Susie is a gifted author, writer, speaker and storyteller. She and her husband have a country home in the Ozarks and enjoy the wonders of nature.