My mother-in-law asks me the same leading question several times a day. A question that leads to no where good.
Tell me the truth, she says. I want to brutal truth.
Do you think we’d be better off in our own apartment?
That question has sisters.
Are we a burden on you? Would you rather we moved out? Do you want to put us away?
She says she wants the truth. But since the truth is yes, I do think you’d be better off in your own apartment, she doesn’t really want to hear it.
What she wants is for me to say something like of course not, you should live with us forever.
Because who wouldn’t want to be glared at every time they leave their bedroom? Who wouldn’t want a guilt trip every time they leave the house? Who wouldn’t want to cook every night for people who hate food?
But it’s not that. Those aren’t the reasons why they’d be better off in an assisted living apartment. It isn’t about me not wanting them here, even if I have started literally dreaming at night about moving into my own apartment.
Carole is bored. She’s lonely. She spends most of the day watching game shows and asking her husband if he’s okay. He has Alzheimer’s, so he doesn’t remember that she’s asked him dozens of times already, in a dozen different ways. He doesn’t pick up, most of the time, on the fact that she’s nagging him to within an inch of his life.
Are you okay? Are you hungry? Why aren’t you eating? Are you tired? Do you want a nap? Why are you sleeping again? Are you okay? Are you okay? I guess you’re not talking to me.
On and on and on.
She asks in the middle of dinner if he wants cake. She asks if he’s cold when it’s 80 degrees outside. She asks if he’s hungry while he’s got the fork in his mouth.
It’s exhausting just to witness.
Her doctor thinks that the two of them would be happier and, maybe, healthier in an assisted living situation. More independence. More access to other people who might become friends. More active, less bored.
So that’s what I say when she asks — and my God, she asks so often.
Your doctor thinks it would be a good idea.
I try not to let it hurt my feelings that she really thinks we’d ‘put her away’ somewhere and never see her again. Or that we’d find her an apartment here in our little town, and then move away.
I don’t understand why she doesn’t want more independence. Her own kitchen. The ability to do things without relying on my husband or I driving her around. Friends.
I can’t get her to talk to me about why she’s so upset by the idea of having her own apartment. I think maybe she’s afraid to be alone with her husband, whose dementia is so much more advanced than hers.
Or maybe she really can’t process the idea of living on her own anymore. Maybe her dementia is more advanced than it seems.
Meanwhile, I do my best to be honest, but not cruel. Of course, they aren’t a burden. Of course, we won’t abandon them.
And of course, I think more independence would be good for them.
Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She is an out-of-place Nevadan living in Northwestern PA with her husband, three superstar kids, two dementia patients, a good friend, Alfred the cat, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s represented by Elizabeth Bennett at Transatlantic Literary Agency and her most recent book is The Astonishing Maybe. She’s on Twitter @shauntagrimes and is the original Ninja Writer.