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When the child becomes the parent
Nov. 4, 2008, was a red-letter day for our nation as well as our family. The same day we elected our first black president, my dad lost his lengthy battle with cancer. Within a few months my brother and I moved our mom, Star Asimakoupoulos, into a retirement community near her home. At first she seemed to thrive.
Soon an uninvited companion known as dementia came to live with Mom. The demands it made were heartless. Dementia dictated she repeat herself over and over. It robbed her of her ability to track with television programs or read a book. Further, dementia insisted she play hide-and-seek while it proceeded to conceal her purse, her camera, her reading glasses, her door key and her cane.
When it became clear that Mom’s fuzzy mind was sabotaging her safety, my brother and I attempted to convince her she needed assisted living. She would hear nothing of it.
Observing that Mom was not eating healthily or bathing regularly or remembering to take her meds, we had to act. I knew that I was now the parent and my little mother was the child.
The night before moving day, my mother threw a tantrum. She yelled at me and through a veil of tears tried to pull rank on me. “You can’t do this. I’m your mother! I’m not moving!”
By morning I’d awaken with a knot in my gut. How could I hurt my mom by forcing something on her that she vehemently opposed? I was acting in love, but she was convinced I was robbing her of what little independence she had left.
It was then that I recalled words my mother had spoken decades before when she felt obliged to take away some of my freedoms. “This hurts me more than it hurts you!”
Yes, it hurt me more than it hurt her. But I had a sense deep inside that we had done the right thing. My prayer is that her advancing dementia will in time cause her to forget the place from which she’d been moved.
Almost four years to the day after I promised my dad on his death bed that I would take care of Mom, we moved her to assisted living. And as difficult as it was to take that step, I believe I kept my promise.