Even while we were in Germany, there were times when I questioned whether what we were doing, accomplishing, was making a difference and would make a difference in the long run. Were we perhaps just rushing in, attempting to do something, to make us feel better?
Yes, we did accomplish things, some very tangible such as packing her suitcase and getting it and her walker to her in the hospital so she could take it to the rehab clinic, some things more subtle such as my sitting down with her and going through her stack of paper stuff she had accumulated since she left home in November, organizing, keeping, throwing away. I helped her trim her fingernails because the nurses are not allowed to do that and there was no one else in the hospital to help her with that. I cleaned between her toes because the nurse who had given her a sponge bath had not done so. I encouraged her to do gentle exercises to keep her muscles from wasting away.
Mark’s taking roughly 120 pictures of her apartment has already helped her see/remember and then think about what she has and what she would like to take with her to the nursing home, etc.
My talking with her account manager at her bank was something only I could do (because my mother had asked me to), but most of what Mark and I did could have been accomplished by someone else: the downstairs neighbors had packed her suitcase before, and now my mother even gave the key to her safe to them so they can start setting things in motion to, for instance, sell her car.
On occasion, my mother completely misses the point of something. For instance: while she was in the hospital, two rooms in her apartment had to be renovated which meant that someone – downstairs neighbors, as usual – had to completely empty the room (or at least move the big furniture into the middle of the room) and then move things back into place. In the case of one of her bedrooms, this meant that the neighbor emptied the big (six or seven feet long) wardrobe, then after the renovation wiped out every shelf in the wardrobe and put my mother’s clothes and linens back into the wardrobe. The neighbor is a small woman, 70 since last Nov or Oct, who due to some shoulder issue cannot really raise her right arm above her head. Moving all those clothes, and my mother has a ton, first out of the wardrobe and then back in, was a hell of a job, and from what I could tell, she did a fantastic job: it looked clean, and well organized. However, all my mother could utter when she saw the pictures Mark had taken was, “Oh my God, it’s all in the wrong place! I can’t find anything! Nothing is where it’s supposed to be!!” and on and on.
I hope that someday, I can remember this and chuckle at its outrageousness.
She completely missed the point that her neighbor had spent so much time and effort and energy cleaning out her wardrobe, she completely ignored the hard work her neighbor had put into this, and saw only that things were not where she used to have them. To me having her things organized differently was no big deal because it was still very clearly organized – pants with pants, shirts with shirts – but my mother explained that she was used to being able to opening the wardrobe in the dark and finding stuff in the dark. The fact that she will most likely never return to her apartment and even have a chance to “find my stuff in the dark” escaped her as well.
This is nothing new. She has expressed such Undankbarkeit before. Often. Mark and I had talked, before we left for Germany, and during the trip, about the fact that we better not expect any reward, eternal gratitude, or such. We decided to do what we could, because it was the right thing to do and because we hoped to be able to make a difference.
She did express gratitude while we were there, and her smiles and interactions were reward enough.
Now, back home, again separated by so much physical distance, communicating perhaps once a day, through the phone, or email with the nurse, we have again little contact and therefore chance to talk about things. There is so much room for misunderstanding, miscommunication, missing the point without realizing that one of us missed the point.