Friday, September 9, 2011

Mother-in-Law Mayhem

There is a lot going on in our world right now. The ten year commemoration of 9/11 is Sunday and TV and radio commentators, TV shows and news articles discuss the event, the past decade and the future. We were lucky to dodge the distress of Hurricane Irene, but the past couple of days our friends and relatives in our home town are pumping basements, schools are closed and people cannot get to work because of flooding. The Republican debate was an interesting side show and President Obama’s speech is the topic of the media this morning.
There are times when circumstances at home overshadow outside events. That is what is happening now in the life of me and my hub. My mother-in-law is in an assisted living facility six miles from our home. She has been there just over a month. A stroke in early July led to the three siblings deciding she could no longer return to her apartment. After much discussion we moved her near us; she had been near my sister-in-law three hours away. We found a beautiful facility, moved her in, unpacked her belongings and got her settled.
Our life has been a series of mini-crises for the past month.
Mom-in-law quickly recovered from the stroke and then got a bad case of gout. She cannot tolerate any physical pain and refuses assistance. She initially declined to use a cane, walker or wheelchair. The gout got so bad she had no choice; for several days she was confined to a wheelchair.
She recovered enough to insist once again she did not need any assistance walking. She began tottering around, holding on to anyone and anything she could as she maneuvered around the facility. She was well enough to lament the fact that she ended up ‘in this place’. She refuses to participate in activities and has only minimal contact with other people, staff or residents.
The one bright spot is the food. The food is wonderful, the dining room is very nice and meals have become a focal point of her day.
A few days later she had another problem and retired to bed. Three days later she was fine, but it took another couple of days to once again leave her bed and her room, proceed to meals and go outside.
The phone calls have been constant, sometimes several times a day. They usually begin with a complaint, although the facility staff is wonderful, attentive to her needs and the care could not be better. They are extremely patient as she grumbles, criticizes and generally puts forth a mean fa├žade.
Yesterday’s call contended that someone stole one earring. The facility launched an investigation.
We took her out to a Chinese restaurant – her favorite cuisine – one evening. The noodles were not her version of ‘real’ Chinese noodles and therefore this was not a real Chinese restaurant. The staff was Chinese, the menu was bilingual and lots of Chinese were eating there. She ordered soup and did not like it…Another evening we brought her to our house for dinner. She and hub had a couple of heated arguments (not unusual; actually very common when they get together) and suddenly she insisted she had to go back and go to bed; it was past her bedtime. It was not yet 7:00 p.m.
And so it goes. When the phone rings we never know what the latest mini-crisis will be. I do know my husband gets uptight and I am sure his blood pressure skyrockets. Friends tell us it takes a while to adjust to an assisted living facility. They regale us with stories of their Mom or Dad who fought the idea, but once settled in actually liked it. Mom or Dad made friends, went on outings, and had a better quality of life than when confined to their home because of some physical ailment.
There are those - including my brother-in-law - who believe she would be better off living with one of the siblings, except it would never work. My mother-in-law is the poster senior citizen for uncooperativeness. When living alone she yelled at her kids when they tried to make her do anything, such as take her medications. She reluctantly listens to the facility staff – they make sure she takes her meds - and her health and wellbeing have improved, although she would never admit it.
We are looking forward to a time when we can take her out to dinner and enjoy each other’s company, bring her to our house, relax and spend a quiet day together, and just visit her and spend some time in non-crisis mode.
The phone is ringing with that special mother-in-law tone. Time for today’s mini-crisis.


  1. Sigh. This does NOT sound like an easy time in anyone's life. I think you should be glad that she has such care, even if she doesn't appreciate it. I too would cringe at the ringing of the phone when times are like this. Hugs to you... and hope it gets better somehow.

  2. Been there. My thoughts and sympathy are with you as you enter this new phase.

  3. It sound like your mother in law has made up her mind to be unhappy about the situation and to drag everyone else into the funk besides. Does the facility have any family social work services or some kind of counselling? I found that tremendously helpful in clarifying my own emotions and reactions when we were making the decision for my mother.

  4. A friend counseled me that dog-training methods work well. When she's on the phone complaining, you "fog" her--make noncommital grunts, flat uh-huhs, etc., giving her nothing whatsoever to work with (or against)--neither getting mad or trying to solve her problems. Keep in mind that even a negative reaction from you is a reward for her also. The very second she says anything positive ("nice day today") you become enthusiastic as all get-out. Apparently this sort of clicker-training works amazingly fast, but you have to steel yourself beforehand to do it right.