Last year, at almost exactly this time, my brother was talking with one of the staff at our mother’s nursing home, who happened to let it slip that our mother had a beau.
While this was news to us, we were not shocked to hear it. We actually were surprised that it took 2.5 years from her admission to end up with a boyfriend. My mother has always appreciated male attention. She has been divorced for over three decades and has enjoyed her dating life over the years.
My mother entered into a new relationship during the six years she lived in California. It was initially troubling to learn of it. Here I was, 3,000 miles away, wondering who would be interested in her as she continued to decline. At that time, I could only see all that we were losing of her. But she started spending a lot of time with a good friend of my aunt and uncle. He had recently lost his wife of many years after a terminal illness and found, somehow, that being with my mother brought him joy. He could appreciate her positives, without the sadness and anger I felt, losing more and more of her all the time.
My mother became the best version of herself when she was with him. The fear and anger she directed towards family members were not present in her relationship. They appreciated each other and built a life together that, amazingly, worked for a long time. It was such a gift.
But, of course, my mother continued to decline. Her boyfriend had his own serious health issues. Eventually, it became clear that she needed more than he could do with her. At that point, we needed to ramp up our search for a nursing home. The decision was to move her near her grandchildren and me. It was terribly sad for her boyfriend to send her East.
But time does go on. I followed up, after my brother learned of our mother’s new sweetheart. The staff found it really endearing to see them together. They would sit next to each other at meals and otherwise. They would hold hands. There were smooches. Her face would light up when she saw him, even though she could not recognize his name when I mentioned it. He would beam when he saw her. Her waning speech did not phase him. She was happy.
But, she is a resident in a nursing home, and incapable of effectively giving consent for much of anything. An awkward family conference followed with my mother’s kind social worker to discuss the relationship. Now, I understood that my mother selected me to make health care and other decisions on her behalf, at a point in time when she became unable to do so. However, in my wildest dreams, I never imagined a conversation about her hypothetical geriatric sex life.
Luckily for us, her new suitor similarly was unmarried and his responsible party had no issue with the new relationship. (I cannot imagine the pain it must cause a spouse when an institutionalized loved one forms a new relationship with another resident).
For maybe 6 or 8 weeks, my mother again found joy. Then, without explanation, she was done with the relationship.
My mother then did a rapid decline. Fortuitously, we were able to move her to a special facility better able to handle her needs and provide her comfort.
While she is doing the best that she can at this sad stage, I keep hoping for that call. The one that says that there is a new gentleman in her life, holding her hand, making her smile Or a new friendship, feeding her soul. It amazes me that some part of her still seeks a connection. Fingers crossed, she finds it soon.