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Transferring Mom was New, But Restlessness and Inactivity Kindled her Agitation

Our family equation for caregiving developed slowly, over five rigorous years following our father’s death. Two sisters and I divide the year into three, with each caregiving our 85 year-old mother four months. Mom spends summer on Kauai. 

My first summer with Mom was clumsy. Not clumsy like, “Oops, I tripped over a crack . . .” clumsy like a caffeinated circus performer juggling 14 greased kittens─ridiculous, slightly hazardous, and horrifying to observers.

Like the day mom was anxious to leave the house, and against my good judgement, I surrendered to her call for action. See, the wheelchair was a relatively new development with both the deterioration of her spine, and the onset of Parkinson’s disease. Restlessness and inactivity kindled her agitation.

We left the house, ignoring the dark skies and gusting winds. As my husband silently transferred Mom into the car, I dismissed his close-lipped smile and empathetic eyes hinting at his disapproval. He wanted to discourage this decision, but secretly, I think he may also have relished the thought of a few hours alone.

When we entered Ace Hardware in Lihu`e it was dry. When we exited 10 minutes later, a gale sent the rain sideways across the parking lot. Mom waited in the store while I moved the car beneath the covered entrance. As I rolled her chair into the wind, I knew how badly this would go. Red vested employees assembled to watch from the doors just outside the rain’s shadow. One gentleman raced to hold the passenger’s door open against the wind’s force, as I wrestled Mom to her feet to back her into the seat.

“Hurry Pam, hurry,” Mom kept repeating into my neck.

My hair striped my face in wet strings, but I could still see the distress on the faces of our audience silhouetted against the artificial light streaming from the store. This was clearly a time when all one could do was stare.

I was so new at caregiving; transferring Mom between places was still new to me. On a good day she helps by using her arm strength to hold the edge of the door or to lift a foot gingerly into the car. This was not that kind of transfer.

Her feet were nailed to the ground, her arms gripping my shoulders as I swung her toward the door. I won’t lie: I may or may not have pushed her back into the seat just to get it over with and escape. I couldn’t look into the eyes of the employees as we reversed. In the car, we sat quietly, our hair wetted to our heads and steam forming on the windows.

That was two years ago. This past summer with mom was markedly different; the learning curve of the year before having leveled out.