Sustaining a Sense of Self

I won’t forget it. That moment when my mother, stalwart matriarch of our huge family, an intellect, a former teacher, a model of grace, strength and adaptability, declared that she had been infantilized. It was a summer evening and I had arrived in her suite at the retirement home just as a PSW was leaving. Mom, stood poised in her robe (posture had always been important to her), but there was a wide-eyed incredulity in her face as she declared, “I feel like a baby!”

This was the first time Mom had had assistance with her bath and the loss of independence was, understandably, a blow to her sense of self. In her experience, she was the one who helped people bathe, not the other way around. Raising ten children and in her later years caring for Dad when he became incapacitated, she knew all about bathing others and this was something you did for those who couldn’t care for themselves. How could it be that she had reached this point? In fact, she had. The staff had assessed her and saw that for her own safety she needed help.

This moment was early on in our journey through Mom’s dementia. Though she was aware of what was happening, she showed great determination to maintain her independence. She was still interested in looking good; she had always loved getting dressed up. There came a day when she and I no longer went out shopping for new clothes. My sisters and I would look for new pieces and bring them to her and she was always happy to stay current with fashion. You could see how new pieces lifted her spirits and boosted her confidence. They were an assurance to her that she was still herself.

Near the very end of Mom’s journey she no longer had the strength to dress herself. I went out in search of the adaptive clothing I’d heard about from a friend who is a nurse. I found a meagre offering of clothes that were definitely functional, but not at all fashionable. My heart sank as the saleswoman slid them into a bag and handed it to me. I felt I was falling short of my mother’s standards.

For me, eldercare was a privilege, a heartbreak and an education all at once. I am happy to know that there are organizations like Monarch who, by closing the gap between function and fashion, are enhancing this bittersweet journey for families.

Contributed by Elizabeth D, Daughter