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A tale of two mothers at the end of their lives

In the mid-1990s, my husband’s paternal grandmother, who was 90 years old, had moved into our home. We had pleaded with her to do so as she was the most delightful and “perfect” grandmother. She had had a wonderful life, traveled the world, lived right on the beach in Hawaii for close to 70 years and early every morning she would swim in the warm Hawaiian waters.

She quit, she said, because, “the waves now are stronger than I am and I can’t get back.” Tutu (the Hawaiian word for grandmother) was now here in Lake Oswego.

Tutu moved into our home, bringing with her a personal nurse from Hawaii. Taking care of my own mother at this time who was living nearby, it was nice to have us all together. But just a few days after Tutu moved in, she began arguing with that nurse. She fired her and sent her quickly back to Hawaii. The fight was over trying to get Tutu to take a shower.

Within a few weeks, we noticed significant signs of memory loss and fear. Tutu was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She had forgotten what a shower was. As the disease progressed she began to forget where she was, who the children were, mistaking them for intruders. One morning, as she and I were making her bed together as we did every morning, she did not recognize who I was. She said, “Victoria will be home soon.”

My heart sank. Most mornings we would go and pick up my mom for the day and enjoy doing small things that these two little old ladies liked to do. I felt lucky to be able to stay home with them.

Tutu was eventually moved into an Alzheimer’s facility. For six years the family watched as she mentally disappeared from this world. The cost of care was more than $300,000 back then. She easily had it. But it was different for my mother.

My mother died in my home. I brought in to her the usual morning ‘cuppa’ tea at 7 a.m. She was sleeping peacefully as she always did. This time she didn’t wake up. The night before as I was ready to tuck her into bed, she held me and said, “You have to let me go, Victoria.” Holding her as lovingly as possible, I said,” I know, mum, but I don’t want to.”

With calmness, she continued,” You have been a wonderful daughter to me. I love you dearly. It is my time.”

We held on for a long time as we both knew this was the last. After she died, flowers came to the home from her. She knew.

My mother did not need long-term care in a facility, she died before that. The emotional, physical and financial support had however begun. She did not have the money to pay for care and did not want to be a burden. My father’s care took all there was financially.

Nineteen years later I found her long-term care policy.

Victoria Gardner is a resident of Lake Oswego and owns a business with her husband.



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