Sherri’s Turn: Difficult Life Transitions

by Sherri Kukla

You couldn’t actually say she was an off roader, but she was a big fan of the sport. And one of our biggest fans.

She doesn’t remember much these days, but on the occasions I visit her without the guy-in-the-garage I’ll tell her “Steve couldn’t be here today. He’s working on motorcycles.”

“Well of course!” she’ll say with a chuckle and big smile. This lady who can barely remember her own name and not much else about her life has never forgotten the importance of motorcycles in our lives.

“I’ve never had a garage since I met my son-inlaw,” was one of her favorite sayings for decades as she fondly related tales of him filling her garage with off road toys of every type and size.

Now she doesn’t remember she had a garage. Or a house. Or a much loved truck.

She was driving that truck the night we got the midnight phone call from the CHP.

“Your mom was found driving on the wrong side of Interstate 8,” the kind voice related the words I had never wanted to hear.

She lived alone about two hours away from us and we had seen the signs of what could possibly be early dementia during our bi-weekly visits in recent years.

Phone calls to a close friend of hers had reassured us we didn’t need to intervene yet. “Please call me when that time comes,” I told the trusted friend.

But before he noticed anything a sudden turn for the worse took her miles away from her home, heading into the mountains driving east in the westbound lanes. The hand of God on her truck and the quick thinking CHP officers who responded to 9-1-1 calls kept her, as well as all other drivers on the freeway, safe that long ago Saturday night.

We had arrived at the time of life she had been dreading for years, following in the footsteps of a couple of generations before her. She moved into our home and we began a challenging time of multi-generational caregiving with a young granddaughter and aging mother depending on us to keep them safe and provide for their needs.

We continued to operate our off road camp for kids as well as the magazine and there were nights I laid awake long into the night with tears seeping out wondering what the future held and for how many years we could endure.

Twenty-one months later with encouragement from close family members we moved my mom into an assisted living facility about an hour and a half away from our remote desert home.

Without a doubt this was one of the hardest decisions of my life.

She was aware of the change, aware of the fact that she was not going to be living with us, and while she appeared to be in agreement, she too found the transition a difficult one.

I remember trying to paint a word picture for her in one of the early visits to help her cope with the realities of dealing with difficult changes.

As we walked slowly around the facility, she shuffled along with her walker. “Mom, do you remember when we moved while I was in 4th grade and I had to go to a new school?”

She said she remembered. “Do you remember I did not want to go? I cried hard and you still made me go.” She remembered.

I stared straight into her eyes for my final question. The one that would help her accept this new challenge. The question that would help her to realize this was as hard for me as it had been for her.

“Why did you make me do that when I didn’t want to go?”

This gentle kind-hearted woman who throughout her life rarely uttered a harsh word totally destroyed the point I was trying to make when she stared right back into my eyes and said bluntly “Because I knew you were going to do this to me someday!”

And in that instance as we both stared at each other and started to laugh together, I knew it was going to be all right. We would both have many more tears to shed, but we were going to be all right.

And nearly three years later in spite of continued and steady mental deterioration if I tell her “Steve can’t be here today, he’s working on motorcycles,” it’s always the same response.

Big smile. Chuckle. Then the ever faithful response “Of course he is!” reminds me that somewhere deep inside she still remembers.

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