When my mom moving into a nursing home last year, I was terrified. I was leaving her in the hands of people I didn’t know, who she didn’t know, and who didn’t know her. Scary stuff. Sure, the team wanted to know what she likes and what kind of care she needed, but they didn’t ask us. They asked us to write it down (see the difference?) 

I filled out the form and we talked to the floor nurse and her CNA a little bit. The focus was on medical needs and what my mom could and couldn’t do for herself. The focus was on not messing up, which believe me, I appreciate. But it leaves a big gap. 

When people ask me, “How’s your mom?” I don’t always know how to answer. It’s complicated. Sometimes I say, “She’s fine.” Or, “She’s stable.” (That’s the trauma of multiple emergency hospitalizations talking.)

Other times, I say, “She’s not the same, but she’s still there.” By which I mean she’s still engaged with life. Still herself. Still my mom. Though you wouldn’t know it just by looking at her, or helping her brush her teeth. 

To the CNAs who help her every day, this is what that form really should have said. This is what I want you to know about my mom. 

She Won’t Ask

My biggest fear when my mom moved in here was that she wouldn’t get the help she needed. It wasn’t you that I was worried about, it was her. My mom does NOT like to ask for help. I mean it.

When I was in high school, one of my mom’s jobs was to manage the building next door. When tenants moved out, she would use the opportunity to replace appliances and do repairs. Sometimes she had help, sometimes she didn’t. One time, she moved a full-size refrigerator up two flights of stairs. By herself. 

So if she says she’s hurting or needs something, it’s no joke. 

She Needs a Few Accommodations

I know there’s a lot of turnover here. Maybe you’re new. I doubt you know my mom’s medical history and maybe you didn’t even get to talk to anyone who’s cared for my mom before they threw you into the mix. I’m sure someone will tell you about her care plan, so you’ll know what help is required. But that’s not quite enough. 

I’m constantly reminding my kids to stand where grandma can see them. If they’re lucky (or not paying attention), she will happily hook them with her ‘claw’ — her one good arm that still gives the best hug if you get close enough. Did you know that her glasses don’t help her see out of that one eye?

Ask questions about her vision, brain health, hearing. 

Try to understand the things you cannot see. 

She Is Loved

I see you work with a lot of people, like my mom, who can’t express themselves. Even when my mom talked more, she was much more likely to listen. Or use her words to ask you questions about your life and how you are. 

It’s easier to understand my mom if you could see how she lived. How she planted flowers on street corners with neighbors. How she drove a car-less friend to work once a week…for years. How she showed up. Time and time again. 

She wouldn’t tell you how she feels, but if she could, she’d show you. You’d surely get a poinsettia at Christmas. She’d buy dozens and spend days distributing them along with homemade banana bread.

What can I tell you about this woman who silently stacks her plates at breakfast, lunch, and dinner to save you a little time and trouble?

I can tell you that this is a woman you can judge by her actions, not her words.

Know this, too. This woman who sits there quietly and doesn’t ask for much has 4 children, 10 grandchildren, and many loyal friends who love her. She is not alone.

We’re not here every day like you are, but we care for her, too.

Karen Purze is an author, content strategist, product manager, and family caregiver with a passion for technology.