Wednesday, October 1, 2008

My Little Mommy

I wouldn't write this if I thought she'd see it. But I doubt that she will. Mom had her 89th birthday this month, and my brother and I have known she was failing mentally for 5 years perhaps.

We managed (with helpers Courtney and Inga) to get the house cleaned up for a birthday party that started here and ended up at Stephanie's. It was a lovely fall evening lit by candles, with service of simple appetizers at this house. Uncle Rex (who still looks like Paul Newman in his 70's) and Aunt Ruth (Mom's sister) came along and my brother and wife brought Mother. They all drove 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours to get here. Steph and Charlotte prepared good food and served cider at Steph's where her house also was decorated for fall and glowing red and orange with candles here and there.

Fifteen of us altogether. 8 of us owed our existance to the fact that Mother married my father around 1940. It was still daylight when the night began and a perfect evening --with Glenn Miller-style orchestra music at STeph's --music of my mother's youth --very festive atmosphere.

When we sang happy birthday, Mom sang, too --surprised that it was to her that we were singing and she smiled and laughed at the surprise to herself. Uncle Rex gave her a pink geranium for her birthday, and she was delighted all over again everytime she asked about them and I told her the flowers were for her.

A week earlier, she called to thank me for flowers delivered the day before her actual birthday, but I had not sent them. My brother's family did. I suggested she read the card. I wanted to take credit, but thought better of it.

The others went home leaving her to stay with me a few days. "What? they left me here?" "Yes, Mom, don't you remember, you're staying with me a few days. You brought your things." Next day, "Now who's taking me home today?" I said, "Monday, Mom, Monday." And she'd say, "well, nobody told me I'd be here that long." And we had this conversation several times.

When I took her home, she got so energized about me being there that she insisted on carrying out the lightweight cushions for the front porch glider. They were in my bedroom, not in my way, and I told her to just leave them be. But she wouldn't hear of it. She hauled them out the room and stuck them on the glider on the porch, a Herculean task seeming easy to her this day. And then watered her pink geranium.

She was pacing and picking up invisible dirt on the floor --and offering me things to eat, all at once.

Next morning, she asked me, "who was the girl who drove us home?" "That was just me, Mom." "OH! I thought there were some girls. Well, are the others upstairs?" No, Mom, nobody came; just you and me." "OH, I though we had the girls with us while we were riding in the back seat." "No, Mom, just you and me in the front seat. The back seat had all our stuff and the pink geranium, remember?" "O yes..well, I thought..."

During the weekend at our house, she literally ferreted about in her purse and her duffle bag and train case --over and over again --looking for this and that, sighing in frustration, but she didn't seem to know why or what for. And she ferreted around in her purse constantly, in pursuit of her keys and her glasses. Takes everything out and puts it back in again. This is a little familiar to me as I have a hard time finding my keys or cell phone in my purse which does seem to be a black hole to me already.

I have an idea for an invention--a purse with pockets and label windows sewn on each pocket, where we can slide in a label for keys, glasses, wallets, toiletries, etc. A File-purse.

Her house was very orderly; she made her bed at her house and mine. She recycles newspapers but for some unknown reason bags them in little bundles in plastic grocery bags --which don't belong in the paper bin. She has snacks, cookies, and pop, crackers, eggs, juice, and toast in her kitchen. She faithfully makes an egg for herself every day. But we don't think she eats well or much, otherwise. She had no cottage cheese to eat with her favorite tomatoes and Western dressing. Said she didn't remember that she liked cottage cheese. Guessed she didn't like it anymore. Guessed she'd have to try it, so I put it on her grocery list.

I said, "Looks like you need a new microwave." "A what?" "microwave" "What's that?" I show her. "OOOOH THAT. Well I don't bother with the name of it --I just use it when I need it."

I suggested she turn on her window AC as I was hot Monday night --and she said, "I don't have an air conditioner." "Yes, you do, Mom." "No, I never had an air conditioner." "It's there behind you, Mom, in the window." " O THAT. Is that what that is? Well, that's Ronnie's." "It's yours, Mom. He puts it in for you."
"Well, I never use it." (She knew how to use it last year.)

So I showed her how to turn it on --and made a simple label with the on and off buttons and said "that's all you need to know to run it, Mom." And she worked it for us.

Next thing, she tells me, it ought to be warming up as she turned on the electric baseboard heaters. "You what!? Mom, don't turn the heat on! The air conditioner is on and I'm hot!" She had turned the heat on in my bedroom, too, and we got that rectified.

Jon put her through an informal mental status test over the weekend. One of the test items is to ask a person to remember a simple statement with 4 parts --and he asked her to repeat it several times for him --which she could do. But 5 minutes later, she had no recollection of the statement, even when given clues. Had no memory that she had been asked to remember a statement. He asked her to make a clock face and mark a certain time on it with clock hands drawn on it. She found this very perplexing and couldn't do it right. Had the numbers in right order, but not in the right places. She couldn't tell us who the present president --or the candidates were. But she said she sure was tired of hearing about those people running for office. She had trouble recalling the year, 2008, but did get it. She knew the day was Saturday --but that's not always so, as she often calls the church during the Sunday service to ask when services will start tomorrow --as she thinks it is Saturday. It is a small church and the phone is heard in the service when she calls. We know this, because the minister told my brother.

Church and neighbors notice her decline and occasional problems and call my brother to suggest that she ought not be alone. We agree, but haven't got a solution yet for a lady who thinks she's doing just fine --and wants to be "left alone!"

She was able to give the right meaning for two old sayings, "People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones" --and "A stitch in Time saves nine." She at first said she had no clue --and then thought about each one a little and gave good, correct answers.

She smiles and chuckles when she is caught in a mistake involving memory, and then makes some excuse for why she thought what she did.

She is adamant that she is doing fine. She does not want to leave her home. She is functioning.

I tell her to move our way --as she can hang around with her 10 Toledo relatives at their houses and church. She says she will go to a nice place in her town when she has to go --but it isn't now. I tell her I would feel bad that I couldn't get away to visit her a lot if she stays in her present town, any more than I do now --and I think she will feel more lonely there than here.

She may surprise us both, being real social in a group home, but she really doesn't want to go. And we've never been good at getting Mommy to do something she doesn't want to do. She won't go happily. This is a phase in life I'd like to avoid. I'd almost rather make a place for her in our garage --which my dear husband suggested, a remodeling job. But she would still be near our stove. I'd rather get her into assisted living at Elizabeth Scott's nearby --and have her just hang out at our house during the day. Because I do fear a loss of patience on my part as my mother "ferrets" about my house, trying to organize, and feeling this need to do stuff all the time --with my stuff. Groan. She saw a letter for Rob and wanted to do something with it. She took one of his papers to her house with us and I brought it back.

She was always so sure of what she thought --sound familiar? So precise in her thinking and expression, with attention to details. Probably one of the smartest girls in her class, president of the PTA, S.S. Superintendent for children, churchnewsletter founder/editor. We ran it off with stencils --primitive days. She made me edit an issue my Senior year in h.s. She would always clean the church cupboards and ran the VBS many years. As a senior in h.s. and a college girl, she was a beauty, black hair, dark eyes, and very petite --resembling Chrissy, actually.

She met Dad when his father, president of Huntington College during the Depression, introduced her to him. She was secretary to the president and then joined Dad as a reporter on the college paper which he edited. She thought she wanted to be a journalist. But in those days, marriage WAS a primary goal, and the only paper she worked on after college was the church paper. She did help Prof. Mae Tenney type and prepare her book for publication at Greenville College, where Mom and Dad went together for Dad's senior year. I think they wanted to get away from his parents' watchful eye!

She chose a great daddy for me in Wendell D. Mason --a chemist once honored by the American Chemical Society. He also taught chemistry at IU/PU extension in Ft. Wayne. He was a singer. She played violin and piano. Most importantly, they were real Christians --and they passed the baton of faith.

One thing about Mom --there IS somebody home when you talk with her. She likes to talk about stories of the past, things she remembers. She knows us. She remembers some things short term. It's just sad to take her out of her home where she is content --and put her with strangers when she is so reluctant to go.

If we move her in with us, it will either make or break me, I suspect! It may be the last phase of my maturing before I have to face being alone in a new place myself. But even if I bring her here, she will think it was unnecessary.

Unfortunately, there is no place like home! She likes her routines and her own bed. I understand, Mom, I understand.

"God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance and have eternal life."--the Bible


Jeanette said...


Thank you for sending me this bitter-sweet story.

It made me think back to my own mother who died Feb. 16, 2000 at the age of 70. In 9 years and six days I'll be 70.

Maybe a good solution would be to hire someone to come to her house to care for her and keep her company by telling her the lady needs a home and asking if she'd put her up.

You can remove the knobs on the stove so she can't hurt anyone.

It's not easy switching places with our parents. They were always the ones with the answers and help when we needed it and now it's all turned around backwards.

I'll be praying for a good solution to your mom's situation, but taking her from home when she doesn't want to go seems to be more harmful than helpful, even if you do it out of love and concern.

Definitely disable her car and get her license revoked.

Again, thanks for this beautiful post and I know the pain you all suffer right now. It kind of makes things like elections pale in comparison.

Love her as long as you can and when she can no longer remember her home move her to assisted living or a "mother-in-law" suite at your home.

Did you get the CD's I sent you yet?

Love you.

Austin Beeman said...

Hi Barb,

Just found your blog. :)

Here's a link to my blog, with an article about gay marriage that I found online.

candyly said...

I am Steve's (your favorite troublemaker) wife and I am an STNA (nurses aide) and have special training with Alzheimer's and Dementia patients and I agree with Jeanette. It appears to me that she is in the early stages and can function pretty well on her own still, but hiring someone to come and stay with her intermittently throughout the day, or all day, would be a great relief to you and your family and more than likely a pleasant visit for your mother. There are women, like my mother-in-law (Steve's mom, obviously) who do that and it is a blessing to both parties, the watched and the watcher. It is something to consider until she gets where she can't function in that environment anymore.

Also, I know how hard it is for the families of Alzheimer's and Dementia patients. Like I said, I specialized in it and worked with them and their families for quite some time. As hard as it is and will be, it is best not to "time orient" people like your mother, let them talk about their past memories and don't argue with them or try to convince them of something. Reminding them of something is fine but if she still doesn't seem to understand then drop it. It seems counterintuitive but it is best. Many times they will come around or understand on their own. Also, let her do those repetitive things and feel useful, like folding towels or organizing, it is actually good for them, it keeps their brain working and is a comfort to them. It may irritate you but know it is a good thing for them.

I hope this helps just a little. :)

Barb said...

I can barely organize myself and i don't think it will work for her to try to help me.

Even laundry, she would fret and fret over whose was whose, I suspect. but I guess I could let her work on towels and fold and re-fold, sort and sort again, etc.

I know that it's good for her to feel useful; I'm just not sure what chores she could handle enough to not disorganize me worse than I already am.

She would try to organize my kitchen and that would disorganize me further. She also tends to be a little bit judgmental about my stuff. So I do think having her own apartment in assisted living will be the best way to go, but I'd like to bring her to Toledo where there are 10 of us related to her to take her out and have her over in our homes, so she wouldn't feel alone.

Rob R said...

My worry with her staying in her home town in a home is that when she forgets that she can't go back to her house and is confused and upset, she won't have any family reasonably nearby for reassurance. Her son is something like 45 minutes to an hour away and is very busy with heavy schedual, but around toledo, there are several of us who have more time and several who can meet her in the residence we have in mind within minutes.