Archive for December, 2011|Monthly archive page

Conference and Christmas party

I saw Mom twice last week – on Wednesday, before a care conference, and on Friday, for the annual Christmas party at the Alz center. I’ve been carrying the notes around from the conference for almost a week but at the moment can’t find them. I do recall that Mom had gained another 4 pounds in the last quarter, so she’s up to about 180. They consider her weight to be just fine. She eats ice cream at every meal, which was started while she was losing weight, and which is being continued because it’s a sure source of calories – Mom never skips ice cream. She eats 75-100 percent of her meals, so she’s doing pretty well with eating. The dietary director told me that just that morning, she had had trouble convincing Mom to sit down to eat breakfast. So that can still be a problem. Every time I’m around for a meal, Mom seems to enjoy the chance to eat.

Her health is as good as it has been for awhile. No cold, no stitches, no foot problems, no skin infections. She most recently had treatment for a rash on her thighs. I was told recently that it is cleared up. She has a short attention span and isn’t super responsive to cues during activities. But she remains very social, especially enjoying one-on-one contact. She still hangs out with Mr. R, and also sometimes spends time with Mr. Beard. One of the staff members said her waning interest in Mr. R might be related to her shortening attention span. Makes sense.

I went to see Mom before the conference, and I noticed that her hair was a little greasy. I just sat with her briefly until it was time to attend the conference. I also noticed her breath was very bad. During the conference, I mentioned that I am worried that she never gets her teeth brushed. I feel fairly certain she fights any attempts to brush her teeth. I asked if I should give it a try, but the staff members said it is the duty of the aides to get that done every day, or to at least make a concerted effort to clean Mom’s mouth. But I am welcome to try if I want to. I worry that she will end up having her teeth pulled – I see signs of that in other residents sometimes, and I know Mom’s teeth were starting to decay near the gum line in the early days of her illness. Her last visit to her regular dentist was to get some fillings. The social worker told me there is a new contract with a new dentist, and that this dentist is less inclined than the last to resort to extractions. I imagine I’ll get an update on her teeth at the next conference. I was also told Mom was on the beautician’s list that day – lots of residents were being spruced up for the party.

On Friday, I left my office after our holiday potluck to attend the party at the center – my third Alz center Christmas party. Sure enough, Mom’s hair was clean and I could tell it had been trimmed, too. The party was in full swing when I arrived, with Elvis singing in the program area and residents seated in a circle all around him. Staffers dressed as Santa and Mrs. Claus sat me down right away to take a picture of me with Mom, part of the tradition. I’ll get that picture in the mail. An activities staffer handed me a painted plastic ornament made for family members during an art class. And shortly after I arrived, it was time for the door prize drawing. I won the first prize – a basket planter with white flowers. Very nice – I never win that stuff. Mom was sitting next to Mr. R, and on her other side was a longtime resident. I asked her if she could move over but I’m not sure she understood. So I wedged a folding chair in between her and Mom, and I sat facing Mom much of the time. My favorite Elvis impersonator started with Elvis tunes and eventually moved on to Christmas music.

This version of Elvis was a little less flashy. Still a great performer for this venue.

For one song, Mom and I got up to dance. She didn’t move from the spot in front of her chair, and she waved her arms around as if she were conducting. I faced her and danced, sometimes holding one of her hands. She had a beanie baby toy that she enjoyed holding onto – a sloth named “Slowpoke.” I assume those were distributed to residents before I arrived. Either that or Mom had stolen it from someone else… Mr. R and I also danced to one Elvis number. He was in a pretty good mood – good, not great. I ignored him for the most part and focused on Mom. She was in very good spirits, which was a relief because sometimes crowds and loud noise can be difficult for her to endure for a long time. I got her a few snacks early on, and about an hour later, an activities staffer handed Mr. R a plate with a ham salad sandwich and some cookies on it. Without pause, he handed it to Mom. And she began to eat. In the short video I shot, you can see the sloth toy on her lap next to the plate. And this also shows that she retains enthusiasm for eating – especially sweets. She’s got one in each hand. At the very end, the plate slipped off her lap. But no food was lost.

As the party was winding down, I could see signs of restlessness in Mom. She stood up and seemed to want to start walking toward the lobby. I think she had probably had enough of the noise and hubbub. Mr. R made some comment about her being with another man, and he stayed seated. Which was fine with me. I assured him Mom had been with me the whole time. And that I am not a man, but her daughter. He stood, and he and Mom began walking away, toward a couch instead of toward the lobby. And I thought that was a good time to make my own escape. I thanked the staff on the way out, and picked up my flower prize at the front desk.

‘I want my mommy’

That headline – that’s not me talking. Mom said those words today. I went to visit her this morning after a doctor’s appointment. I hoped to also see a support group friend because I heard last night that her husband wasn’t doing well. I found out this morning that he died last night. It is a shock. The last time I saw him, 10 days or so ago, he was all smiles while his wife fed him.

I found Mom walking in the program area with a man I had never met before. I hugged Mom, and she seemed to enjoy being greeted by me. And her gentleman friend held out his hand and introduced himself to me. I told him that I am Emily, Bonnie’s daughter, and he seemed to comprehend what I said. I’ll call him Mr. Beard. He has a beard and he was wearing an Ohio State sweatshirt. I liked him right away. I wondered where Mr. R was and at the same time I was glad he wasn’t around. The door to his room was closed.

Mom, Mr. Beard and I walked around together briefly. Mom seemed just a little bit fussy. She chattered on, but she was knitting her brow from time to time. She didn’t seem quite as content as she has in the past. We sat together on a couch for a short while. I noticed with dismay that it smelled like urine. That’s two of four couches that have that smell. I sat in a chair next to the end of the couch that Mom was sitting on. I touched her hair. It was pretty clean and more curly than usual. She was restless, so we got up again. Mom took my hand and we started walking. I told Mr. Beard I would bring her back, and also said he could come along. He stayed put. He seems laid back and good-natured.

Mom and I walked toward the lobby and in the hallway, she stopped and said, out of the blue, “I want to go home. I want my mommy.” I turned and pulled her toward me and held her in a hug. I held on tight, and for several seconds. I was offering comfort and at the same time hoped I was distracting her from her thoughts. “You seem so happy here,” I said. She seemed to enjoy the hug. We walked into the lobby, where a DVD was playing on the TV. A woman on the TV sang, “The bells are ringing for me and my gal. The birds are singing for me and my gal. …” I don’t think it was Judy Garland, however. Mom stopped and conducted an imaginary orchestra in the air and tried to sing along. She had the rhythm and the sound right, but couldn’t muster the words. We walked down the hall, and I sang that chorus quietly a time or two, all the while holding her hand or stroking her back.

Mom hasn’t said she wants to go home in – well, it’s been so long that I don’t remember it. I frankly don’t know if she has said it at all at the Alz center. Even in assisted living, though she initially complained that she was living in a cave, she showed no residual fondness for the apartment she had just vacated. I assume and fervently hope her desire for home today was a fleeting and one-time thing and that she’ll never say it again. More important, I hope she’ll never feel that feeling. As far as she knows, she is home.

When we returned to the program area, Mom headed back to the stinky couch. She stretched out on it in true Bonnie fashion. I sat in a chair next to her head. I stroked her hair a little bit and she stretched out more completely, fully lying down. She began singing to herself, a song I didn’t recognize. She was entertaining herself. But she also seemed tired. It wasn’t long after breakfast, and I tend to think she feels sleepy after meals. I encouraged her to take a nap. I told her I had to get to work and kissed her goodbye. As I chatted briefly with another support group friend at a nearby table, I saw Mom talking quietly to herself, or maybe singing, while still lying on the couch. I’d like to think that was a sign that she was back to her content self, comfortable and safe in her own little world.

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