Archive for February, 2009|Monthly archive page

Mood swing

Today started out well enough. Decent night’s sleep. Fairly warm morning, less rain than I expected. Got a story finished up quickly. Uneventful meeting. And then I went to the bank.

I have been working with the same investment manager at Mom’s bank since the summer, getting the paperwork done to retrieve her money from annuities, IRAs, etc., and transferring it all to checking so I can pay her assisted living bills. It’s a Chase bank, and this manager moves from branch to branch, but I always go to the branch at Giant Eagle in Clintonville because that was Mom’s bank branch of choice. She became friendly with the staff there, and they were so nice to her as she became sick and probably asked confusing questions and needed guidance in writing out checks for cash. When I took over her banking, they were equally nice to me.

The paperwork was pretty simple. I continue to fret about these two outstanding investment accounts that Mom has with non-local companies. But I just have to assume they will give me her money when I produce a Power of Attorney. But anyhow, the Chase money is handled, her checking account will grow dramatically to cover a few months, and I have bought some more time until I have to begin the Medicaid application process. But while I was sitting there, I overheard a customer complain about the branch closing. All the Giant Eagle bank employees will move to the other Clintonville Chase bank in April. No big deal. No lost jobs. Giant Eagle is under construction, so I assume the bank’s move makes room for more grocery space. But it is Mom’s bank. And it will be gone.

And then my young investment manager friend finished everything up. And he asked how Mom is doing – a really nice thing to do. I try to keep it easy for people who ask because it is nice of them to ask. “She still knows me,” I said. “She’s in good spirits.” She likes where she lives, which is why I need to drain her bank account so she can continue living there, I explained. “Thanks for asking.”

And then I cried in the parking lot. Not a whole lot. It wasn’t a major gusher, just a little sadness. And it has evolved into general irritability and annoyance at every little thing now that I am back at work. I can’t wait for the day to end so I can go to an exercise class that is so intense I can’t think for an hour, boil my skin in a really hot shower, and then veg in front of the TV until I fall asleep. Not much to aspire to, but it comforts me to know that that’s as complicated as my evening will be.

It’s just such a disappointing thing to do, spending all of Mom’s money in this way. She was lucky to have enough money to cover 18 months or so of assisted living. But it’s a shitty way to spend your money, just like Alzheimer’s is a shitty way to end a life.

Scavenger hunt

I visited Mom Sunday afternoon. I left myself lots of time this time. I often visit shortly before a meal so I don’t have to stay long. Not nice, but a sanity-maintaining strategy at times. This time, I arrived more than an hour before dinner and figured I’d just visit for awhile.

Mom was in the lobby with her friends when I arrived, but we went to her apartment to talk and visit. She had left me a voice mail earlier about pennies and coins. In her apartment, she showed me a small box she has that is full of pennies. She’d like to wrap them and turn them in for cash. She thinks she has so many that she’d get a substantial amount of money. I’m thinking there are, say, 150 pennies in this box. But I don’t want to spoil the fun. She didn’t have any wrappers, but we have some at home. Next visit, we’ll wrap pennies together.

Meanwhile, she had a hangnail and wanted some nail clippers to cut it off. She tried using a big binder clip to cut it off, but of course it didn’t work. I looked in her purse because I recall that at one time, she did have clippers in there. This time, no clippers. I also noticed, with some chagrin, that her keys weren’t in her purse, either. She usually keeps them in a red and black makeup case. The keys are attached to a plastic stretchy bracelet so she can keep them around her wrist. There was no sign of keys or the makeup bag in her purse. Similarly, I recently decided I should take her credit card out of her wallet, just for safekeeping, as well as her Medicare and insurance cards. I would have taken her driver’s license, too, but it wasn’t in her wallet or anywhere else in her purse.

With the driver’s license and now her keys missing, I decided to just casually look around her apartment for one or both of these critical items. I looked in drawers, cabinets, under the bed, under the couch, on her dresser, on her bathroom counter. Nothing. She also was going through a drawer in her bedroom, pulling out pictures and pens and putting them on her bed, to help with the search. I am pretty sure she had no idea what to look for. I know she spends time going through pictures, coins, boxes of papers, etc., without any real purpose. So at some point I need to plan for a longer period of time to spend at her place just searching until I can find these lost items, which probably got put away or hidden with other miscellaneous items. I am fatigued by the thought.

And speaking of scavenging, Mom has started a new behavior. She has lots of candy and sweets around her apartment that have been gifts or give-aways at various activities at her facility. Twice while we were looking around, she found stray single M&M candies and tossed them in her mouth. I didn’t think it was a big deal, necessarily, but it was just so out of character and showed such a complete lack of judgment – they are probably dirty, but also, they’ve got to be stale and just not taste that good. But apparently for Mom, there is some reward in any little morsel of candy she can find.


Mom called today. She is out of disposable underwear. I swear, I need to learn to buy LOTS at a single run to the store. That would be a lot easier if stores were properly stocked with her size, extra large. So, I have a lunchtime visit to Target planned, then a swing by her facility. It’s on days like these that I buy some huge, salty portion of food for lunch and then feel sort of gross the rest of the day. It’s as if I already feel fairly bad, so why not take that to the next level, as they say?

I also discovered today that I have been double-counting a certain annuity fund of hers for which I routinely receive two statements. I get one quarterly statement from some outside annuity firm, plus the sum is included on a monthly statement from her bank. It was just today that I realized they are one and the same. Hence, she has thousands of dollars less than I thought. And, this means I have another lunchtime errand scheduled next week, when I have to go to the bank to transfer that annuity into checking so I can write enormous monthly checks for her assisted living care.

Today is not a particularly good day.

Fiscal concerns

I called Mom today – hadn’t talked to her in a few days. I tried yesterday, and got no answer, which I assume meant she was sitting in the lobby or a lounge hanging out with her friends. When I called, she said she was going through coins. She used to have a collection of old liberty silver dollars from my grandpa, but I have stashed those in a safe place for her. So I believe she was just going through dimes and nickels and quarters and, most likely, pennies, counting, sorting, examining, hiding. She seemed sort of obsessed with money today. She counted the cash in her wallet – the amount has been the same for a good six months or so because she never needs to spend any money. But she seemed to think she was low on dough. Interesting, since it’s the subject at the top of my mind now, too.

I predict her money will run out by late spring or summer, which means she will have to move from the private pay assisted-living side of the facility over to the nursing home side, called the care center, which accepts patients on Medicaid. I am doing a little avoiding of this problem, procrastinating about freeing up the last of her IRAs and putting off calls to the bank to move all her money from investments to checking. I know I have to get these things done and I know the sooner the better so I can have a clear picture of her finances. But I don’t want to – mostly out of laziness, for I loathe all things money-related. But also because I am pretty sure I am afraid of the inevitable – the move to the other side. She will have a roommate. She will have to give the cat back to us. She will lose track of her current friends. Her old friends out in the world will probably lose track of her. She may get depressed. She – and I – will have to get used to a whole new set of staff members. Her world will turn upside down, really, and mine will probably go with it, at least for a little while.

A good thing, though it sounds crass, is her memory problems and confusion are such that she might adjust quickly. But I fear she will be sad, afraid or anxious, and those are the three emotions I want her to never have to feel again. And for now, I seem to be trying to prevent those very emotions in myself.


I have been really irritable today, and I still am this evening. Really irritable. Like, don’t touch me irritable. I’m not exactly sure why. I try to do as much as I can to prevent this. I am fairly militant about getting enough sleep. I exercise regularly. I eat relatively well, but sometimes too much. I get therapeutic massage once per month. And I have nothing in particular to complain about – happy marriage, good job, cute house, adorable dogs, lots of friends, etc. etc. So when I get like this, I just assume it’s at least in part attributable to this constant, nagging presence in my mind that I have a sick mom.

It could be guilt. I have been a master at feeling guilt my whole life. I’m great at telling others to live guilt-free. I believe what I say. If only I could live it. I tell Mom’s friends I hope they can be guilt-free about whether they decide to visit her or not. It’s not easy to see her this way, to try to talk to her and get so little in response. I’m not sure there’s any reason I should feel guilt when it comes to her. But I think it is the bane of the caregiver’s existence – I could be doing more, I could be visiting more, I could be cleaning up after her more, I could be helping her dress, I could call her every day, I could be showering her with daughterly attention, I could be making sure she is physically showered more frequently, I could take her to get a haircut, I could be keeping her company more often, I could be stocking her fridge with Coke, I could be buying her cookies, I could be having more meals with her, I could take her out to eat more, I could bring her to my house more often, I could facilitate her outings with friends, I could I could I could I could.

An old friend of hers called me out of the blue on Friday. This woman went to college with Mom, was her roommate at one time. My mom and dad introduced this woman to her husband (whom she later divorced). Her kids and my siblings and I grew up together. But in recent years, she has seen less of Mom, been in touch less often. The same was true from Mom’s end, and at some point, Mom quit initiating contact with friends except for three women she lunched with almost every Tuesday. This friend who called had just heard from another old college friend that Mom has Alzheimer’s. She was stunned. She couldn’t decide if she wants to visit Mom at this point or not, and I completely understand that and will not judge her decision. She feels guilty. But Mom was no better than she was at keeping in touch at the best of times. She has no reason to feel guilt. I wondered: Should I feel guilty for not telling her? Well, I have decided to absolve myself of that. When Mom moved to assisted living, I informed friends and family of her new contact information. That was friends and family who were currently involved with Mom in some way. I didn’t intentionally omit anyone. I actually didn’t have current contact information for this friend. At any rate, I really like this woman and it was really nice to speak with her and catch up. The circumstances just sucked so bad, and it was clear we both felt terribly sad while we were talking. I left out many of the worst details. But one thing was apparent: There is a very good chance Mom no longer knows who she is.

I haven’t experienced that yet. I have the distinction of being the one family member that Mom DOES know virtually all the time. She has forgotten her previously vivid memories of an unhappy childhood with her own sister. When we visited my aunt at Thanksgiving, Mom kept saying to her, “I feel like I should know you…” That was unexpected. She seems to remember my brother, but she sometimes seem to have trouble conceptualizing my sister, especially if both of us are with her. The four of us went to lunch over the Christmas holiday and we said, “We are your family. We are your three children.” She sort of smiled and said, “Really?” She just didn’t understand. But there’s no use being irritable over something like that – she simply cannot help it.

Alzheimer’s in fiction and in real life

I’ve been watching “Away from Her,” in which the beautiful Julie Christie plays a woman with Alzheimer’s. It’s not quite finished – I keep getting interrupted. But so far, I am not convinced by her portrayal. Of course, I am an expert now, or so I think… But really, I’m an expert only on my mother’s disease, and how it began, and what it’s like now. And though I’ve read quite a bit about what sicker Alzheimer’s patients are like, I can really only guess what might happen from here. I wanted to like this movie. I do think it’s pretty good. I relate, no surprise, much more to the husband in the movie. He suffers quietly, but he gets frustrated, he looks at her and expects normalcy to come out of her mouth. And that’s what is most difficult for me to accept in this movie – Julie Christie speaks complete sentences. Everything she says makes sense. She recognizes in her friendship with another man that with him, she’s not confused. And she barely recognizes, or opts not to recognize, her husband after only 30 days in a facility. I don’t buy that at all. He is, after all, part of her long-term memory and not just her recent memory. I’m interested to see how it ends – who knows, I might come around to be more forgiving. I’d like to read the story on which it’s based.

In real life, I visited Mom today and was pleased to find her looking adorable. Sundays can be tricky – Mom’s apartment is cleaned on Monday and she is showered on Tuesday. So by Sunday, both her apartment and her appearance can be pretty rough around the edges. But the apartment looked pretty good, save for the litter boxes, which I scooped. And I found Mom already in the dining room, with fairly neat hair and one of her favorite animal-print shirts on. She also had bright pink pants on, which I loved. They are spring pants, but I was tickled by her choice of such a dramatic color at this time of year. She also was wearing her pink Crocs – one of her two pairs of Crocs. And light blue socks. And a bracelet with multiple colors, including a bit of the same bright pink as her pants.

I think she is still dressing herself, though I see evidence that it might be getting more difficult for her. She’s always got stray socks lying around in odd places, and sometimes in her purse, so I am used to that. Today, she had a pile of clothes neatly stacked on her bed. I THINK the person who washes her clothes also puts them away. So Mom might be retrieving them from the closet to select something, or she might be stacking dirty clothes on her bed. It’s hard to tell. I have decided not to worry too much about this. She has plenty of clothes and I see evidence that she wears different outfits (though she definitely sometimes wears the same outfit for a few days). I once hung up a series of outfits for her on her bedroom door, and the next time I visited, they were gone. I took that as a rejection of my help. And that’s OK. As long as she can do things independently, I want her to do them. She tends to not like to be told what to do, and I can’t say that I blame her for that.

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