Weekend visit

My brother came to visit over the weekend. He lives in New York, but is a visiting music director at a college in Indiana, so he drove over while he is so close and before his show begins its run. The things that went through my mind before he got here were interesting. First, I told him I wouldn’t tell Mom he was coming too soon, because then she might obsess and ask me every day when he was going to get here. Or, she might completely forget. I didn’t want to take the chance she would obsess. Then I thought to myself: What if he’d rather not visit Mom? That is sort of absurd, I suppose, but it did cross my mind. Because it can be difficult to visit Mom. But I just assumed he would plan to see her. He told us roughly when he would arrive and then we didn’t hear much from him anymore in the week leading up to his arrival. I felt a brief panicky need to set an agenda for his visits with Mom and suggested going to the zoo. My sister took Mom to the zoo in the summer or fall, I can’t remember, and it was a big hit. Mom loves to see little kids now and definitely loves animals. She and my sister focused on the apes for that visit. I thought we could try to see the baby elephant with Mom at our zoo. But then my stepmother reminded me that the zoo hosts a family day and Easter egg hunt on the Saturday before Easter so I quickly ruled that out. Too much of a crowd for my taste. And it was unrealistic, too – I sense the baby elephant is a huge draw, and is attracting long lines. That would not work with Mom.

So I told Mom on Thursday that my brother would be here the next day. She said, “Oh, good.” She loves the idea of something social. Then she paused and said, “I’m having trouble remembering who he is.” I told her that was OK, she hadn’t seen him in a long time. He’s her son, my brother. I showed her a picture of me and my two siblings together at Thanksgiving 2006. Oh, yes, she said. OK. I told her not to feel bad about it. She said, “I always know who you are.” And I said yes, that’s right, and that’s because you see me every day. It’s really OK to not remember some people very well. It’s hard when you don’t see them very often. I reminded her he was just here at Christmas, not too long ago. Then I changed the subject.

My brother called Friday to announce his arrival in town and noted he was making the call from the parking lot of Mom’s facility. I was happy about that, that he was visiting her first thing. I knew she’d think it was fun to have a visitor. He said later that she seemed fine. I had told him Mom talks in a sort of circular way and it can be tough to follow her. He said she made references to a second cat and he wondered about that. I told him she’s just generally confused about cat issues a lot of the time. On Saturday, we planned to take her to lunch at Bob Evans – always an easy way to please her. I picked her up with plans to meet my brother and husband at the restaurant. Mom and I were early, and they were both a little late. She asked me a good six or seven times: “Who else is coming? Do I know them?” And I explained each time: my husband and her son, who is also my brother (and of course I used their names). Sometimes she is repetitive like that, and sometimes she’s not. I almost felt she was a little anxious about it – an unknown, even though it was a positive thing. Once they arrived, we all got to chatting, and we had to be careful not to talk about things that didn’t include Mom: dinner later with our Dad and his wife, a vacation we’re trying to plan in May in North Carolina. It used to be Mom would catch on to stuff like that, even after the diagnosis, and she would just come right out and say: “What about me?” She didn’t seem to follow us very well this time. And in fact we tried to deliberately quit talking amongst ourselves and include her. She sits contentedly and quietly a lot now, but we didn’t want her to feel alone at a table with three other people. It went smoothly. We followed that with a visit to Kohl’s, where I bought Mom some powder blush. She said she wanted some pink for her cheeks.

On Sunday we made one final stop at Mom’s before my brother was heading out of town. He and I visited Mom together, just for about 20 minutes before her lunch was set to begin. At one point, she said, “Where are we going today?” But we reminded her that she was going to eat lunch in the dining room as usual, my brother had to go back to work and I had to do my Sunday chores – laundry and groceries. True, and something I tell her every Sunday, pretty much. We dropped her off at the dining room and she hugged us both. On our way out, I asked my brother if he was sad. “Just a little,” he said. He said he has put up armor against the sadness about Mom. I understand that. I was afraid I might be too matter of fact about everything and didn’t want to either force him to talk about something he didn’t want to discuss or miss an opportunity to let him talk if he wanted to. He didn’t feel any need to talk specifically about his emotions related to Mom. We did talk about how her behavior has changed somewhat, and that she is generally more quiet. I told him about the ants, and about how she says she doesn’t have an apartment anymore, and about how confused she can be about the cat. We kept the details about Mom brief. We touched on the fact that this summer, sometime in August, Mom will move to the nursing home. He and my sister will be here around that time for that, and for a family vacation my Dad and his wife organize every summer for the six siblings and spouses/partners. This year, we’re keeping it cheap and simple, having a staycation in our hometown. That is very good for me and my husband, the only “kids” who live in the same city as Dad. No travel required. Flexibility to see Mom through what may or may not be a difficult time for her. And lots of family support in case it’s a tough time in general.

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