Archive for May, 2009|Monthly archive page

The cat food is missing

I’ve made two quick visits to see Mom before lunch today and on Friday. I have switched the cat to canned food with hopes he will eat more, so I have to return more frequently to change that food. I also realize I should visit more frequently to coax Mom into a new outfit every couple of days since it’s clear she won’t change without the suggestion, and the facility staff won’t pick out something new for her to wear, even on shower day.

I hadn’t been to visit since my sister and I dropped off Mom on Tuesday for dinner. When I arrived Friday, I could see that she hadn’t yet gone in to the dining room, but she also wasn’t in her room. I worried for a bit, because her purse was in her apartment. It’s very rare for her to go anywhere without that purse. But I figured she was in an activity somewhere. She also had not been with her pals in the lobby. I found the canned cat food bowl on the bathroom counter, covered with a layer of dark mold. I was glad to see Mom had thought it wise to move the bowl away from the cat when it got gross like that. (Or I suppose it could have been a staff member.) I cleaned out that bowl and put in half a can of fresh food, leaving the other half in the little mini-fridge Mom has in her kitchen area. I went out in the hall to see if I could locate Mom, and I saw her in the midst of a small parade moving from the first-floor lounge into the dining room. They must have had the news activity, where the activities director reads the paper to the residents. I caught Mom before she sat down and asked her to come back to her apartment with me. She was wearing the clothes I had put on her on Monday – beige pants and a turquoise shirt – plus a gray sweater and a red fleece jacket. It was a little cooler than usual, but I was shocked at how bundled up she was. I took off those two jackets and put the sweater in her laundry. I’m not even sure it’s hers. I don’t recognize it. I told her I thought she’d feel better if she changed her outfit. I don’t really ask her permission now – I just started taking her clothes off, shirt first. Then pants, then two pairs of underwear. Sigh. At least the inner pair didn’t look as … used, I guess you could say, as the last pair had that I had removed earlier in the week. I picked out white pants and a cute long-sleeved striped T-shirt, sort of greenish-blue, for her. She looked nice and springy. I combed her hair and shuffled her off to the dining room, where residents were already eating their soup.

Today when I arrived, Mom was sitting the lobby with one of her friends. I could hear her muttering that she hadn’t seen me in awhile. I told her it had been just two days. I told her I wanted to check on the cat and asked her to come with me. In her apartment, I found the dry cat food bowl partly empty, but the wet food bowl was not on the floor in her bedroom. I looked on the bathroom counter for it. Not there. Not in the kitchen area. Not in any drawers that I checked. Not on the bench by the window. Not in the fridge. I have no idea what she might have done with that bowl, and I have no idea what the food within it might look like at this point, but after only two days I hoped it wouldn’t be too nasty. I picked another bowl from her kitchen counter and put the remaining half of canned food in it. I held it under the cat’s nose to encourage his interest in it. Then I put it on the floor and also freshened the dry food bowl and put out clean water. Mom didn’t know what I was asking about regarding the cat food bowl.

She paused to pee in the bathroom, and while she was at it, I decided to at least change her underwear. Her clothes looked pretty good. As I was pulling her pants off with a new pair of disposable underwear in my hand, she said, “I just put this pair on this morning,” like I was some kind of fool. She normally wouldn’t remember such a detail. I chose to believe her and left it at that. But then I suggested she put on some deodorant just for good measure, and she agreed to that. I combed her hair, which was a little wild. “I feel so much better,” she said. She meant just because she was seeing me, if only briefly. But overall her spirits seemed quite good; she was not saying anything negative about her living circumstances. She did say in the lobby that nobody there knows her. Her friend playfully punched her in the arm and said, “Come on, Bon, I’m your next door neighbor!” I told Mom everybody there knows her and that she’s popular. And she sort of did a little cheesecake grin and pose at that suggestion.

I have been watching the mail for the money from her annuity, which has not yet arrived and which I need to pay her June bill. This week I will be tending to that and starting the process on the last annuity. I believe this week starts the Medicaid application process as well. Should be interesting.

A cleansing cry

I just watched one of the episodes of HBO’s “The Alzheimer’s Project.” The episode about caregivers. It made me cry. I am still crying a little bit. I think I might be overdue for some weeping, so it is not bothering me. It bothered one of my dogs, who came over to me on the couch and started nudging me when I took the crying up a notch. Funny how dogs do that.

This episode tells the stories of several families, most of them people taking care of their partners. I first felt a little twinge when the young-ish man taking care of his father was featured. He took his dad into his home. Eventually, his girlfriend moved out as a result. So he was punished for this incredibly unselfish thing he did. He seemed to not be regretful. Eventually his dad moved into a group home, where he caused some trouble by wandering around at night, his disposable underwear drooping. And once when he and his son were taking a walk with the dog as part of this documentary, the dad’s pants just plain fell down. And the son just pulled them back up and got him situated. That’s what you do. Pants falling down, droopy adult diapers. It’s just part of the Alzheimer’s patient’s life, eventually. There should be no shame associated with it. And yet this young man was having trouble sustaining friendships because of his caregiving. I am lucky I am not experiencing that. But then, I never took Mom into my home. I was determined not to from the very beginning. For many reasons. And I have decided not to feel guilty about that.

And then a woman whose husband has Alzheimer’s was doing an interview, and the interviewer asked: Do you ever need a shoulder to cry on? And she said yes. And sometimes it’s her own shoulder. Whoosh, the tears started immediately. This woman has children and grandchildren. I have a husband and siblings and friends. Yet sometimes the caregiver suffers alone. And it is OK. My husband is out right now. It can be easier to cry alone, really. But it also speaks to the loneliness of the caregiving experience, I think. The interviewer also asked her if she missed the man she married. Yes, she said, and she thinks he could still be in there, and she asks him sometimes to come out and be with her. He was at the end stage when the documentary was filmed. And it made me think of the time a friend of Mom’s – this was about two years ago, when the friend was still trying to have regular lunches with Mom – said she missed Mom. It’s weird to miss someone whose body is right there in front of you, but whose personality is so dramatically altered by a terrible brain disease. It can make a person want to cry.

Two days, two outings with Mom

My sister’s visit inspired some efforts to get Mom out and about, to entertain her, to change her scenery, and, ultimately, to find the most satisfying way to spend time with her (as opposed to hanging out in her apartment). So on Monday, Memorial Day, we planned for lunch and then a walk around Mirror Lake on Ohio State University’s campus. Years ago, Mom worked in Pomerene Hall, right next to Mirror Lake. And she seems to like animals, so we thought she’d enjoy the ducks.

We opted for a new restaurant – the Blue Danube, a fun campus bar and restaurant and one of Mom’s favorite watering holes during the height of her active alcoholism. My sister Laura, Mom and I went there and met my husband, Patrick. Mom’s first stop at the Dube was the bathroom. She had been talking about pooping a lot, and sure enough, upon our arrival, she announced that she had to poop. I monitored her progress and made sure no one barged in on her. It’s a one-seater with a stall door, but Mom left the stall door open. Once she finished, I flushed for her and encouraged her to wash her hands, which she did.

With no pot roast hash on the menu, we settled on a cheeseburger and fries for Mom, plus a big glass of Coke. I had huevos rancheros. While we were all eating, Mom blurted out, “I like eggs.” I offered her a piece of one of my over-easy eggs and put it on her plate. She picked it up with her hand and ate it. She seemed satisfied with the burger, too, and finished the whole thing. She didn’t talk much during the meal. She doesn’t really talk much at all anymore unless prompted, and my sister noticed this.

Patrick left us to go work around the house, and Laura, Mom and I headed for campus. I parked behind the Faculty Club and we walked down a small hill to the south Oval and then over to Mirror Lake. There were ducks everywhere. Mom seemed only marginally interested in them. We sat along a wall when Mom said she was tired. One duck popped up out of the water and stared at us, I assume hoping we would feed it. It eventually returned to the lake. Mom seemed to daydream or sit and stare. She complained of being hot. We walked about halfway around the lake and turned around to go back. She had had enough. We paused again on the stone wall before heading toward the car. Before we walked back up the hill to the car, we paused on a bench. Going up the hill, Laura and I each put a hand on Mom’s back and helped her walk up the hill. She lives a very sedentary life, but I think Laura and I were both surprised at how tired she was.

We dropped her off back at her assisted living facility and encouraged her to take a nap. Laura and I ended up napping, too. We spent the evening with our dad and his wife.

We got lucky on Tuesday with no rain in sight, and set out to take Mom to the zoo as we had planned. We let her eat lunch in her routine surroundings, hoping she might be more animated in the afternoon. Laura was discouraged by Mom’s grogginess and general gloomy demeanor the previous day and was looking for signs of the sparkle that Mom had retained and demonstrated on my siblings’ previous visits. Otherwise, Laura was taking the visit in stride, and said she did not struggle with what now seems to be Mom’s complete lack of memory of who Laura is. When Laura and I arrived on Monday, Mom was waiting for us in the lobby. She and Laura looked at each other and Laura said, “I’m Laura. I’m your daughter.” A little later, Mom said, “You seem familiar. I feel like I’ve known you for a long time.” “You’ve known me for 48 years,” Laura replied. They both laughed. But it does seem clear now that Mom’s status as a mother seems completely lost. She now refers to having met me, too, so she doesn’t know how we are related. And yet I call her Mom, and Laura called her Mom. And she answered to that. Maybe she doesn’t know what the word “Mom” means, either. I call her Bonnie sometimes, too, mostly when I’m kidding around.

Before we left, we wanted to check into a little something the nurse had told me on the phone Tuesday morning. Mom had complained to the nurse that the cat’s nail was broken. So in her apartment, I picked him up and looked at all his paws, much to his chagrin. No broken claws. Laura, smartly, asked to see Mom’s fingernails. Mom’s left thumbnail was snagged and torn away on one side. More evidence that Mom uses that cat to describe herself. I fished some clippers out of Mom’s purse and fixed her thumbnail. “You saved me,” she said. Meanwhile, I noticed she had an empty styrofoam cup in her purse.

Off to the zoo, where there is a baby elephant that we wanted Mom to see. Mom said she liked the long ride in the car. I dropped her and Laura at the entrance and parked. Laura and I asked Mom if she wanted a wheelchair to save her the fatigue of walking. She wanted to start out without one and see how things went. When Laura took her to the zoo last summer, Mom flatly refused to use a wheelchair. But they successfully walked all the way to the gorilla exhibit, which was what Mom wanted to see. So this time she was at least open to the idea, even if she initially said no. We followed the path to the elephant exhibit, and there was the baby, walking around with his mother. Mom seemed to enjoy him, somewhat. She has developed a real affection for human babies, but I think her animal interest is waning. She looked at the elephants, but complained of being hot and tired. So she sat on a bench. Laura and I took a few pictures, asked the zoo staff some questions. Decided not to prolong the visit. Walking away from the exhibit, we convinced Mom a wheelchair would be helpful to her.

Laura and Mom paused at a snack bar for Cokes while I went to rent a wheelchair. When I returned, we decided to snack on fries and spring rolls. Mom ate a few fries, but not many. She eventually spilled her Coke, which splashed on her pants and her purse. Laura and I cleaned her up. Laura fed a Canada goose a french fry, and its beak touched her hand, freaking her out. The goose then stood next to her for several minutes, hoping for more. Mom held out her hand to say hello to that goose and a few others. I’m glad none of the geese decided to bite her.

I thought Mom might like the manatees, so we headed toward that exhibit. Laura pushed Mom’s wheelchair. It was a funny sight. Laura is petite, but strong. Mom has gained weight since her diagnosis as her activity diminished and especially as she obtained access to three square meals a day in assisted living. Laura could handle the wheelchair on hills, but she would stretch her entire body out straight to get as much assistance from her legs as she could. And then going down a hill, she would maintain a steady grip so as not to lose control of the chair. She and I were laughing a lot of the time, but Mom didn’t seem to notice. Mom has this disease-related behavior of constantly picking at her chin, and she sat in the chair, picking her chin and looking off into the distance until we suggested she look at the latest exhibit we had come across. She said she was enjoying herself, and I believe her. But I noticed more than ever that she quickly withdraws into her own world, or thoughts, or quiet mind, even with lots of new flowers, animals, children right before her eyes.

After the manatees we went on a long journey to see a tiger and some lions. I eventually took over the wheelchair pushing. I wasn’t as skilled as Laura. I rammed Mom into a little wall at the lions and didn’t do a good job of parking her so she could stand up to see the sleeping tiger. A couple of times, Mom offered to start walking, but we encouraged her to stay in the chair, where she seemed quite comfortable. We could cover more ground faster that way. And we figured she’d eventually opt to sit down again anyhow. We decided to save North America for a later summertime visit and headed to the exit. We bought Mom a little elephant keychain at the gift shop. When you push a button on its back, it gives off a little elephant trumpeting sound. Mom held onto that elephant for the duration of the ride home, which included a stop at Graeter’s for ice cream. She still had it in her hand when we dropped her off in the dining room. Because of a little commotion in the dining room, Laura didn’t get to say a proper goodbye. But she said she wasn’t sad. Then Laura and I treated ourselves to pedicures.

Mom occasionally fretted during these two days about not getting along with people at her facility. “I wish I could change,” she’d say. Or “I wish I could be better.” It was troubling, particularly for my sister. And then in the car on the way to the zoo, out of nowhere, she said, “I didn’t have a mother.” Really, we said. “No, because she was drunk all the time.” This was true about my grandmother, but she wasn’t the only drunk one in the house. My grandpa drank, too, and my mom and her sister endured that all the years they were growing up. Laura and I didn’t say much. And then she said, “I wouldn’t have been very good at it anyway.” Laura said, “What, motherhood?” And she said yes. Now, was she referring all along to her own drunkenness? We will never know. The Alzheimer’s brain is a mysterious thing. And as for not getting along with people, the nurse later told me that Mom had been sitting in the lobby Monday morning when two other residents had a fight. Mom sat quietly and wasn’t involved. But I assume she absorbed the feelings of tension and in her memory of it, applied the events to herself. That was a relief to Laura. I am hoping the next time I talk to Mom, a new experience at her home will have replaced that memory. I can’t count on her remembering anything about the two days Laura and I spent with her.

Poop city

I didn’t see or talk to Mom from Wednesday’s lunch and grooming session to Sunday just before dinner. I didn’t intend for that to be the case, but knowing my sister would be arriving Sunday evening, I guess I was subconsciously thinking that we would make up for that lost visit time. And then on Sunday afternoon, I dozed off for a nap and woke up at 4:30, just a half hour before Mom’s dinner. I jumped up and raced to her facility, getting there in 10 minutes. But she was already in the dining room, as was everyone else, so I just went to her apartment to take a look at what might need some adjustment before my sister’s arrival.

The couch cushions were all over the floor – a common thing. I’m not really sure what goes through Mom’s mind with regard to the cushions, but she tends to scatter them about the little living room. I put them back in place. The cat was lying on the table, a new spot, possibly cooler since it was a hot day. I went into the bathroom, saw very little litter activity, and then noticed, unfortunately, that there was a smear of poo on Mom’s toilet seat. I cleaned that off, washed my hands, and tried to clean it a little more thoroughly. And washed my hands again. Then to the bedroom, where I could see in the cat food bowls that mold had grown at the bottom of both bowls. At about this point, I felt like an utter failure. I threw away the food and washed the bowls and refilled them with fresh dry food. The cat came in immediately to eat. I watched him, and noticed he was having trouble chewing. He gave up pretty quickly, to my horror. He got up on the bed. I checked his mouth – no sore on his tongue like the other cat. I assumed he must have a bad tooth, meaning I need to take him to the vet. I found the spiky little brush in a drawer by Mom’s bed, and gave him a good brushing, because he’s not doing a very good job of grooming himself latelyk. He meowed a lot, perhaps in complaint, perhaps because he has always been a vocal kitty.

I wanted to pop in on Mom before she had been served her dinner, so I scooted into the dining room to say hello. She had on a red shirt, which was new since I last saw her, but also had on the same gray pants I had encouraged her to put on on Wednesday. Which made me wonder about her underwear status. I didn’t notice a strong smell, so that was good. I told her I was just visiting quickly but that my sister and I would be visiting her tomorrow to spend some time with her. She stood up, threw her hands in the air, and yelled “Hallelujah!” I was amused and stunned, feeling that I need to stop these disruptions to her meals because of her unpredictable behavior. I hugged her and said goodbye.

I realized I ought to get the cat some canned food that he can actually eat. I considered waiting until the next day to bring it, knowing I’d be back. But I realized the poor guy was hungry and made a quick trip to a nearby Kroger to buy him some food. Upon my return to Mom’s apartment, no more than 15 minutes later, I found him back in his favorite spot by the window in the living room, but also noticed he had pooped on Mom’s bed. I was both dismayed, of course, to discover this, but also relieved that he has managed recently to get enough nutrition to produce some poop. It was an easy cleanup. I then sprayed the bed and couch with two kinds of odor neutralizers just for good measure. I then opened a can of food and put it in his bowl and held it in front of him on his bench by the window. He dug right in. I moved it back to the feed spot in Mom’s bedroom and carried him to it, and he kept working on it. Poor hungry kitty, poor poopy kitty.

I wondered what Mom might make of the cat food change. I assume she’ll notice it. I just hope she leaves it alone and leaves the empty can in the trash. I’ll find out soon enough. Today we’re taking her to lunch and to campus, where we think she might enjoy walking around Mirror Lake looking at the ducks. The plan for the next day: a trip to the zoo to see the baby elephant.


I took Mom to lunch today. I didn’t tell her in advance. I was afraid I might wake her up with a phone call. But I did call the facility to tell staff Mom would not be having lunch in today. So when I got to the facility, she was in the dining room, and was being a little grumpy with one of the aides who was trying to explain to her that she wasn’t going to be eating lunch in the dining room today. I arrived in just about the nick of time, before Mom got really cranky. She just doesn’t understand explanations of any kind, really. And she doesn’t take no for an answer very well as a result. When she got up from her table, one of her table-mates said she’s lucky she gets to go out. We made just a little bit of a scene, but then we went straight out the door to the car.

Mom was funny – so relieved to be going on an outing. She was irritated by the exchange she had just had with the aide. But she quickly forgot about it. We took the short drive to Bob Evans. I tried to see if Mom could articulate anything about the general complaints she has had lately, but she couldn’t. She seems a little bored, I think, which worries me. I thought she was withdrawing and therefore not really troubled by boredom. She said people are harder to get along with, but I don’t know if she means friends or staff. And it could be they’re hard to get along with because she is having a harder and harder time with any kind of verbal communication. Hard to tell. I just tried to pep her up by saying it was a nice, sunny day and a good day to get out.

At lunch, I ordered the usual pot roast hash for her and a big salad for me. Blueberry bread for me and biscuits for her. When the breads came, Mom examined a butter container. She started reading the label: Fresh Buttery …. she was unsure of the next word, which was Taste. I asked her if she wanted butter on her biscuits and she said yes. And she said I could do it. I try not to automatically treat her as if she is helpless in case it insults her. But she has given over some tasks to me, and when she says it out loud like that, I’m happy to do anything for her. I split a biscuit and put butter on both sides. She started eating it, getting butter on her upper lip that ended up staying there for about half the meal. She eventually decided to do her own buttering on the other biscuit. She spread butter on the top and sides as if she were frosting a cake.

When the meal came, she tended to pick at it. She at first lifted her spoon to eat, but I reacted to that and at the same time she located her fork next to her plate. Every time she put that fork down, she lost track of it under her plate. She picked at potatoes mostly, and didn’t seem to eat as heartily as she has in the past. She filled up quickly. She drank Coke today instead of coffee, and drank one full glass and asked for another. She complained of being full and started to burp repeatedly. “I’m bubbling up,” she said. She seemed to think she had to finish the second Coke, but I convinced her she didn’t have to eat or drink anything she didn’t want. She did make observations about my appetite, commenting on the (large) size of my salad and my ability to eat just about all of it. She hasn’t made comments like that in quite awhile. I noticed her hands trembling from time to time. I wonder if she still might be reacting to being weaned from the antipsychotic. The nurse called me today with a big prescription refill notice, and said that another nurse had written some notes on Mom’s behavior last week while I was gone. Apparently Mom did a few odd things, but nothing that required a call to me while I was away. She couldn’t find the notes, but said she’d let me know what they said when she did locate them. I’m always interested to hear reports about Mom’s habits when I’m not around.

As for not being around, Mom said a number of times that it is so helpful to her to have me spend time with her. She said she was glad to see me. Glad I helped her. “Gratified,” she said one time. She only said it multiple times because she didn’t remember she had said it before, but hearing that repeatedly is having an effect on me, like I should visit more often if it gives her this feeling of relief she describes. She also made references to my decision to stay where I am. I’ve tried to say I’m not going anywhere, I’ve lived in the same house for 10 years. But something is out of sync in her mind about me and I guess checking with me about it was her way of convincing herself she is not going to be abandoned by me.

One thing I noticed fairly quickly today was that Mom smelled. This was not her armpits or musty clothes. She smelled like pee. And I was angry about it. I don’t know what it’s like to work in assisted living, but if I were a nurse or an aide and I smelled obvious pee on a resident, I would like to think I would help that resident fix the problem. Mom also has complained a lot recently about the hairs on her chin. And I noticed her fingernails were quite long today. So I decided upon our return to her apartment that we would have a quick grooming session.

First, I sat her on the toilet seat – the bathroom has decent light – and put the tweezers that I finally remembered to carry to use on her chin. I pulled a good 20 to 30 hairs out, some long, some short, some gray, some brown. “Wow, there are a lot,” she said. I tried not to hurt her. I still left a few, but got the bulk of them yanked. Then I clipped her fingernails. She had been doing this herself up until fairly recently. And then I told her I thought the clothes she was wearing were too warm and that she’d feel better if she changed. She had on blue pants and a blue T-shirt that I’m pretty sure she was wearing on Sunday and a purple velour top over that. She was agreeable, but then again, didn’t seem to know what I wanted her to do. I picked out gray cotton pants, a pale blue T-shirt and a light blue cotton jacket and asked her if she liked the outfit. She approved. She sat in a chair in her bedroom. I said she should start to take her clothes off, but she didn’t seem to understand. So I grabbed her two shirts and pulled them over her head. I put the new shirt on her. I told her she had to stand to take off her pants. I deposited all of her clothes into her basket. And then I told her I figured she ought to change her underwear, and I had a disposable pair at the ready. She started to put them on over the ones she was wearing. I stood her up and pulled on her underwear, and was dismayed that she was wearing two pairs. “Oh,” I said, “you have on two pairs!” This was more an expression of my realization of why she smelled rather than anything meaningful for her to hear. I threw those away, almost gagging at the sight of the pair closer to her body. She was able to put the clean pair on by herself, and then her gray pants. I put new socks on her and she stood up and I helped her into her jacket. All fresh, I thought. And not a moment too soon.

Doing all of this also made me think she might very well be better off in the nursing home, where staff will fully expect to have to help people with these kinds of tasks. At least I really hope they expect to, because that is my expectation.

Some vacation images

My husband and I went to Bald Head Island, N.C., for the week. It’s a terrific vacation spot. Beaches, maritime forest, no cars – just golf carts, quiet, a good place to do a whole lot of nothing.

The beach at Bald Head Island

A co-worker suggested I post some photos of vacation images that gave me respite from the grind of looking after Mom. There weren’t many people around so we often had a huge expanse of beach to ourselves.

Maritime forest

I love the forest on this island. It is so pretty.


I am sort of blue today. Possibly mainly caused by fatigue. My vacation is over. But that typically does not make me sad. I loved this vacation. It was just wonderful, relaxing, a beautiful place, lots of beach time. But by the time we left, I was ready to get home. I like home life. I like routine. I like my job. So too much nonroutine time is sort of tough for me. We had a slightly stressful end to the vacation, with some car trouble. Caused us a three-hour departure delay but could have been much worse. I am doing my routine Sunday things today – laundry, groceries, tidying. And visiting with Mom.

I went over about 45 minutes before lunch. I bought some cookies to take with me. I haven’t taken her cookies for quite awhile. She went through a spell of really demanding to have cookies at all times. Now I see the cookies she does eat – probably from the dining room – in pieces all over her apartment, in her purse, still in boxes in which they arrived. So these cookies will probably go to waste. But I wanted to take her something since I had been away.

I was sad to find outside the facility that the Canada goose nest was surrounded by overgrown grass. The mother goose was gone. Two eggs still lay in the nest there, I assume bad eggs that produced no babies. But worst of all was a dead baby lying right there in the nest as well. It had yellow downy feathers. It was sort of hard to recognize, as it had been flattened a bit, perhaps by the rain that I heard about but missed while we were gone. Seeing the dead gosling just broke my heart. I have been close to tears every since. I know this will pass. I don’t know why nature sometimes makes me so sad. So I wasn’t in the best frame of mind when I went in to see Mom. But I’m also relieved that Mom isn’t as interested in the “thingamajig,” as she last called the goose nest, as she was last year. I hope someone clears away the dead baby. I don’t want Mom to see that. She won’t like it.

I found her in her apartment, and I think she had just woken up from a nap, but I wasn’t sure. She seemed blue, as well. Her hair was a total mess. She sat on the couch and said things haven’t been going well. The people aren’t as nice. The people are hard to deal with. I don’t know if she had a fight with someone, or perhaps was dreaming about things going badly. She said the cat had been sick. I asked if she felt sick and she said yes, that she had chills. She looked just a little bit peaked. But I thought this could all relate to being asleep. The place didn’t smell all that great, but it wasn’t a strong urine odor. The smell was strongest in her bathroom, and I thought it could have been that the towels supplied by the facility were sort of musty. But I certainly don’t know for sure. She said, “I thought I might never see you again.” I said I am back now from being away and that I’m not going anywhere again for a long time. I reminded her that I had called her a few times while I was gone. “You did?” she said. I did call her, and she seemed fine when I talked to her. But seeing me again seemed to provide relief to her. “It helps me immensely to have you here,” she said. She said she’d like to get away for a few days. She has expressed interest in travel before, but of course it is no longer in her future. I told her we’d go to lunch this week.

I looked in her purse to find a comb so I could comb her hair. Its contents this time included a sock, cookie crumbs, cat food, two pairs of scissors and a disposable razor. It makes me chuckle just now to think about it, though at the time I was fishing the comb out, I didn’t like all the food crumbs. After combing her hair, I plunged my hand into the purse twice and just brought out fistfuls of as much of the crumbs as I could grab. I think it could upset Mom to see me dump all her belongings out of the purse, so I tried to clean it a little without any drastic action. She complained of bothersome hairs on her chin, so I have since placed a pair of tweezers in my purse so the next time I see her, I can tweeze her chin. I scooped the litter – again, not much to scoop. The cat isn’t looking so good. He isn’t thin, but he has lost weight. He is not grooming. I combed him for a little while and he tolerated it well. That, too, made me sad, as even though he hasn’t lived with me for quite awhile, he was sort of “my” cat in the way that our other cat had been my husband’s. This cat has always been sort of independent, but he would sit with me quite a bit, especially before we got dogs. He is about 13 years old. Not ancient, but definitely showing age more than he ever has before. He has always been quite fat and maybe that is now taking some toll, even though his health was never particularly bad when he was fat.

I found that Mom had left clumps of toilet paper and tissues all over the place. In her purse, on her coffee table, by the bed and on the bed. This made me wonder if she had been sick and blowing her nose. Except she showed no signs of illness of that sort today. I cleaned up all the stray tissue and threw it away. I also replaced her almost-gone toilet paper roll. She has had a funny relationship with toilet paper during her time in assisted living. She has always tended to think someone wants to steal it. She used to hide rolls in drawers and cupboards. One can only guess what the housekeeping staff thought of all the disappearing toilet paper, but they always made sure there was plenty of extra in Mom’s apartment. I imagine she would find a new roll, move it, and then think it had been stolen. She has a few suspicions like this, but thankfully she is not fully paranoid about everything.

I dropped her off at the dining room and checked the mail. The company holding an annuity that I am trying to surrender sent her a note trying to talk her out of canceling the contract. The letter said the cancellation as requested is being processed, but encouraged Mom to call to discuss other options. It’s a measly five thousand dollars, I thought to myself. Just let it go. How annoying to have a company place no trust in a customer to know what the hell she wants with her own money. I was happy to see that the cancellation and surrender is progressing, but I am going to call the letter writer to ensure that the process is really moving along. I will need that money to pay for assisted living in June. And still need to surrender one more annuity.

So now I am quickly back to the usual grind. I’m already glad a long holiday weekend is in my future, I’m sure just because I am feeling tired. Ten hours in a car can do a number on the body. I’m sure this mood will pass. Also my sister is visiting next weekend, something to look forward to. For now I think I will read a book to occupy my mind so I can stop feeling sorry for myself.

Mother’s Day and a mom with dementia

I became increasingly upset by Mother’s Day marketing this past week or so. It is really amazing how every product known to humankind suddenly becomes the next best Mother’s Day gift opportunity. I did not expect this. I imagine people whose mothers have died have a terrible time with this holiday. It’s not so great with a mother with dementia, either.

Last year, Mom thought I was the one who deserved some sort of recognition for Mother’s Day. She referred to a facility calendar mentioning the holiday and said, “I’m sorry – I don’t have anything for you.” I just laughed it off at the time, told her she certainly had nothing to worry about. I might have even tried to explain to her that she was actually the mom, but I simply can’t recall. She still calls me her daughter from time to time when she introduces me to people at the facility. But when talking TO me for the past year or even more, she has said, on a phone message, for example, “This is Bonnie, Emily’s daughter… .” Or otherwise indicated in some way that she no longer had our relationship straight. The concept of having had children doesn’t seem to resonate with her. Relationships seem to be difficult for her. She calls her other children “relatives” sometimes. She recently referred to “our relatives from the north,” but I really didn’t know whom she was referring to. She also recently referred to having “met” me rather than having given birth to me. When she recently complimented my skin, I said, “I got that from you.” That made no sense to her at all.

The facility planned a special Mother’s Day lunch event. I missed it last year – inadvertently planning a vacation over Mother’s Day. This year, I realized my vacation would coincide with Mother’s Day again and really felt no remorse over that. The facility activities director called to check on whether I’d be attending the lunch. I said no, I will be out of town, and Mom won’t notice because she doesn’t realize it’s Mother’s Day. Agreed. A day later, I had stopped in to visit Mom and the receptionist asked what my Mother’s Day plans were. I repeated that I wouldn’t be there, and that Mom wouldn’t care. I suggested signing up Mom for the first of the two seatings for the lunch, because she would follow the crowd in thinking it was a regular lunch day. At Thanksgiving, I signed us all up for the second of three seatings at their special weekend-before event. When my husband and I arrived for the noon seating, Mom was in the dining room already, having finished her lunch during the earlier seating. That in particular led me to believe she wouldn’t notice my absence today.

I did call her this morning. I woke her up at about 9:15 a.m., which makes me wonder if she is routinely missing breakfast or if she can drift off that quickly after that meal. She seemed OK. She said, “Did you have a nice time?” and I told her I was just relaxing, and had driven all day to get where I was. I told her she’d be having a special lunch today. “Will you be here?” she asked. I said no, I was away on a trip. “Who’s going to take me places?” she said. I told her she didn’t have to go anywhere – that the lunch was right there at her facility and things would be pretty much the same, but the food would be better. “What’s the news?” she asked. I told her I had no real news, was just checking on her. I asked about the cat. He was fine. We agreed we were done talking and she said: “Bye!” So, we’re off to a good start.

I did not give Mom anything for Mother’s Day. In general, gifts no longer carry much meaning for her. At Christmas, she received several gifts, but in the course of opening them, forgot about the items she had earlier unwrapped. She didn’t recognize anything for long as something new she had received for a holiday known as Christmas. So now that this holiday is over I won’t have to be annoyed anymore by the Mother’s Day marketing. And I won’t have to feel guilty by suggestions (my perception) by facility staff that I should actually be there on Mother’s Day. They witness Mom’s behavior regularly. They should know her cognitive awareness is pretty limited. Mostly it will just be nice not to be reminded anymore that I don’t have a mother looking forward to a spa day, or flowers, or cosmetics, or perfume, or a gift card, or a special brunch, or fancy chocolates. A new pair of socks, maybe. A jar of almonds, probably. Something memorable, not necessary anymore.

Goodbye for a week

I visited Mom quite briefly today before my departure for vacation. I caught her shortly before dinner. I stocked her underwear drawer to the brim with disposable pants and scooped the litter. The litter has been a little short on pee and poop lately. I hope that means Mom is scooping and not that the cat is ill or not eating or anything of that sort. I saw him today and he looked fine, resting on the bed. Mom seemed pretty eager to go to dinner. I reminded her that I was going on a little trip but that I would call her and be back before she knew it. She seemed completely unimpressed by that information. Which is good. I did ask how she was doing, and she said, “Not so good,” but she didn’t go on to attempt to explain anything that is wrong. Maybe that is her current default answer. She did not seem depressed or confused. Just sort of a little blank. While I was scooping the litter, bent over, she did poke me in the butt. Which I found amusing. “I feel ornery,” she said. I love it when she is playful like that.

I stopped to talk to the head nurse about any med refills that might come up during the week. I asked that they be filled at the facility pharmacy rather than at Kroger, where I go regularly to pick up refills they have called in. I just had to give verbal permission to make this arrangement. I figure when Mom moves to the nursing home side, I will transfer all her meds to the facility pharmacy. I suspect that will make monetary transactions easier – in that Medicaid will cover it all. The nurse asked what I thought about Mom and whether she has shown any major changes. Today was her last day on the antipsychotic, and for a week she has taken a reduced dose. I told her I thought Mom had been more prone to say she was depressed, but that she also seemed a little less completely befuddled and confused. Still plenty confused, but not quite so cyclical in her concerns. And not crying or anything, just a little down. The nurse said she thought Mom seemed a little more “blank” lately. I have definitely thought that, as well. The facility doctor and the neurologist are supposed to consult this week while I’m away to be sure Mom is doing OK without this drug. The nurse said that while I’m gone, the staff will use an as-needed drug if necessary – for example, if Mom wanders or becomes highly agitated. And I gave my full endorsement of that plan. “Do what it takes to make her not sad and not scared,” I said. She did say that Mom carried the cat’s water bowl into the dining room this week and placed it on her dining table. Anyone iffy about germs probably did not appreciate that. Plus, what was she thinking? That is a first as far as I know. I don’t really even know how it was resolved.

When I dropped Mom at the dining room, she held out her hand to give mine a shake. I hugged her as well – but the handshake was another new thing. She may have been goofing around. Sometimes it’s hard to tell. I said, “I’ll see you in a week,” and she said, “Thanks for stopping by,” and waved and walked on in to her table. I’d say at that moment, at least, she was not upset about my decision to go away. And for that, I am grateful.

Things Mom said to me today

We had lunch at Bob Evans. I had promised I would take her out before I left for vacation, and today was really the only possible day. I didn’t write anything down, but the things she said were memorable. It was an odd mixture today. She seemed so confused at first, perhaps because she had just woken from a nap. Before we left for the restaurant, she was carrying around a pair of socks in the hallway, so we went back in her apartment to put on the socks. And I combed her hair. She had bed head. She had on the pink striped T-shirt that I had put in her laundry basket, dirty, on Sunday. Plus pink pants and pink Crocs. And a dark floral jacket.

As the meal wore on, she had a few moments of what seemed like lucidity, or at least something closer to that than to total confusion. I’m wondering if her head is clearing a little with the reduced dose of the antipsychotic. She didn’t seem depressed or fretful. But when she had trouble remembering what she wanted to say, or started something but couldn’t finish, she showed frustration. Sometimes with a laugh, sometimes not. And she seemed to feel pressure to converse. I tried to ease her mind about that and just be chatty. And I reminded her that I would be away for a few days, and then I’d come back and everything would be normal again. And that soon my sister will visit, and we’ll go to the zoo.

Sprinkled throughout lunch, during our trip back to her facility, and once we were back there, she said these things:

“I’m kind of big.”

“I am useless.”

“I feel like I’m half dead.”

“My brain doesn’t seem to work the way it should.”

“Have you noticed any change in me? I mean really, have you?” (To which I replied, “You seem to worry about the cat more than you used to.”)

“Keep in touch while you’re out there traveling.”

“I’m getting sick of the games.” (I think this meant bingo and/or activities)

“You have such nice skin.”

“How old am I?” (I told her she’s 71)

“I’m old.”

“I spend a lot of time with the cat.”

“You’ve changed my life. Things have been so much better since I met you.”

“Do you like that woman’s hair?”

“Does Patrick (husband) like his job?”

“You’re an angel.”

Things she did:

Tried to get out of the car without first releasing the seat belt.

Put her coffee spoon into the cream pitcher and stirred.

Stirred her coffee with her fork after eating, depositing a green onion into her coffee cup.

Couldn’t cut a large piece of meat but kept observing how big it was. Didn’t ask for help but accepted my help when I finally cut it for her.

Kept her napkin on the table, off to the side, deliberately, rather than in her lap or close to her plate.

During this particular outing, I felt choked up from time to time. Even worse for me than her fretting is my observation of any kind of frustration on her part, I realized. I think I cannot win in this regard. Lately, it has been one or the other.

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