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.


10 comments so far

  1. IcedLatte on

    Wow. That’s an exhausting post. I’m exhausted for you and your sister. I’m exhausted for your mom. I’m also hungry for ice cream, but that’s beside the point. You girls deserve the fortitude and endurance trophy. That you manage to mostly take all this on the chin, staying clear-eyed and level-headed is remarkable.

  2. momsbrain on

    Hi, Iced Latte! You offer some validation. I am exhausted today. And I managed to work in a little extra sleep given the four-day weekend I had. I imagine I must be tense every minute I am with Mom. I don’t know how else to explain how bone tired I have been all day today. It was very helpful to have my sister there to talk to and laugh with from time to time.

  3. Sherri on

    I hope your Mom remembers her day with you and your sis. It seems snippets come back to her randomly, right? Like the motherhood / drunkenness conversation that you tried to analyze a bit… Something came back – she thought analytically and,for her, clearly for a moment, right? I’m really learning a lot about Alzheimer’s reading your blog. Mysterious is the word you use, and it seems SO appropriate.

  4. momsbrain on

    Hi, Sherri-I guess something was moving through Mom’s memory about either her upbringing or her drinking while raising us. I don’t think I would have described her thinking as clear, but definitely she was onto something from her past. She DID have a mother, and even if she wasn’t cut out for motherhood, she performed it to the best of her ability at that time. So she didn’t quite have the facts straight, but the idea was clear to those of us interpreting.

  5. Laura on

    Well there’s certainly nothing wrong with your memory! I think you got everything in. Well done!

  6. momsbrain on

    Thanks, Laura. And thanks for being here!

    I wondered if you might have an addition or two. I did leave out the details of the changing of the clothes before we went to lunch on Monday. Too much poop talk isn’t good for anybody… 🙂

  7. Laura on

    Yes, I agree! I have gotten laughs when I tell about how she said she liked my name when you introduced us.

  8. Judy on

    Oh my – I’m so glad I found your blog! What an exhausting day you and your sister had. My mother has not reached the stage yet where she doesn’t remember me – I so dread that day.


  9. Ann on

    I just wrote a reply & it somehow became lost…sorry if this message shows up twice. I had a difficult time reading this entry. The point where she says to Laura “you seem familiar”. I know for you and Laura, this comment isn’t surprising, but it’s gut-wrenching to read. My dad often gets my sister and I confused or mistakes whose kids are whose. I have a difficult time with this and dread the moment he is completely blank. I can’t imagine how difficult it is to spend time with your mom knowing she is lost inside of the shell she is leaving in. I admire your commitment as a care-taker. Your mom is extremely lucky to have you near her and your dedication is admirable. You are amazing.

  10. momsbrain on

    Hi, Ann. I’m sorry to hear this about your dad. And I can imagine that it’s very hard for you and all of your siblings. I am starting to get a sense of what it will be like when Mom doesn’t know me anymore. She knows my face, and perhaps that will always be a clue to her that I am someone she can trust. But she doesn’t say my name much and she has stopped calling me, another sign of decline. I don’t know about being amazing (thank you for saying that). I am relieved that my emotions have evolved during all of this so that I can advocate for her without resenting her for it. She is like a kid so it’s sort of natural to look out for her interests.

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