Archive for July, 2009|Monthly archive page

Aunt Nancy

My Aunt Nancy called over the weekend to say she wanted to come visit Mom during the week for a short visit. I had told her it’s easiest to take her out somewhere, like for ice cream, so it has a definitive start and finish. Sometimes, when people visited her at her facility, the departure would be awkward, because Mom would think she should leave when the visitors did. Nancy proposed Tuesday, and I planned to take a couple of hours of vacation time to be with her during the visit. The last time she had seen Mom, on Thanksgiving, Mom didn’t know who she was.

Bonnie on the left, Nancy on the right. At Bob Evans.

Bonnie on the left, Nancy on the right. At Bob Evans.

Nancy and my Uncle Gary arrived around 2 on Tuesday. We all entered the lobby together. Mom was in the dining room playing bingo. We stood outside and watched for a bit until the activities director asked us if we needed something. I went in to retrieve Mom. She was happy to get up and leave the game, but she stopped at the door to note that since she was leaving early, she wouldn’t be getting a candy bar as part of her participation. I told her we’d get ice cream instead. I introduced her to Nancy and Gary outside the dining room. Mom was immediately a little bit flirty with Gary, as she is with many men, sort of playful and aw-shucks. And she said she thought she might remember him. And she was similar about Nancy – she put her finger to her lip to think, and said she did think she remembered seeing them before. But the fact that Nancy was her sister was completely lost on Mom.

We went to Bob Evans – it seemed like the easiest choice because it has ice cream plus anything else a person might want to eat. In the car, Mom opened a box of chocolates that Nancy had brought for her. Nancy wanted to bring a gift, and I said one can never go wrong with candy for Mom. She had Gary go to a special store, Marie’s, in West Liberty, to get these particularly good chocolates. I was touched by that, that she wanted Mom to have the very best.

At the restaurant, I ordered a chocolate sundae for Mom. Nancy, Gary and I all had bowls of soup. Nancy also got a root beer float. We ate and we chatted. Nancy and I talked about exercise. I told her Mom goes to exercise class sometimes. She asked if ice cream would spoil Mom’s appetite, and I told her no, not to worry. I noticed we talked about Mom and didn’t give Mom many chances to talk about herself. I probably should have given her those chances, but I am so accustomed to Mom’s inability to answer questions or speak in meaningful sentences that I tend to speak for her with others. And yet I also think she had put her game face on, so to speak, and was trying hard with these new people to be a little bit more able, a little bit more talkative, a little bit more present with the group. I have noticed that in the past, too, but I thought she might not be able to do it anymore.

I think Mom looks cute here - big smile with her ice cream.

I think Mom looks cute here - big smile with her ice cream.

Mom finished her ice cream before we finished our soup. And she said, “I’ll just eat with the rest of you.” And I was pretty sure she thought it was time to order something so she could eat along with us. Instead of doing that, I gave her the rest of my soup – cheddar-baked potato soup with bacon and green onions in it. I liked that soup. Anyone who has eaten with me knows I’m not very willing to share my food. Patrick knows that best of all. So I was struck by how complete the role reversal has become, so much so that I would sacrifice my soup so Mom would not be confused or otherwise put up any kind of fuss. She liked the soup, too, and she finished it.

We went back to the facility and stopped in Mom’s apartment. Gary waited in the hall. Nancy looked at some pictures – some were really old, of Nancy and Mom and their cousin Shirley. Shirley died in her 50s of Type 1 diabetes. Mom looked at that picture and said of Shirley, “She died young.” She also said Shirley had some disorder in that actual picture, something that caused her stomach to be distended. This had never been true. But it was weird, that Mom would halfway recall the sad story of Shirley’s longtime illness and death. I mentioned to Nancy that we’d be going through pictures and I would collect some that I thought she would want to have. Mom was listening to us talk. “Are you moving?” she asked. “No,” I said, “I’ll just be doing some organizing.” I was struck by that, too, that Mom would relate going through pictures as a moving activity. Like I said, she was just slightly more with it with others around. I still haven’t told her she is moving soon.

Mom walked us to our cars. I talked about her as we walked down the sidewalk, about how she likes to walk me to my car. She gave me a look, and it occurred to me that she didn’t like it that I was talking about her as if she weren’t there. And I told her that that was what I was doing, and that I should stop it. She hugged us all goodbye. Gary seems particularly affectionate to Mom – he doesn’t say much, but I think it makes him sad to see her like this. Nancy is stoic. She seems to be interested in observing Mom’s unusual behavior, such as her extreme interest in babies and little kids – she stopped on the way out of Bob Evans to coo at a baby. Nancy said Mom was never like that before she got sick.

I took pictures of Nancy and Mom together. I wanted to post one here. But I can’t seem to find my camera. Bob Evans says there is no camera in lost and found. It’s not in my purse, where I keep it. I couldn’t find it on the floor of the car. There is a chance it’s in or on my desk at work for some reason. I find this upsetting. It’s a cheap camera. I can get another one at Costco. I had downloaded all the pictures out of it except these most recent shots of Mom and Nancy. But I am just highly irritated. How could I lose a CAMERA? How absent-minded can I be? I was irritable today in general, and now I’m really pissed. I hope I can sleep tonight.

ETA: I returned to Bob Evans on Friday morning to check again, and the hostess that day had been our server on Tuesday. She remembered me when I walked in, and said, “Have you picked up your camera yet?” What a nice surprise that was.

On the agenda tomorrow: meeting with the facility administrator and selecting Mom’s nursing home room.

Visits after lunch

My new pattern seems to be visiting Mom after her lunch instead of before. I guess I have been burned enough by her exercise classes and church service attendance before lunch that I now don’t risk missing her if I am going to make the trip to her place. It’s nice to visit her after lunch. She is usually just sitting in the lobby with her friends, who tend to talk to each other now much more than they talk to her. So I join her on a lobby couch and hang out with the gals for a half-hour or so.

I went on Friday, the first time I had actually seen Mom since the Sunday before. I stopped in her apartment upon my arrival because she was still in the dining room, probably eating some dessert. Her apartment had shown signs that she might be starting to move things around again. There was a puzzle box on her bed, with all the pieces still in a plastic bag. Probably a puzzle we bought her when she moved into assisted living, when she still had some ability to work puzzles. But the lid was not on the box. When I went to the dining room to let Mom know I was there, she was holding the puzzle box lid while sitting at her place in the dining room. It was full of miscellaneous items from her apartment, mostly pictures. It’s hard to guess what might have prompted her to fill a box with things and carry it to lunch with her.

She wasn’t wearing the outfit I had put out for her on Sunday in anticipation of her Tuesday shower. I do wonder what goes on when the aide helps Mom get dressed after the shower. If she doesn’t assume the clothes hanging on the actual shower rod are a new outfit for Mom, what can she be thinking?? Of course, there is always a chance Mom moves these clothes around after I hang them on the shower rod. I found the clothes I had put out hanging on the bathroom doorknob. Mom was wearing pink pants and a pink T-shirt. The outfit was fine. But since she had probably had it on since Tuesday, I decided to change her clothes for her. I put her into gray pants, a striped T-shirt and a brown jacket. Blue socks, pink Crocs. I put deodorant on her. It does seem to be doing the trick at keeping her B.O at bay. I noticed Mom had on quite an assortment of bracelets, so I took a picture of her wrists wrapped around her beloved stuffed dog. I told her she is quite in fashion these days with her stacked bracelets.

These days, if Mom comes across some jewelry in her apartment, she puts it on.

These days, if Mom comes across some jewelry in her apartment, she puts it on.

I didn’t stay long because I had to return to work. I frankly don’t have any particular memories of the visit, such as anything funny Mom might have said. Or anything charming she might have done. After my obsession last week with my past, I have fast-forwarded to the future. When I am in Mom’s apartment these days, I find myself scanning her belongings, mentally deciding what can go with her to the nursing home, what should come to my house for storage, what my brother and sister and aunt might want, and what is just destined for the trash. I don’t think I have ever clarified here that the moving date has been pushed back to mid-August after all, my original expectation based on Mom’s funding. Laura was certain she wanted to come here to help with the move, and my brother is hoping to come, too, but has been at a summer job in Massachusetts and unsure about his ability to get away. Laura and I had trouble getting our July schedules coordinated. So with our annual family vacation/staycation coming up in mid-August, and knowing we had access to most of Mom’s money (the check from the last sizable IRA arrived about a week or so ago), we opted to time the move just before the family gathering so Laura can make a single trip. And hopefully it will work with my brother’s schedule, too, whose summer job ends Aug. 11. I actually just got an e-mail from the facility administrator yesterday, Saturday, saying Aug. 12 will be Mom’s official move date. He recommends moving her to the nursing home and THEN emptying her assisted living apartment. He thinks not letting Mom see the disassembly of her current living environment will be best for her. I appreciate his advice.

I returned to Mom’s place today for another visit after her lunch. As is her habit, she started walking toward the glass door as I was walking up the sidewalk to the lobby entrance. She had on the brown jacket I had put on her Friday. And then she had her right arm through the sleeves of two additional jackets, one on top of the other, with the rest of these jackets hanging off of her arm as if she forgot to complete the act of putting the jackets on. She also had dramatically rosy cheeks, I assume because she used some lipstick to add some color to her face. She looked a little bit…crazy, I must admit. I sat with her for a little while in the lobby. An aide passing by remarked on her rosy cheeks. She started picking her chin, and it reminded me that I had told her I’d pluck her chin hairs for her. I suggested we go to her apartment to do that rather than grooming in the lobby. I said, “Do you want to go to your apartment so I can pull out those hairs for you?” And she said, “Can I come with you?”

When we got to her apartment, I noticed once again some disarray. Clothes on the bed, two or three pairs of disposable underwear scattered about. I wonder if she is restless or bored. For weeks, she hasn’t been messing up her surroundings like this. I was hanging up some clothes and picking out an outfit when she picked up a pair of clean disposable underwear and said she thought she should put a new pair on. I thought this was a great idea and I was happy it interested her to change. I helped her out of her pants and her current underwear, which didn’t look too good. I put the new pair on her. And when I took the dirties into the bathroom to throw them away, I actually nearly gagged from the smell in there. Her toilet was full of pee and poop and toilet paper. With fewer staff visits to take out trash and check towels on weekends, there is less back-up to make up for Mom’s complete lack of awareness of the toilet’s need to be flushed. Even after flushing it and with the exhaust fan running, the smell didn’t go away. I spritzed a room spray around the bathroom, which helped a little.

Then Mom sat on her couch and I tweezed her chin. Between the poor lighting and the fact Mom doesn’t follow the instruction to tilt her head back because she doesn’t really know what that means, I had some trouble and caught her skin from time to time. She took bites of a candy bar in between my plucks. She had asked me for some candy – something she has never done before. Her appetite must be healthy. When I had first arrived, she was eating a banana in the lobby after lunch. And then minutes later, in her apartment, she said, “Can you give me a piece of candy?” I told her I didn’t have any, but that I was aware that she had a stash of candy in her refrigerator. I gave her a Nestle crunch bar, which she dug into right away. She had put on an extra necklace since I saw her on Friday. I remarked on that when we were sitting in the lobby. She said she didn’t know where it came from. I told her I thought she probably found it in her apartment and just put it on. I had assumed I would send her to the nursing home with virtually no jewelry, thinking she wouldn’t need it there. But maybe she is enjoying playing dress-up, so I should reconsider this plan.

After sitting in the lobby for a little while, I told Mom I had to leave to do grocery shopping and finish my laundry. She agreed to walk me to my car. The ladies in the lobby said they’d watch to be sure she came back in. That has never been an issue before. But I watch her from my car, too, to make sure she heads straight back to the lobby. Today, when we were at my car and after we hugged, she asked how to get back to where her friends were. I told her to walk straight down the sidewalk and go through the doors, and they would be there. “Right there?” she said. Right there, I told her, walking her to the sidewalk. And she did as I instructed, and I watched her until she went through the doors.

Child support

A blog post has been brewing since the weekend, but I’m all mixed up about how I feel about it, and I don’t know if I can trust my own memory, so I’ve just been thinking and thinking and not visiting Mom and not writing.

An old friend’s dad passed away last week. During calling hours at the funeral home, I saw many friends from junior high and high school for the first time in years. I saw some members of this gentleman’s family for the first time in even more years. And thinking about him, my friend’s dad, really stirred up a lot of memories about my teen years. I often say I don’t have good memories of day-to-day life at my house. The routine I do recall was getting up and getting ready, going to school, which I liked, and then inevitably going to someone else’s house after school rather than heading to my own home. By the time I was about 13 or 14, my brother had moved in with my dad and my sister had gone off to college. So it was just Mom and me at home until I finished high school. Which meant it was just me at home a lot of the time.

I do not remember being lonely. I didn’t think about it at the time, but now I realize how frequently I spent time at my friends’ houses. After-school time, weekend time, night time. It wasn’t deliberate, as far as I can remember, but I just imagine now that I must have been seeking solace in what I perceived as much more normal households. I wonder now if my friends’ parents were wondering why the hell I never went home. Or maybe they knew.

In the case of my friend who lost his dad, I imagine his parents had some ideas about what I might be lacking at home. They took me to church for most Sundays over a good two or three years of high school. And drove me to church choir practice every Wednesday night, and then let me come over to their house after practice to watch Dynasty before they drove me home. I remember picking at a turkey with my friend’s sisters after the holidays one year – an indication of how at home I felt in their midst. And most embarrassing of all, they let me use a typewriter at their kitchen table to type a paper for school because I didn’t have a typewriter at my house. I say it’s embarrassing now, but I don’t think I was embarrassed then. I was thankful for the company, for the family time, for the access to a typewriter. But I also don’t know if I ever thanked them when I was a kid. I’d like to think I expressed gratitude regularly. But I really don’t recall. So at the funeral home, I thanked my friend’s mom for being so good to me 25 years ago.

I think I struggled with these thoughts because for now, I am not interested in remembering bad things about Mom. About her absence, her reckless behavior, her willingness to throw a party at our house on a school night. I am so caught up in worrying about her well-being in the context of moving to the nursing home that it’s as if I don’t have room in my brain or my heart for memories that make me sad or angry. Or that simply revive a part of Mom’s life that is unsavory. For my own preservation and in the name of keeping alive the good memories about her, there is no purpose in revisiting this distant past. But the thoughts have just been there, and I know that’s in part because I hate to admit that this isn’t just about Mom. It is making me realize I have regrets about, or at least I question, my own behavior. What if she felt abandoned by me? This is a real possibility. What if she wishes I had spent more time at home as a kid? Also, what if my friends and their parents thought I was a drag to have around? Would I have been able to tell? And then really: Why even think these things? And yet in the process of trying to crowd out those thoughts, all I have managed to do is become irritable, because there is certainly no way to resolve any of this now.

So what I have been trying to focus on instead is how lucky I was to have those friends and their families to see me through those times when otherwise I would have been alone, maybe lonely, and possibly up to no good. Sometimes I was up to no good with my friends, but for the most part, I was too afraid of authority figures of all kinds to get into too much trouble.

And really, it is time to turn my attention back to Mom. I have indulged in this weird trip down a bumpy memory lane this week, and it hasn’t been any fun so I am ready to give it a rest. And it’s much more appropriate to remember my friend’s dad with a smile rather than a knitted brow, because he was a kind, smart man and I was fortunate to spend as much time as I did with him and his family.

Meanwhile, I haven’t seen Mom since Sunday. I put out an outfit for her that day that I hoped she would be changed into on Tuesday after her shower. I stopped in Wednesday morning to drop off meds, but she was already asleep after breakfast so I didn’t wake her. I’m planning to go see her tomorrow and get snapped back to the present, to the reality that matters now.

Small setback

So there I was last week, feeling all relaxed and thankful for Mom’s sunny disposition, when a phone call ruined everything. It was Thursday night and I had just gotten home from golfing. I was tired and sweaty. And sort of hungry, though I ate a granola bar on the drive home. The phone rang. It was almost 9 p.m. The caller ID said it was Mom’s assisted living facility. Not good this late, when Mom should have been sleeping.

The nurse, Ann, said Mom was agitated, pacing the halls, fretting in the lobby, thinking about going outside. She was saying that I had moved away, up north. In fact, the nurse first asked, “Um, have you moved, up north somewhere?” She also said Mom said I never come to visit her. Interestingly, I had been planning to visit her Friday morning. I said I had arranged awhile back for Mom to get a sedative as needed for times like this. All the records showed, however, was that she can have Tylenol. So I said I’d come down and see what was going on. I took a shower first, not knowing how long I might be there.

When I arrived, the nurse let me in (the doors are locked after 8 p.m.). Mom was sitting on the couch in the empty lobby. The nurse said she had told Mom I was coming, and Mom was full of happy anticipation. The nurse told us to have a nice visit and went off toward her station. I took Mom to her apartment. She looked terrible. Her hair was really greasy and she was wearing the clothes she had had on Monday before her Tuesday shower – even though I had put out a new outfit for her. I wondered if they had skipped the shower this week. Which is not good. Mom seemed OK at this point, not particularly upset. Just very confused. She thought people were mad at her. I told her that probably wasn’t the case – that everyone there likes her. But she can’t be convinced. I decided to give her a shower, thinking the warm water might relax her.

Instead, she was cold in the shower. And then the water got too hot. We spent a lot of time adjusting it. She didn’t seem to like having her hair and face washed, but I tried to keep both brief. I scrubbed her all over. “Where are we?” she asked in the middle of it. “The bathroom in your apartment,” I said. I washed her a little more. She helped when she could. When we were done, she stepped out and started toweling off. “Where are we?” she asked again. I gave her the same answer. I put deodorant on her and shook powder all over her body. I dressed her in white pants and a pale yellow fleece shirt.

I sat her on the couch and, this time remembering to carry nail clippers in my purse, clipped her fingernails and toenails. Her toenails were stiff, like curly pieces of bark. I put gel in her hair and cleaned her glasses thoroughly. I encouraged her to lie down on the bed and hold onto her stuff dog. I asked her if she felt that she’d be able to go to sleep, and she said she would. She didn’t want me to turn off any lights. I eased my way out of the apartment and sat in the lobby for about 10 minutes to be sure she didn’t come out. An aide let me out of the building this time, and she said Mom had been upset earlier because her friends had abruptly left the lobby to go to bed. Mom interpreted that as abandonment, so her feelings were hurt and she assumed the worst. Mom had also said to the aide that her son never visits her – while also saying that I never visit her. The aide said that was the first time she had ever heard Mom mention that she had a son.

I stopped in the next morning on my way to work, around 8:40. I talked to the nurse, to ask her if Mom can have a sedative prescribed on an as-needed basis. I know other residents have such arrangements, and I thought I had set up the same thing for Mom in the winter, after the first cat died. The nurse planned to ask the doctor. When I got to her apartment, Mom was in bed, asleep. I stood in the door and looked at her, trying to decide whether or not to wake her. She startled and raised her head to look at me. I apologized for scaring her and she said it was OK and started to laugh. She couldn’t remember if she had had breakfast. I told her to stay in bed and rest, but she insisted on getting up and walking me to my car. The nurse later told me that several people had worried when they saw Mom outside, even though she walked me to my car, turned around and walked right back to the lobby. I usually watch to make sure that’s what she does. Sometimes, the people looking after my mom worry unnecessarily. But I’d rather have too much worry than not enough, I guess.

The nurse called me later in the day to tell me the doctor said absolutely not to an as-needed sedative for Mom. She left a voice mail, so I didn’t get to ask her why. But I remember the neurologist once telling me that Xanax had potential to add to Mom’s confusion. So I am guessing that could be the reason. Instead, he wants to put her back on the antipsychotic she was taking in the winter, which the neurologist asked us to discontinue. That is fine with me at this point, since the move to the nursing home is just weeks away. I just hope it doesn’t make Mom worry about anything. I know it might make her seem more confused.

The Thursday night visit coincided with my decision to stop all sleep meds and revisit my current undrugged sleep state to see how I do. So when I got back to the house around 10 p.m., I was tired but had trouble falling asleep. After lying in bed for an hour, I had a snack and then went to the couch. I drifted off, and woke and returned to bed around 1:15. I recall being awake again around 4 a.m. And Patrick’s alarm went off at 5:39. Once his alarm goes off, that’s it. I never fall back to sleep, but I still lie there for awhile and listen to radio news. So anyway, I was pretty tired Friday. And at the end of the day, I picked up Roxy’s ashes from the vet – something I had kept forgetting to do, or, really, avoiding. I opened the little envelope from the funeral home, with its pawprint and a tuft of Roxy’s fur, and I started to cry. Between being tired and upset about Mom’s agitation episode, and never really grieving the loss of my fat, furry kitty, my resistance was just too low. I couldn’t stop crying for a good half-hour. I think that overall, the crying was a good thing. I felt better when I was done, and I got a lot of sleep that night.

Bohemian Bonnie

My cousin Barry, who lives in Phoenix, visited his family in western Ohio this week. He is my mom’s sister’s second son – of four boys. He came over to Columbus Tuesday to explore German Village, a favorite spot of his, and then met me for dinner and a stroll in the Short North. We estimated we hadn’t seen each other in three years. And he has lived in Phoenix for almost 30 years, I think, so we don’t see each other often in general. As we were making plans last Sunday to meet, Barry asked for the url to this blog. Between Sunday afternoon and Tuesday, he read the entire blog, which touched me quite a bit. Below, Barry offers some memories of my mom. He has a terrific memory, and reminded me about how poor my memory can be about certain events. A common thread with anything involving Barry is laughter – he is a jokester, and when I’m with him, I want to make him laugh as much as he makes me laugh. But also, what he wrote below, in this case, made me cry. Thank you, Barry, for contributing here, for having such great observations about Bonnie, and for being so kind to me. As you recall other things about Mom, please send more memories this way!

Barry and I stopped to admire the fountain in front of the Greystone apartments on High Street.

Barry and I stopped to admire the fountain in front of the Greystone apartments on High Street.

Being a new reader of this blog, and also being a nephew of Bonnie, I have had a myriad of thoughts, emotions, and memories occupying my mind in the past week. As a result, I feel compelled to share my own small tribute to this woman.

Bonnie is my mom’s only sibling. When I was a child growing up our respective families shared the holidays together, and one or more of us kids would spend the vacation days at one another’s house. I, more than any other of my siblings or cousins, reaped the biggest benefit of this arrangement because I got to spend the most number of days visiting my aunt and cousins in the course of a year. These were visits that I saved my money for, looked forward to, and relished when they finally came.

I was a child of the 60s and 70s when the women’s movement spawned and bloomed into full swing. Bonnie was the first feminist I personally knew. That in and of itself is not particularly so significant, but I was aware of her independent spirit and found it not only admirable but more importantly inspiring. I view myself during my childhood as someone who struggled with confidence and who at times tolerated unpleasantries from peers. So, when I would witness my aunt confidently expressing herself at various times I saw it as a courageous trait that I was determined to incorporate into my own character.

Emily has alluded to her big laugh. Yes, she certainly had one. But what I found most admirable in that was her ability to laugh at herself. I identify laughing as the key ingredient in my memory of Bonnie. There are so many anecdotes I could share to illustrate this, but since the topic of poop has come up before in this blog, I’m choosing this particular one. I was with Bonnie and my cousins one Christmas holiday after we had grown to adulthood. We ate chili for dinner and to our horror the toilet became inoperable. A house with 5 adults full of chili and no toilet – not a good situation. Bonnie in particular was suffering the consequences of this misfortune. We had to to take Laura to the airport the following day, and Laura cheerfully suggested that we go to the airport a little early and get her checked in, which would leave Bonnie time to comfortably use the bathroom there. Bonnie’s response: “Well I can’t poop on cue.” I don’t know, maybe you had to be there, but we were in stitches.

There was a bit of a Bohemian spirit in Bonnie that I embraced. She had what I thought were interesting friends, LOTS of friends – quite different from the adults I knew in my own home town – who also had that Bohemian quality.

The Ohio State Fair was always a big event for my cousins and me during my summer visits. I remember Bonnie going with us only once, but on this particular outing we decided to take a short cut through the fairgrounds. This required climbing a chain-linked fence, and although Bonnie was wearing a dress and low heeled shoes, she was the first to climb over. I remember watching her complete crossword puzzles and cryptograms in the Dispatch with impressive speed and ease. She was valedictorian of her class but was actually humble about her intelligence. I’m a teacher now and just recently completed a summer school contract teaching a Chess class. It was Bonnie who taught me how to play Chess. And though it obviously wouldn’t lessen any of the treasures of my memories of her if this were otherwise, she was indeed beautiful. I loved looking at her. After a parents’ night on the eve of my cousin’s college graduation I told my cousin she should be proud that she had the prettiest mother in the room.

What I have shared barely scratches the surface of a multitude of memories I have of this woman who in many ways I looked up to and admired. She certainly played a role in shaping my character in ways for which I will always be grateful. Many of the entries in Emily’s blog break my heart, whether or not that was the intention. Thankfully I know the person who is “lost” to this dreaded disease. And how fitting that this woman’s daughter, my cousin Emily, is also the recipient of my admiration and respect, and has inspired me with her dedication and devotion to her mother when she needs her most. Emily, you are like a precious flower to me and I know your Mom’s “Hallelujahs!” are heart felt, as are my words.

Trying to live in the moment

I think about this blog a lot, but I haven’t been very committed to writing new posts the past few weeks. I guess because when I write posts, I am typically recalling a past visit with Mom. And lately, I have been thinking much more about the future. In an anticipatory, full-of-dread kind of way. I wonder how Mom will do with the move to the nursing home. If she’ll need new meds. If we’ll be told not to visit so she can settle, or if daily visits will be what’s best. What to do with her many belongings, and how to schedule packing and moving. If the Medicaid application will ultimately go smoothly. I wonder what else I need to do regarding that application. And then I wonder why I don’t actually do whatever it is I need to do.

But to report on Mom: I took her to lunch on Friday – Bob Evans, as usual. I had told her I would take her to lunch sometime during the week, and I was determined to actually fulfill the promise. I’m sure she hadn’t remembered that I told her I would, but she is getting quite a bit of joy out of outings right now, and I enjoy her enjoyment. I encouraged her to change her clothes before we headed out. At the current rate, she is wearing two outfits per week. Sometimes, I see evidence that her pants are changed in the interim. I’ve relaxed a little about my insistence that she wear fresh clothes more often. It is tiring for me to take her through that routine. It is a little unpleasant to handle her underwear. She hasn’t had any particular odor problems for awhile; if she did, I would definitely change her. And I figure once she is in the nursing home, staff there will take care of this task.

When we were seated at Bob Evans, Mom showed the host her stuffed dog, which was tucked into her purse. “You’re like a celebrity,” he said, which I assumed was a reference to someone like Paris Hilton. I thought that was a good response. Mom also was a little flirty with our waiter – something I have never seen her do since her diagnosis. I know some Alzheimer’s patients end up finding new partners in the midst of their disease. Mom mostly just gave the guy a cheesecake grin. I teased her about it and she said she isn’t really interested in having a boyfriend. But she thought he was cute. We had eggs. She ate with enthusiasm, and this time did not seem confused about how to approach the eggs on top of the rest of her food. She drank lots of Coke. She tried to make occasional small talk, but didn’t really make much sense. When I dropped her off, I told her I was going to a wedding but that I’d probably see her Sunday.

I skipped a visit with her over the weekend. I have still been struggling with sleep meds. I am now trying Trazodone, an antidepressant that is commonly used as a sleep aid. Interestingly, Mom has taken it for quite some time. I took it Saturday after the wedding. I slept well and for a long time, but felt tired all day Sunday. And then I couldn’t fall asleep with ease on Sunday night, possibly because I cut the Trazodone in half. Clearly I don’t know what I’m doing. So far my experience has been that 50 mg is too much and 25 mg is not enough.

At any rate, I did go visit Mom on Monday instead. I had a story to finish before I could leave work, so I went after lunch and just sat in the lobby with her for a little while to chat. She would say things about where she lives, but again, she didn’t really make much sense. I asked her if she feels like the place is too big, offering too many hallways and rooms to choose from. “Oh, no,” she said. I was hoping that maybe if she is confused by her current environment, the smaller room of the nursing home might comfort her. She and I also went to her apartment. I wanted to find nail clippers to clip her fingernails. The housekeeper came in while I was there. She said Mom’s apartment has been looking a lot better lately. That is true. Mom doesn’t seem to be leaving trash lying around as much. Nor does she leave clothes and socks scattered around. And her couch cushions have remained intact for weeks. For most of the time she has lived there, she has removed some of the cushions along the back and kept them on the floor.

I think the tidyness is a symptom of withdrawal. Instead of possibly being confused by her environment and trying to rearrange it, or somehow being engaged by the items around her, such as pictures and books, she just exists in it as it is. She tried to help me find the nail clippers, pulling some pictures and a box of jewelry out of her night stand. She then started admiring a costume jewelry pin, tucked away with a Buckeye bracelet in a miscellaneous gift box for no good reason. I put the pin on her. I was going through her dresser drawers and a jewelry box looking for the clippers. And as an example of how I do not stay in the moment, I began thinking about strategies to clear out the jewelry and other valuables from Mom’s apartment before we move her. I think it would be nice if my brother, sister and I go ahead and divide some things up among us now. And maybe my aunt, too. Mom will have no use for most of the items anymore. Mom has some nice jewelry, and some definite fun pieces – pins and necklaces, mostly. Very few earrings – any clip-back earrings that she does have were her own mother’s. Mom never did get her ears pierced. If I recall correctly, she was afraid the initial pain from the procedure would interfere with her sleep. A classic Bonnie thing to worry about. We never did find any clippers. And yet Mom was the kind of person to own about five or so clippers at a time. I’m sure I’ll eventually find them. I now have some in my purse so I can get those nails on my next visit.

Mom did say a few times yesterday how wonderful I am. To me, and to her lady friends in the lobby. It’s funny, how she is in this mode of appreciating me. She is also in a good mood most of the time lately, which is a big relief to me. It takes some of the trepidation out of visiting her. I think I am enjoying her more now than I ever have in the past five years, truth be told. And in an odd way, that makes me sort of sad. When this phase passes, I will miss her all over again.

More pictures

I haven’t been inspired to write this week. That’s partly because I haven’t seen Mom since Monday. I went to visit before lunch, and she was in the exercise class. I picked out an outfit for her to wear after her Tuesday shower and then sat outside the exercise classroom, listening to the instructor. I walked with Mom from the class to the dining room. It was time for lunch. She had removed the red jacket I had put on her Friday and replaced it with her favorite thick fleece jacket that has something resembling a Navajo pattern on it in different shades of brown. She loves that jacket. I think my sister gave it to her years ago. She said she wanted to go out sometime soon. I told her I’d take her to lunch this week. Tomorrow is Friday, and I am planning to take her to lunch then. It has been an unusually busy week at work, which has been good for me. Unfortunately, for reasons I don’t totally understand, the less I have to do, the less I seem to get done. Perhaps that’s normal, but it drives me crazy to let time slip away like that. I have been less tired. I have cut the Lunesta pills in half this week, which has helped reduce the side effects. Though I think they have a cumulative effect even with the lower dose, and each day I feel just a little more foggy. I am about to try a new drug. I still have to pick it up at my pharmacy. Something recommended by my therapist that my primary care doctor approved.

So, in lieu of stories about Mom, I have scanned a few pictures. Some I came across in her apartment, some in albums at our house. Just snapshots from a life. I’m so glad to have pictures. I don’t always trust my own memory about growing up and even having an adult relationship with Mom.

These two are Mom in one of her best roles: as grandma to my two nieces.

Mom having ice cream with Julia. I'm guessing this was Cape Cod, or perhaps Block Island, R.I. My sister would know for sure.

Mom having ice cream with Julia. I'm guessing this was Cape Cod, or perhaps Block Island, R.I. My sister would know for sure.

Mom with Lily in New York. I don't know if you can see Mom has a walrus beanie baby on her right shoulder. And I am just noticing the turquoise ring she is wearing. I found that recently and kept it. I wore it today, in fact.

Mom with Lily in New York. I don't know if you can see Mom has a walrus beanie baby on her right shoulder. And I am just noticing the turquoise ring she is wearing. I found that recently and kept it. I wore it today, in fact.

Mom several years ago, before she got sick. We spent a few Christmases at my sister’s house with her. She also went there on her own sometimes for Christmas.

Mom and her famous laugh, on a Christmas morning in New York. Probably eight years ago or so.

Mom and her famous laugh, on a Christmas morning in New York. Probably eight years ago or so.

And Mom a few weeks ago – Christmas sweater and fleece pants, in June. This was several days after she had had her hair done – so her hair is sort of puffy.

This shows how she picks at her chin. She does that pretty much constantly.

This shows how she picks at her chin. She does that pretty much constantly.

A little time off

It’s the end of a three-day weekend. I didn’t spend much time with Mom. I’m trying not to feel guilty about it.

Friday was a holiday. It began in an unexpected way. I overslept – until 9:45 a.m. That is virtually unheard of in our house because one of our dogs routinely starts whining in the morning when he gets hungry. 8:45, maybe. I really don’t remember the last time the dog let me sleep until 9:45. It was nice to get that sleep, but I was also feeling panicky almost immediately. I had wanted to get to Mom’s facility to arrange for her to have her hair done. It has been the topic of interest all week – staff there kept asking me if Mom could have her hair done again. It was important for me to tell the beautician that that was OK. So I called the beautician and let her know it would be fine for Mom to get her hair done anytime she shows up at the salon. She went once with her friends. I didn’t expect her to ever show up independently. We tentatively arranged for Mom to have her hair done that afternoon, when her friends were supposedly due for an appointment.

I figured I would still go visit Mom since I hadn’t seen her since Tuesday. When I walked into the lobby, Mom was on the couch and Ginny and Alice were on either side of her. “Should I go ahead and tell her?” Ginny said. And I said, “You’re all getting your hair done this afternoon, right?” Ginny said no. “Why would we get our hair done?” Alice said. And then Ginny went on to tell me that Mom had been upset, she was saying untrue things about her friends, that sometimes Mom seemed to misinterpret things people said to her. Mom didn’t say much. I asked her if she wanted to go to her apartment and she said yes. As she stood up, I turned my face to Ginny and made a face suggesting I was sorry, that Mom is confused, that I hoped it would blow over. Ginny said she expected it would.

Mom couldn’t articulate what had happened. Ginny had said something about Mom being upset when someone said “You forgot to put your pants on.” I suspected there was a chance Mom had come out of her apartment inappropriately dressed and someone needed to help her fix that. Mom can interpret any direct talk that sounds like a command as a disrespectful and hurtful comment. I told her about five times that everyone likes her, that even if someone hurt her feelings, what that person meant to do was be helpful rather than hurtful. I decided to shower her. With the ladies saying they weren’t going to the beautician, I figured Mom could use a shampoo. And she could virtually always use a shower. I took all of her clothes off, and her jewelry, and her glasses, and tried to get the shower warm before I had her step in. But she was cold immediately. I shampooed her hair and washed her body with a washcloth. I gently washed her face. I rinsed her as well as I could. I didn’t make much of a mess. We toweled her off and I put deodorant under her arms and sprinkled powder all over her. I dressed her in white pants, an aqua striped shirt and a red cotton jacket. I combed her hair and put some lipstick on her.

We went to sit in the lobby area for awhile. A cookout was planned that day, and I waited until it was time to be seated. I went out with Mom and she wanted to sit at the same table as Alice. And Alice wanted to sit next to Mom. So we asked a man at the table to move over one spot, which he kindly did. And then the activities director asked me if I was staying. I said no, that I hadn’t let anyone know I’d be there for lunch. She didn’t give a darn. “You should stay,” she said. So I did. We had cucumber salad, baked beans and a hot dog. Mom rejected the salad, including the tomatoes. She used to love tomatoes. She had a burger instead of a hot dog. When lunch was over, she asked me if I would make sure she could get back to her apartment. We were in a courtyard right off the lobby, yet she didn’t know where she was because it was unfamiliar. I walked her back to the lobby and to her apartment. Then she stopped in the dining room to tell Ginny she was sorry about what had happened. Ginny said, “Oh, get out of here.” I think Ginny’s tendency to say things that way, in a completely innocent way, might be confusing to Mom. But these things always pass. After that, Mom walked me to the lobby and to my car.

I haven’t seen her since. Friday evening, Patrick and I drank a new cocktail he learned about from a colleague – bourbon slush. We grilled steaks and went to a movie. I took another kind of drug to try to help me fall asleep, but it didn’t work out. I couldn’t fall asleep. And when I woke up, I felt as if I had gotten no rest at all. I felt that way most of the day. I napped off and on for about two hours. I got my first wind just in time for a cookout at my dad’s and a soccer game. Saturday night, I slept fine. Today, we did our usual chores and then went to the pool. While we were walking there, I said, “I am blowing off visiting Mom today.” Patrick teased me a little about it. We later went out for burgers and fries. And then he did something for me that I have done for Mom. He took me for a Sunday drive. We went to Highbanks Park and drove along the loop through the park. We walked a short trail and visited the nature center. We talked about coming back some other evening so he could run a trail while I took a walk. It’s a really nice park. I probably haven’t been there since high school.

I will go see Mom tomorrow around lunch. I’ll see how she’s doing and hope she’s as cheerful as she has been recently. I’ll pick out some clothes for her to wear on Tuesday after her shower. I doubt she’ll have any idea that I took the weekend off from seeing her.