Catching up

I went to visit Mom, finally, today for the first time in nine days. The last time I had seen her was on Oct. 13, when my Aunt Nancy and Uncle Gary drove over from Springfield for a visit. I met them at the center. Nancy brought Mom chocolate chip cookies from one of the best bakeries in Springfield. We found Mom in the program area and sat with her for a short while on the couches and chairs near her room. Mom had a cookie. She seemed to think she recognized Gary. We tried to chat a little. Gary and I talked about Ohio State football. I showed Nancy some pictures. When Mom’s lunch arrived, we sat with her briefly and then decided to leave so she wouldn’t be distracted. I felt like she seemed just a little bit stressed about the visit, like she wished she had been prepared for it or something. I have often felt she wants to perform for people other than me – like she would try just a little harder to be as present as possible, as chatty as she could be. It makes me sad that she feels any stress like that, but it’s also an interesting phenomenon, that she can make some sort of extra effort for people she doesn’t see very often.

I then went to Texas for a professional meeting. And I saw some close friends during that trip who also live in Austin. I felt a little bit of dread in advance of the trip – about being away from Mom and, even more, from Patrick, about the fatigue associated with travel, about the demand for social activity that goes along with such professional meetings. But it all went smoothly and was quite enjoyable. It was definitely good to have a few nights out with friends I rarely see – my senior year college roommates, in fact. My friend Steve and his wife have a child I hadn’t met. My friend Cam is living in the perfect city for him – all live music all the time. We enjoyed each others’ company.

And the meeting was so interesting, and there were so many people there, that I was able to just listen to workshop presentations and lectures for the most part, and keep the social activity – at least with strangers – to a minimum. I didn’t see a whole lot of my co-workers who also were there, and I didn’t get to catch up as much as I would have liked to with the friends I have made in this association. I was disappointed to feel the way I did. Often, I can be quite chatty, can really get into talking up a stranger with whom I clearly have some common ground, and I certainly enjoy talking to people I know a little bit or a lot. But I was just in a different place on this trip. Preferred to be a little more withdrawn for whatever reason. I wasn’t depressed. I wasn’t fixated on Mom. I wasn’t having a bad time. I was just avoiding the crowd to a certain extent. Isolation was OK with me. I wonder if I over-isolated, however, and missed out on some social activity that might have given me a boost.

The meeting featured a “meet the scientist” lunch, during which all kinds of experts hosted a table for science writers who wanted to hear about their research. I listened to a molecular genetics professor from UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas talk about his Alzheimer’s research. He studies a gene associated with the disease, ApoE. When he started his work, his interest was hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis). Over time, he has shifted his focus to Alzheimer’s. The gene has roles in both diseases. I listened intently and understood what he said for the most part, and recall that he has traced just about the entire pathway defining this gene’s function. But that gets him only so far in terms of, say, being able to guide drug developers in how to interfere with that pathway, or enhance it, or whatever is needed to slow progress of Alzheimer’s, or prevent it, or treat it. One thing that sticks out to me is that he described a pivotal moment when his graduate student called him at home on a Sunday afternoon to describe disturbing mouse behavior. The student wanted to put the sick mouse out of its misery. But this professor realized that the mouse behavior was an indication that the genetic modifications made to the mouse were quite meaningful. He raced to the lab on a Sunday evening to check it out. This was in 1998, he said. Eleven years from that epiphany, there are still no solid answers for clinical application in this one small component of Alzheimer’s research taking place in this country. It is disheartening. At the same time, I was charmed by this man and his dogged pursuit. He is actually quite distinguished in the field. It is just such a complicated disease.

Today, I carted a box of disposable underwear into the Alz center – the ones that had been sitting in my cubicle for a long time. I walked right by Mom as I took the box to her room. She didn’t notice me. She was sitting at a table with two other women. I put the box on the floor in her closet, and I hope the place uses the darn things. The staff members have seemed to ignore the Depends I left in Mom’s little toiletry cabinet. I’m sure they are supplying their own, but before the Medicaid application was approved, I was supposed to supply them. I suppose I will be billed for the underwear the facility supplied between Aug. 28 and now, or whenever they receive official word that the Medicaid has kicked in. I know Mom is cared for. I just don’t know why they’re not using the stuff I have provided for Mom’s bathing, grooming and dressing.

When I walked up to Mom’s table, she opened her mouth and said, “What a surprise.” I hugged her and sat down at the table with her. I said hello to the ladies sitting there. They didn’t really respond, though one woman nodded at me. I told her I had been away for a little while and that I hadn’t seen her in a week. And that it felt like a long time to me. Patrick had told me that on Sunday, an old friend of Mom’s from Cleveland called to say he was in town and he wanted to visit Mom. He got directions to the new place from Patrick and, as far as we know, it worked out OK. I asked Mom if she remembered seeing Ed. She had no recollection of a visit from him, or from Nancy and Gary the week before, or, for that matter, the last time I had been there. I could tell her hair had been washed. She wasn’t wearing glasses, and I asked about that. “I lost them,” she said. I had seen them on the table in her room so I got them, cleaned them and put them on her face. We’ll see how long that lasts. I trimmed her nails and painted them pink.

A local performer came to sing and I sat in a big circle with the residents and listened to her for awhile. Mom said to me, while sitting next to me, “You look like a doll.” “I do?” I said. “Yes. You look good,” she said. “And so do you,” I said. The woman sang “My Blue Heaven” and Mom knew some of the words. Mom said repeatedly that she was a good singer. I said, “She’s going to be here for awhile to sing for all of you.” “Well, happy birthday,” Mom said. It was just an expression of satisfaction on her part. “Merry Christmas,” I responded.

The funny thing was, today was my birthday. Mom hasn’t known about my birthday for about four years now.

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7 comments so far

  1. sandy on

    awww, the birthday thing is so sweet! I’m glad you were able to get some time for yourself and that your mom has visitors and friends to keep her occupied.

  2. Christine on

    I know I’ve said this before, but you are a terrific writer. We are lucky, lucky, lucky. And so is your mom.

  3. Sayte(Earle's Sister) on

    I was worried about you when I kept looking for a recent post & there wasn’t one! I had forgotten about the conference in Austin. It sounds like it is always an interesting one. There have been
    times that I have found isolation in a different place, with many people, to be a good therapeudic experience. I am glad you had an opportunity to step away from everyday reality, even if for a short while. I do so enjoy your writing!

  4. patwhite67 on

    Hi Emily,
    I was glad to read aboutyour most recent visit with your mom and about your trip to the conference in Texas. I’m glad you could get away for a few days and have the visit also with your friends. And good to be able to step back and not feel obligated to be social.
    I understood when you mentioned your mom could not remember the visits of her friend or the visit of your aunt and uncle. My mom could not remember one day later the good time she enjoyed with a cousin and his wife from San Diego who visited her. She had loved the day – they lifted her into the car and took her to lunch. She doesn’t remember when my brother has been there to see her, even though he goes most every day.
    I understood also about your having to get your mom’s attention on your arrival. That’s true for me also. Sometimes I have to speak to my mom more than once for her to realize who I am. Once she knows, then she breaks into a smile. But I have to do the hugging.
    I’m sad for you that your mom didn’t remember your birthday. My birthdays haven’t been remembered either. I hope you are trying to make some time for yourself, especially when it was your birthday.

  5. Sherri on

    Glad you had fun on your trip. Funny about the birthday comment…. Your mom sounds like she’s doing well…. happy. I know so many people now who read your blog and are very interested in your sage – your journey with your mom. Anyway – have a good week!

  6. Sherri on

    … interested in your “saga” that is (am I implying that you are a “sage”? :-)…

  7. momsbrain on

    Hi, everyone! Sandy, good to hear from you. I hope your family is doing OK. Christine – shucks, thank you for saying that. I feel lucky that people are reading this blog. Sayte-so nice to have a comment from you! I definitely benefited from being away from it all for a few days. Pat: Our experiences have so many similarities. It’s OK for me that Mom doesn’t remember my birthday. Not having her remember is less about me and more about how crappy this whole things – because, you know, a mom doesn’t want to forget her kids’ birthdays… Sherri: Mom is definitely doing well. It is definitely a saga!


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