Archive for July, 2010|Monthly archive page

Don’t think too much

So, I’ve had just about enough of Mr. R. But that is too bad for me, because really, what can I do about the attachment he and Mom have for each other? It would be unreasonable to ask staff to spend time and energy trying to keep them apart. And that would not make Mom happy. And just today, I am frustrated about him. Tomorrow, or at least the next time I visit the Alz center, I might be charmed by him. Such is the nature of this disease and this relationship between him and my mom.

I visited this afternoon, after lunch. I walked across the lobby and there were Mom and Mr. R, holding hands and just entering the lobby from the program area hall. Mom smiled broadly and hugged me. I noticed right away that her clothes were just filthy. She had spots all over her shirt, something that looked like pie filling under her chin and a substance resembling dried mashed potatoes on the front of her pants. Plus a few other spots on her pants, and a smear of red on her shoulder. It struck me as funny, but it also kind of made me mad, because it meant no one put a bib on Mom for lunch, probably. It could also have meant Mom refused the bib, or took it off, or managed to get dirty despite the presence of the bib.

I joined Mom and Mr. R for their walk, and we went over to the skilled area and kept walking until we hit a dead end in one of the two hallways. I walked behind them – there wasn’t enough room in this area for us to walk three across. I felt kind of like an idiot. When we crossed the lobby again and headed back toward the program area, Mom took my hand and kissed it. That moment is a good memory from this visit. We found a couch near Mom’s room and sat down, with Mom in the middle. Mr. R took Mom’s hand, and he started talking. A lot. He sounded a little frustrated. He didn’t make complete sense. I heard him talk about “another guy.” The general theme was something about Mom spending time with another man. He eventually let go of Mom’s hand, and she put her hand on his leg, and he pushed it away. Mom seemed very passive. I said, “Are you arguing?” And she said, “What’s arguing?” Isn’t that amazing, that she asked that question? Mostly I just sat quietly, staring across the room. Mom eventually pointed to her shirt and said, “This looks awful.” I offered to get her a new shirt, and she seemed to like that idea.

When we stood up to go to her room to get another shirt, Mr. R got up and followed us into Mom’s room. He was protesting the idea. He said, “I know what this means, a new shirt.” I said I wanted to give Mom a new shirt, and he told me not to. And I said, “Why?” And he said, “Because I said so.” “But WHY?” I persisted. And he started to push her out of the room. And I said, “Don’t be mean to her.” And he said, “I’m not mean to her. I’m mean to you.” True enough. They walked away, holding hands. Mom had not said a word during this exchange. And now her back was to me, and I’m sure, before she and Mr. R turned the corner to go to another lounge area, she had forgotten about me. I just stood there for several seconds in the door of Mom’s room. And then I walked out, and didn’t say goodbye to Mom. I thought about talking to my favorite nurse about this, but I thought I knew what she would say. Mr. R might be having a bad day. Or he just might be having a mood. There’s nothing I can do about this, and there’s no way I can predict what might happen the next time I visit.

Driving away, and later, I thought more about this. And that is a mistake. This is what it is. It is not my fault. It would make no sense whatsoever to think I could reason with Mr. R and let him know he has no need to be jealous of me for the hour per week I spend with Mom – and with him. It’s just a waste of energy for me to wonder why he would want to be mean to me. He doesn’t know why. I am quick to tell others whose loved ones hurt their feelings that it is the disease talking. When Mr. R was stopping me from changing Mom’s clothes, it was the disease in action. But still, I want to say, “Fuck you, mister. You suck. She is MY mom. I hate you.” That’s not disease talking – that is my broken heart talking. And it’s not true. I don’t hate him. I just hated the way he acted today.

I had hoped to take Mom out on a dry run before my sister arrives this weekend for a visit. I wanted to take her to lunch last Friday, but it was so hot that I didn’t think it would be good for Mom, or for me. The same was true Saturday. And after today, I don’t feel inclined to chance it with Mr. R’s mood again anytime soon. I also don’t know if a dry run would make any difference in how Mom might handle an outing when Laura is here. So we will just have to wing it. That’s pretty much how it is all the time – we have to figure things out as we go.

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Fear of tears

For weeks now, I have felt that just below the surface, an irrational emotional reaction is waiting to escape. I don’t know what the trigger might end up being, but I sense some waterworks in my future. It’s weird – driving to work, pausing at my computer, walking to an interview, I will just feel this sense that if, given the opportunity, I could sit and cry for a very long time.

I don’t know why this is. Mom is fine. I am no longer feeling jealous about Mr. R. In fact, he seems to like me now. I went to see Mom on Monday, and we had an uneventful visit. Very pleasant. Mom was in a good mood. I found her sitting with Mr. R on a couch in the lobby. I chatted with them there for awhile, and then we moved to a couch in the program area. Mom said to me, “You have a husband.” I said yes, it’s Patrick. I asked how she is sleeping, how she feels. If anything hurts or bothers her. Nothing. She was barefoot. I put socks and shoes on her, but after I did that, when she stood up to hug me goodbye, she said her foot hurt. She had a blister on one toe so I took off the shoes and socks and put them back in her room. I noticed an unfortunate urine odor in her room. I couldn’t see any obvious source at first, but then, standing by her closet door, I caught a glimpse of the floor reflecting sunlight from the window, and there appeared to be a few dried puddles in the center of the room. As for Mr. R liking me: when I left, he kissed my cheek.

There have been some persistent thoughts in my head, though. For one, three friends of Mom’s have died recently. They were friends of mine, too, but I knew them all because they were Mom’s contemporaries. One is actually closer to my age than Mom’s, and she hasn’t been around for years and years. She was a party pal of Mom’s, married at one time to Mom’s former boyfriend. I got an e-mail out of the blue with a brief explanation that she died of bacterial meningitis, missed by a doctor in a New York emergency room. She died alone, at her home. Such a sad thing. The other two were an older couple who both had chronic illnesses. They died just about six weeks apart. They were kind souls, regulars at annual gatherings hosted by one of Mom’s very good friends. I’m relieved that Mom is spared the pain of these losses. A small blessing that Alzheimer’s provides. But the news of their deaths has sparked lots of memories, some very pleasant and some not so good from Mom’s wilder days. And all this thinking just makes me miss Mom, too.

I have also had a recurring vision of how Mom spent many a summer afternoon in the 1970s, when I was young. She would sit in our back yard on a lounge chair, wearing her Speedo swimsuit with the vertical green and yellow stripes, perhaps with a scarf in her hair. Reading a book, or a magazine. I have spent some time in my own yard this year, on a lawn chair, in shorts and a tank top, reading and getting a little sun, just like she did. I am fairer than Mom, though, and, you know, tanning is on the outs, so I don’t bake for hours like she did. But I see that vision with some frequency. I’ll say to myself, “Oh, Mommy.” At that time, she was my mommy, and I was a little girl. I recall lying with Mom on towels in the yard, or at the pool, staring at clouds until they disappeared. It is a weird phenomenon, something she introduced me to, and a goofy way to pass the time.

So it could be as simple as that – I am flooded with memories, and therefore miss Mom more than usual, and feel like I could use a good cry. But it makes me uneasy. It is an uncomfortable thing to anticipate. Maybe the feeling will go away. That would be just fine with me.

In her own world

When I visited Mom yesterday, I decided to take notes to record as much as I could of what she said. I often describe her conversation as nonsense small talk, but it is really more than that. It seems to me that she could be describing a number of things: memories of interactions with staff and other residents, a recent visit from someone – a friend or a volunteer, or perhaps what is happening in the present, described by her as if it happened in the past and with her own twist on the interpretation. Or it could all be imagination, delusion, hallucination. Whatever it is, she speaks in complete sentences and seems to be talking with conviction, typically describing events of some kind. It’s really interesting.

I visited after lunch on Sunday for a change of pace and because it was a better fit for my schedule. Now that her recognition of me seems to be iffy, I’m going to try not to let as much as a week pass between visits anymore. I found Mom lying on a couch in the program area with Mr. R sitting in a chair next to the couch, near where her head was. I walked toward them, and it seemed that Mom spotted me coming toward her, but her face registered no recognition. She just stared at me, and I stared at her as I walked in her direction. When I got up close, I said, “Hi, Mom,” and she pushed herself up onto her shoulder and held out one hand toward me and said, “I’m amazed by you.” And then she rested her head again.

I pulled up another chair and sat down and got out my notebook. It didn’t seem to mean anything at all to her that I was taking notes, probably because she doesn’t recognize the activity as anything unusual. She was very cheerful, which was good to see. And she began to talk.

“I wasn’t sure when it started. … She came in. She walked in one day and said, ‘Oh, OK.'”

She pointed to Mr. R and said, “There she is. I’m gonna tell on you.” She was being playful with him.

And she went on, “I wanted to see it, too, but I didn’t get to see it.”

When she says these things, I nod or say, “Oh, really?” or something like that.

“Do you want to grow up?” she asked me. How to answer? I said, “Not necessarily. I like being the age I am, but I don’t have to grow any older.” I’m not sure why I said that, because I actually am enjoying aging. It doesn’t bother me in the slightest. She replied, “I might want to, but not tonight.”

And then, in a weird segue, she said, “Isn’t it awful that we’re going to be dead pretty soon?” I told her I wasn’t sure at all that that was true, for either of us. And we laughed. So she wasn’t being morose.

About Mr. R, she said, “She’s OK. She’s just pretending not to hear.” An astute observation, I thought. He did ignore us, essentially, though he would exchange glances with Mom from time to time. He seemed perfectly neutral about everything.

Mom later said, “She said, ‘Get off of me,’ and I was there the whole half of the day.” I think, here, that she was recalling an angry exchange between two women at a nearby table. One resident told another, repeatedly, “Get your foot off of me. Get your foot off of me.”

Out of the blue, Mom said, “This is a wonderful place to be. The people come to visit. … I think it’s going to be…we’ll also not be playing.”

A little later, to me: “I should go to your house sometime.” I told her that would be nice. And that I’d like to take her to a restaurant for lunch.

I said to her, “You seem to be in a really good mood.” And Mom replied, “Oh, that’s nice. I’ll have to tell her that.”

She went on, “It probably wouldn’t take very long to see your best friends. It’s not completely ready for swimming.”

I started to sing along with a song playing over the loudspeaker. I said, “Can you hear the music?” And Mom said, “What is it you want me to do?”

I noticed Mom had a patch of bruises near her left armpit, and along her left wrist. I assumed she might have had a bad bump or fall recently. I touched the bruises and asked if it hurt, but it didn’t seem too bad. She rubbed the bruises on her wrist and seemed to realize the color of her skin wasn’t quite right, but she wasn’t sure why. I showed her a big bruise I have on my inner thigh, to show her how bruises aren’t that big a deal. I also have thought this big, purplish-black bruise looks a little too much like a Bonnie bruise. Mom has bruised easily for a long time, and I’m sort of stunned to see a bruise of mine resembling hers. And, oddly, I have no idea what caused my bruise.

Mom wanted to show me a bruise on her leg. Her pant leg was too tight to pull up around her calf – she has very puffy legs. So she stood up and pulled down her pants – only her pants and not her underwear, so that was good. She sat back down, and I looked briefly for bruises, because I thought that was what she was trying to show me. I said I didn’t see any and that I thought she could pull her pants back up. We both were amused. I didn’t want to make a big deal of it. But it will never stop being stunning to see my mom pull down her pants. That’s all there is to it.

When it was time to leave so I could come home to watch the World Cup final, I just told Mom I had to leave. She and Mr. R walked with me to the lobby. They held hands. When we got there, I hugged Mom and said, for about the fifth time, that I was leaving and they were staying. And she said, “Well, in that case…” And I said, “You might as well go on back down the hall.” And they turned around and walked away.

Bring back my Bonnie to me

I visited Mom Monday, a holiday from work. I didn’t manage to give myself much extra time before lunch to have a visit. But I did at least manage to get there.

When I walked into the program area, she was just getting up from the couch, where she had been sitting with Mr. R. I don’t know what was prompting her to leave his side because she hadn’t yet seen me (and I’m not sure these days that my presence is something that would prompt her to leave his side). She started walking toward me, but it was purely coincidental. I just stood there until she got close and looked right at her. She looked at me. She started walking more slowly. And I started walking toward her and said, “Hi, Mom.” We hugged. But not with the same enthusiasm as in the past. I was pretty sure Mom wasn’t really remembering me, at all.

We went back toward the couch and she sat next to Mr. R. I headed for the chair next to her side of the couch, but there appeared to be a smear of poo in the chair, so I pulled up another chair from a nearby table and sat close to Mom. She made her usual small talk, which was mostly nonsense statements – at least in my context, they were nonsense. She was making sense to herself, I am sure. I felt a little like she regarded me as company. Like we should be doing something since I was there. But I told her it was fine to just hang out together and have a visit.

Eventually, she mentioned that she had lots of hairs on her chin. This was a signal to me that she did realize who I was – for the most part. I got out my tweezers and leaned over her and pulled out as many whiskers as I could. She has hearty hair growth on her chin, so I could do this at every visit and still not get it all. I stopped when she consistently winced with every pull.

At one point in her talking, Mom said, “Emily will be here.” I never want to punish her for not being clear about who I am. But I said, “I am Emily. And you are Bonnie.” And she started singing: “My Bonnie lies over the ocean, my Bonnie…la la la la.” She didn’t know any more. I finished out this part of the song, surprised that my eyes stung a little with tears when I sang, “Oh, bring back my Bonnie to me.”

Lunch arrived a little late. When the cart was pushed into the room, I suggested that Mom and Mr. R find a table. Aides started getting in on the act, too, and Mom’s tray was one of the first out of the cart. I helped her find a seat and went off to pull up a chair for Mr. R. Mom immediately began eating her grilled cheese sandwich. An aide brought Mr. R’s tray over and placed it on the table. Mom put down her sandwich and reached for the sandwich on Mr. R’s tray. This was not an enormous problem, but for some reason I couldn’t leave well enough alone. I pried that sandwich out of her hand and put it back on his tray, and picked up Mom’s sandwich and handed it to her. Luckily, she didn’t resist at all.

A woman sitting across from Mom kept asking me where her tray was. I didn’t recognize her, so I assumed she had recently moved in. I kept telling her it would come soon. But she was mad at me because I wouldn’t bring her tray. And then out of the blue a longtime male resident came up behind Mom and started singing to her: “My Bonnie lies over the ocean, my Bonnie lies over the sea…” He is an interesting fellow – almost a savant of sorts who remembers my name from the one introduction we had on Mom’s first day there. He calls everyone by name all the time. In the midst of his singing and the angry table-mate and Mom’s absorption in her sandwich, I gave her a quick kiss and slipped away.

4th of July

For many years, I accompanied Mom to a July 4th day-long party in Upper Arlington. We would watch the morning parade and then lounge in the yard with friends and eat and drink. The hosts were a couple that Mom first knew as a bridge-playing connection, I believe. When I was a young kid, Mom played bridge frequently at the Clintonville Bridge Club, and several of her longtime friends were people she met there. Many of them also attended this party. I don’t know how many of these Independence Day gatherings I attended, but I’d guess at least 8 or 10. When I was in high school, I marched in the parade with my school’s marching band and then met up with Mom at the party. After I left for college and then lived out of town, I might still go to this party if I happened to be in Columbus on the 4th. Eventually, the hosts stopped having this party, and instead took advantage of the holiday to stay at their Lake Erie vacation home. But they held it again this year so their grandchildren could experience the parade and party. I wasn’t invited or not invited. I knew it was happening but I did not attend. If I had asked if I could attend, I suspect I would have been welcome. But it wouldn’t feel right without Mom anyhow.

I have visited Mom once since I last posted in this blog. It was a fairly typical before-lunch visit. Mr. R was nearby. I plucked hairs from Mom’s chin. We chatted a little bit. Mom did not seem to be sure of my name.

I’m not sure what’s going on. I think I am going through a phase of some sort. I’m not writing much. But I am thinking about Mom daily, maybe even hourly.

I got a call awhile back that the attempt to lower her Zoloft dose didn’t really work. Mom was anxious and pacing a lot at the Alz center. So a nurse called to tell me Mom would go back to the higher dose. I am glad they didn’t allow her to suffer for long with the anxiety. Mom has been on Zoloft for so long that I imagine it is a very important part of maintaining her mood at this point. Not that I really know anything about pharmacology. But I just wasn’t surprised that her mood responded quickly, in a negative way, to a lower dose.

It’s a three-day weekend. I will be visiting Mom tomorrow.