Four visits in four days

I picked up my sister Laura from the airport last Sunday and we went straight to see Mom, with a stop at Starbucks on the way. I admit I’m already forgetting some of the details of the visit. But I do recall that on this first visit, Laura wanted to take a picture of Mom with Mr. R for her own memory, and so she could show her kids, Mom’s granddaughters, Grandma’s new boyfriend. My unpleasant interaction with Mr. R by this time was a distant memory. I had later heard that on the day I visited when he was mad at me, he had already been irritated with Mom’s independent streak earlier in the day, when she participated in a baseball activity and got her fingernails painted. So by the time I got there, I guess he had had enough and wanted Mom’s full attention. I am willing to forget it, and I know he has forgotten it, too.

This first visit was sort of introductory in nature. Mom hadn’t seen Laura in quite some time, so we decided to just sit and visit in the program area. We tried to catch Mom up on who Laura was, where she lived, what her kids are doing, that sort of thing. Mom is interested in the news about people, I think, even when she isn’t exactly sure who they are. Including news about me. Mom showed interest in Laura’s purse, so Laura showed it to her and pulled out her boarding pass and some other miscellaneous papers from her flight. Mom started shuffling the papers in her hands and arranging them on the seat next to her. Laura placed the luggage sticker on Mom’s hand. She also put her reading glasses on Mom to see what she thought of them. Mom looked good in them, and kept them on. “It’s like a 2-year-old,” Laura said, about keeping Mom entertained. We stayed for about an hour before deciding we all had run out of steam and things to say.

When Laura and I returned to the Alz center on Monday afternoon, we had hopes about taking Mom out for some ice cream. It would be a first since Mr. R came on the scene, and Laura could tell I was antsy about it. And I guess I was. It was brought to my attention during Laura’s visit that I worry a lot. I do worry a lot, and I wish I didn’t. But a great opportunity presented itself on Monday, and it allowed me to stop worrying. Mr. R and Mom were sitting together at a table because it was puzzle activity time. Well, it turns out Mr. R likes puzzles. And Mom, once a big fan of doing jigsaw puzzles, no longer enjoys them. So an activity staff member distracted Mr. R while we went up to Mom on the other side of the table and said, “Would you like to go out for some ice cream?” She didn’t hesitate to say yes. So we signed her out and whisked her away in a matter of minutes.

On the drive to Graeter’s, Mom was chatty. She said things like, “This is the happiest day of my life,” and generally conveyed positive feelings about being on an outing. It was hot, so she also talked about how hot it was. At the ice cream shop, we ordered her a chocolate scoop. Laura and I had treats, too. Laura pulled a big chunk of chocolate out of her cone, and later, offered it to Mom. Mom got very messy eating that chocolate chunk, and I wiped her hands with wet napkins. But otherwise, she did a great job eating. Not much mess, no confusion. She admired some small children playing.

There is a park with a lake not far from the Alz center, so I suggested we take Mom there to see if she might enjoy looking at ducks and the dogs that are brought to the park to play in the water. We had to take a short walk from the parking lot to the lake, but Mom did fine. We sat in a shady spot on a deck overlooking the water and watched the ducks. We could see dogs at the dog beach in the distance, but I didn’t think we should walk anymore. One dog came over to our area and played in the water briefly. We didn’t stay all that long, but Mom seemed to enjoy it. Laura later told me that at one point, Mom looked out over the water and quietly said, “This is nice.” And it made Laura a little weepy – it was a moment of apparent clarity for Mom, and a reminder of the old Bonnie who would have liked this park, a view, some quiet time, the ducks. This was a reminder to me that it is worth it to take Mom out from time to time. Though I comfort myself with the knowledge that she doesn’t know what she’s missing, I also feel compelled, after seeing her finding pleasure in a simple outing, to give her a taste of freedom, of something special. There is no reason to deny her that.

Mom on the deck at Antrim Park.

Mom and Laura enjoying the view.

There were lots of ducks. I'm not sure Mom really found them particularly interesting.

We returned Mom to the Alz center, and she seemed satisfied to return to a familiar place, and to air conditioning. But Laura and I also felt satisfaction about this achievement, about spending time with Mom without Mr. R, if only for a short while. The activities staffer told us everything had gone fine while Mom was gone, and that was a relief. While we were out, Mom had started referring to a boy, who seemed to be missing. She wasn’t in distress, but she did have him in mind, which I thought was interesting.

On Tuesday, if I recall correctly, we found Mom wandering around by herself in the program area. She had taken to hugging me hello, and Laura would ask for a hug, too. We sat for awhile in the lobby and chatted. And took some pictures, in case it was our last visit together. Laura was to leave the next morning.

Mom wasn't quite ready for this one, which is what led to the laughter in the photo I posted a few days ago.

It turned out that we made time to visit Mom again on Wednesday morning. Laura and I had done some shopping the day before, and Laura bought Mom a couple of gifts: a child’s book with lots of different textures to touch, and a deck of Uno cards. Mom was a skilled bridge player in her day, and at one point during one of our visits, Mom had asked us if we play bridge. That took us by surprise, because Mom has so few memories of anything about her past. I told her that I had asked her to teach me bridge when I was in my 20s, but we were both so impatient with each other that we couldn’t even complete a single lesson. Mom used to recline on her couch and play Solitaire or, perhaps even more often, she’d deal out several bridge hands and play them all by herself. Laura wondered if the feel of a deck of cards might bring back some muscle memories for Mom.

Mom enjoyed the gifts, and did examine the cards. Laura and I both shuffled them, but Mom didn’t show signs of recognizing that. Laura tried to mimic a particular shuffling method that Mom had had in her prime, but Laura couldn’t really master it. Mom didn’t seem to absorb much of it. But we had a nice visit. We had found Mom sitting in the lobby by herself, wearing white pants and a yellow fleece shirt. Laura told her she looked good – very fresh. Mom seemed to like that. We couldn’t stay long before having to leave for the airport. I wrote Mom’s name on her new belongings and we walked her back to the program area and connected her with Mr. R.

Laura told me that Mom seemed to be very focused on me, that it was clear that I am still an important person in Mom’s life – from Mom’s perspective. That was comforting to hear after all of my belly-aching about her fixation on Mr. R. Laura also felt that on that last day, Mom recognized her – that after repeated visits, she was becoming familiar. Laura also later worried that her visit had been stressful for me. Laura as a visitor in my house is not stressful at all, and I hope she believed me when I told her that. But I guess as part of all the things I worry about, I worry about her emotions concerning Mom. Intellectually, I know I can’t feel responsible for that. And Laura doesn’t ask me to tend to her emotional needs. And we both agreed Mom is doing so well, and is very content. She shows no sign of frustration about her lack of memory or her confusion. But there’s just something about the changing family relationships that really gets to me. I guess I’m going to have to mellow out about all that.

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9 comments so far

  1. Julia Harris on

    Great post, Emily. Love the picture of your mom on the deck, she looks so peaceful and calm. Sounds like you and your sister had a very full visit and I’m glad that the time the three of you had together was meaningful. Thanks for writing this.

  2. Katie on

    I still love reading your posts. Your mom looks great and the visits seem to be well worth it for everyone! I am glad your sister visited to see you and your mom!

  3. Gemma on

    It sounds as if you were able to share your caregiving burden (sorry, I can’t think of a better term) for the first time in a while. Having a sibling to go with you to visit Bonnie (especially a sister) is different than going with even the most caring friend. It must be the years siblings live together, dealing with family dynamics. Glad you had a good visit and a lovely moment at the park.

  4. momsbrain on

    Thanks, all! Gemma – funny, I had a thought about this. It seems that instead of sharing the burden, I might have a tendency to absorb the caregiving burden for whoever is with me. Not deliberately, mind you. Maybe that’s where my worry was coming from. I’ll have to remember that I can share when others are with me. This is not to say it wasn’t a very nice thing to have Laura with me – we laughed a lot with Mom and about things Mom did and said.

  5. Cathy on

    I also find the changing family relationships very difficult. Thanks for writing so candidly about it. Great pictures, too – thanks for sharing.

  6. momsbrain on

    Hi, Cathy! Thanks for visiting. And I hope you’re hanging in there…

  7. Jennifer Jayhawk on

    I love the pictures!!! I am trying to get better about taking pictures.

    I leave tomorrow for another KC trip with my Mom. She has been to the emergency room three times since my last visit. We are going to attempt to try “Plan G”. Meaning that all previously options have failed. She has now decided that a cane (with the four legs) is great and Depends is the most amazing thing ever invented.

  8. patwhite67 on

    I enjoyed reading your blogs about your sister Laura’s visit with your mom. Am so glad the visits went well. I believe you planned the time nicely for your mom’s enjoyment. The pictures are so special!

    When your mom was going through the stuff in Laura’s purse, that is so similar to what my mom does. If I leave anything of mine within her reach, such as my purse or address book, she examines each thing – like you said, a two-year-old.

  9. momsbrain on

    Jennifer: I hope your trip with your mom is going OK… I’m sorry to hear she has been to the ER so much. Crossing my fingers for Plan G success!

    Pat: Good to hear from you. I’ve wondered how you are doing. And yes, Mom shows lots of curiosity about things within her reach, including my clothes, sometimes…


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