Archive for December, 2010|Monthly archive page

Party time

The Alz center held its annual Christmas party on the afternoon of Dec. 17, conveniently just after my office’s holiday potluck. I arrived a little bit late, but it’s a free-for-all so it didn’t matter. I found Mom wandering around in the lobby. She gave me a big hug when she saw me. A few family members from support group whose loved one passed away in February were attending the party, and had been talking to Mom. One of them told me Mom was hungry. So I suggested we walk toward the music in the program area and possibly stop for treats along the way. Mom held my hand and we walked along the corridor. I asked her if she wanted food as we passed tables of treats, but she didn’t seem too interested. I found chairs for us in the program area and we sat to watch my favorite Elvis impersonator sing. Mom was full of joy, saying how happy she was. I was happy to have her to myself. I used my phone to snap a photo of her, and just as I was finishing, Mr. R appeared from behind me. I pulled up another chair and he sat between Mom and me. I admit, I found this to be a bummer.

Before Mr. R came along, Mom and I were enjoying ourselves. This lasted about 10 minutes.

My neighbor, who is a hospice social worker, spends a lot of her professional time at the center. She came to sit beside me for awhile and chat, which was a nice distraction for me since Mom and Mr. R were holding hands and otherwise ignoring me. And out of the corner of my eye, while I was talking to my neighbor, I saw Patrick appear in the hallway. He had his own office party and then a Secret Santa gathering, so he had said he didn’t know if he would make it. I was very pleased that he showed up.

I convinced Mom to stand up for this picture with Patrick. I think he may have bought her this winter-themed sweater.

As always, I enjoyed listening to and watching Elvis. He does such a nice job, and he is very patient with and kind to residents who come up to him while he’s singing to touch the beads on his outfit or otherwise admire him. Mr. R sings along with every Elvis song.

This gives some idea of what Elvis goes through. The resident in green was approaching him, so enjoying his performance, and this activities staff member caught up with her and got her to dance.

I got Mom and Mr. R some punch and Patrick and I each ate a nibble of a snack. I didn’t eat much, having just finished a huge meal at my office party. And since Mom wasn’t asking for food, I decided to avoid the potential mess of giving her snacks. (Last year, she threw a meatball into her punch at this same party.) I got up to briefly talk to Mom’s roommate’s daughter. She said her mother, who had appeared to be close to death, had had a bad morning. The daughter had a bad morning, too, and had done a lot of crying. She was sad about the likelihood that this was her last Christmas party with her mother. Meanwhile, her mom had pepped up, drank a glass of punch and was tapping her fingers and wiggling her toes along with the music. I returned to Mom and got to do a little dancing myself.

I had a lot of fun dancing with Mom.

This shirt I'm wearing actually is one of Mom's. I kept it because her clothing needs are minimal now, and she has a lot of other nice shirts. I don't know if I'll wear it often, but I liked wearing it for this party.

When the party ended, it was pretty easy to leave. It is typical now for me to announce I’m leaving, and have Mom stand up and think she might want to come along with me wherever I am going. I invite Mr. R to come along. They stand, consult in their special way, and walk off somewhere. It’s a little weird, but it’s nice for all of us that parting from each other is not painful.

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Last Christmas card from Mom

As part of preparing my Christmas card list, I was sorting through cards from years past that I had collected in this crafty little card holder I received as a gift awhile back. I enjoy re-reading annual letters and looking at photos of children and families. I was feeling rather peppy, like I’m getting an early start on the cards this year. Don’t laugh. Getting started on Dec. 13 is early for me.

And I came across this card:

I think it was one of those musical cards, but nothing happens now when I push the Press Here button.

Very nice words. And yet, she thought I was her mother.

I wish I had dated this. I am thinking that it is from 2007, when Mom was in assisted living and still hoping to manage to send some cards and gifts, at least to her grandchildren. And, apparently, to me. We went to Big Lots to shop, if I recall correctly. I’m pretty sure I facilitated the purchase of this card. I imagine she liked the picture of the roses. She could still read then, for sure. That she thought I was her mother wasn’t necessarily new – she has been confused about our relationship for many years. But still, it was startling to come across it now.

I’m glad I saved it. But it oddly doesn’t represent a good memory. When Mom still tried to be engaged with the world, she leaned on me for so much help. I really disliked the holidays for a few years – especially those years when I had to assist Mom with gift ideas, and shopping, and shipping. It was extra work, for one, but it also was just so depressing for me to help Mom go through these holiday motions knowing that she’d likely forget everything that was done. She also was already confused about what gifts were by this time. During the opening of presents, she would set something aside and later discover it, forgetting that she had recently unwrapped it. Last year, my brother and sister still wanted to get her gifts, and they did. They haven’t asked for ideas this year, and I am a little relieved. She has everything she needs at the Alz center, and these days, most new things seem to get lost (ie shoes). And though she might still remember the words to some holiday songs out of habit, she is completely clueless about what Christmas is. She will have no idea that she received no gifts.

Even now, with her so very settled, I remain a little numb to some of the pleasures of the season. I am relieved that I get enjoyment from looking at our Christmas tree and the blue lights outside that Patrick bought especially for me this year after I made a passing comment about how much I liked blue lights. But Patrick initiated every move we’ve made, and did most of the tree decorating and took care of all the decorations placed anywhere else in the house. I like Christmas music, but so far I haven’t listened to it as much as I used to. I think each year, it gets a little better. But I guess I am one of those types, for the time being, who finds the holiday season a little bit depressing rather than overwhelmingly joyous.

Gone 18 days. Not yet forgotten.

I let 18 days pass between visits with Mom. I think that’s the most days that have passed between visits since she became sick. It wasn’t planned. But it became deliberate. I washed her cold-weather clothes and packed them in her little portable hamper and carried them around in my car for more than a week. And continued to not visit. One day I had planned to see her during lunch on a work day. But it rained like crazy that day and I didn’t want to go out in that while carting around clean clothes. I was away for a short retreat and thought I’d go on the day I returned, when I had a little open afternoon time. But I got back later than planned and instead Patrick and I went out to get our Christmas tree. Finally, today, I went to see her, and to swap out her lighter clothes for some warmer tops and pants.

When I got there, I put the hamper by Mom’s door and went looking for her. She was walking around across the program area. I went up to her and said, “I’m Emily.” She looked at me with a little bit of doubt, but said, “Really?” And she reached out to me and we had a nice hug. She took my hand and we started walking. I said I wanted to go to her room to hang up her clothes, and she agreed to come along. She sat on her bed and immediately started handling the hangers I had put there. They got all tangled up, and she held them up to me and said, “Can you do this?” I took them and sorted them out and hung them up. Mr. R appeared at the door. Mom got up to greet him and I heard him say, “Shame on you.” He seemed mad. I decided not to let it get to me and said, “[Mr. R], why don’t you come in here and sit with Mom?” He came in and sat next to her. I hung up Mom’s clothes and took out T-shirts and light pants and put them in the hamper to bring home with me. Mr. R decided to leave the room, but Mom stayed.

And I stayed for a bit. Mom’s roommate is dying. She is “on her journey,” her daughter said. Her daughter is a regular at support group and mentioned last week that her Mom had seemed to take a bad turn. On Monday of last week, she was up and about and very active. Tuesday, she was very sick, had terribly low blood pressure and refused to eat. By Wednesday, at support group, her daughter had spent two days with her mother, not sure what to expect. She had received calls at home both mornings at 6 a.m. from the nursing staff expressing concern. “I’m ready to let my mom go,” she said at support group. Her mother lived with her for about seven years and has been at the Alz center for four years. I talked to her for awhile about what’s going on. She talked constantly to her mother. I talked a little bit to her mother, and patted her on the shoulder. She is in a wheelchair. Her face looks very relaxed, but also tired. “I always hoped it wouldn’t happen in the winter,” her daughter said. “But we don’t have a say in how or when this happens.” I told her that I might see her again because I’d like to visit more frequently. She said, “It’s really OK if you don’t because your Mom is OK.” I appreciate that about her – her mother had a boyfriend years ago and she visited less frequently during that time, too. I gave her a hug.

I feel choked up about this loss. I don’t really know the patient well, even though she is Mom’s roommate. But I have befriended the daughter and have sympathy for all she has been through. I left her alone with her mom and encouraged Mom to go out in the program area and sit with Mr. R. We joined him on a couch for a bit, with Mom in the middle. I had to hold back some tears. I cut Mom’s fingernails. I accidentally clipped a little bit of her skin and she jumped, but mostly didn’t seem upset or in any lingering pain. I sat quietly and asked Mom a few questions. She answered in a vague way. At one point, she looked at her belly and said, “I’m not pregnant.” Her disposable underwear were a little bunchy so her gut was protruding a little bit. I said, “Of course you’re not. And that’s a good thing.” Mostly she didn’t really look in my direction or acknowledge me. She held Mr. R’s hand or placed her hand on his leg. His other hand had very dry skin, and he scratched at it from time to time.

So despite the long gap between visits, I think Mom still recognized that I am her person. I THINK. It’s hard to know for sure, though she at least felt connected enough to me to hug me hello and goodbye and to cheerfully hold my hand for a little while. And I liked that.