All to myself

I visited Mom on MLK Day, a day off for me. Last year, I had visited on this same day and found a lot of college volunteers doing community service by visiting dementia patients. I was impressed by those students and thanked them personally. I waited until later in the day this time, hoping to miss the volunteers. I thought that would increase my chances of having alone time with Mom. If I have to share her with Mr. R, I at least wanted to avoid sharing her with volunteers, as well. That is my selfish way of thinking about visits these days.

I walked into the lobby and there Mom was, by herself, walking toward me. I went right up to her and gave her a big hug and told her I was so glad to see her. And I was so glad she was alone. I signed in and took off my coat, and she took my hand and we started walking. We went toward the skilled care wing, stopped at the nursing station there and turned around. We went back to the lobby, and Mom complained about being tired. We sat on a couch and just sprawled out and hung out there for awhile. I noticed her fingernails were quite long and ragged, so I trimmed them. I offered to pluck the whiskers from her chin. She didn’t know what I was saying I was going to do. So I pulled one, and she winced. I pulled another, and she jumped. So I stopped. No need to cause her any pain at all. So her chin will be hairy forever more.

An aide walked by and Mom said to him, “I’m hungry.” He briefly acknowledged her and said he would be back. I offered to get a root beer to share and she liked the idea, even though I don’t think she knows what root beer is. I got a can from the vending machine. As I got back to the couch, the aide stopped by and handed Mom a baggie with two cookies in it. Ah-ha – it was snack time, and Mom knew it. Funny how she hardly knows a damn thing but she knows when she sees this aide in the afternoon, it’s snack time. She ate the cookies with some enthusiasm. In the past, she might have offered me a bite. She didn’t this time. Which was completely fine, of course. I didn’t want a bite. But it’s interesting how her focus has changed in that way, to herself. I sipped the root beer. When she was done with her cookies, I offered her a drink. She examined the can and tentatively held it close to her mouth. I told her to point the hole toward her mouth and tip it. She was able to follow that instruction. She took long drinks. “Mm, that’s good,” she said. She mostly drinks water and milk these days, so I imagine a cold, sweet drink was very tasty. She took one last drink and spilled a little on her shirt. She laughed.

She seemed ready to walk again, so we took a trip toward the program area. We ran into Mr. R there, sitting alone in a chair. I pulled up a chair so Mom could sit near him, assuming that’s what she would want to do. She leaned over and talked to him, very close to his face. Then an interesting thing happened. A woman in the same lounge area was sitting on a couch – she was sitting on a low spot where a cushion was missing. That cushion was lying on the floor. She stood up and said, “These are mine, I’ll take them.” She started trying to collect the other two cushions to carry them away. Mr. R went over to her to help her – though he was trying to put them back onto the couch. Mom started walking away, and I followed. I liked this turn of events.

We went through the lobby and over to the skilled area again. I noticed whenever we transitioned from carpet to wood floors and back again, Mom would lift her foot very high as if to step over a barrier. She also said, “These shoes aren’t very good.” She was wearing only socks. I think her feet must ache from all the walking she does. In the skilled area, we passed a room in which a resident was sitting in a wheelchair. I recognized him from earlier days, when he spent time in the program area. “I want a cigarette so fucking bad I can’t see straight!” he shouted after we passed. Mom popped her head into a room and said hello to a woman sitting alone. Then we headed back to the lobby. I needed to get going to stay on schedule, to cook dinner and then get to a class at my gym. It is so uncommon for me to stay longer than expected at the Alz center. I suggested to Mom that she might like sitting on the couch to watch a Lucille Ball DVD with other residents gathered in the lobby. But she got a little confused when I tried to say goodbye. I hugged her and pointed her toward the couch and slipped away. I looked back and saw her standing next to the couch. I imagine she was momentarily confused, but that it passed quickly. But it still gave me a pang to think she might be aware that I was gone.

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8 comments so far

  1. Jennifer Jayhawk on

    Hey Emily,

    Sounds like a pretty good visit with your mom. I have been in Alzheimer’s facilities many times and there is a lot of stuff going on when you are trying to visit a loved one. I’m easily distracted under the best of circumstances.

    Thank you for your comment on my blog. I received emails and phone calls from my friends, caring for their Mom’s, saying pretty much the same thing. I addressed it a bit today in a post.

    Take Care

  2. margaret massey on

    I always stay longer than planned too, which isn’t such a bad thing, if I could remember to schedule it that way!

    I like how your writing sticks to the facts and descriptions, and while you’re incredibly perceptive, you stay level-headed and don’t seem to do a lot of judging and interpreting.

    ..and I imagine that kind of presence is really calming for your mother.

  3. momsbrain on

    Jennifer: I saw your post. I’m not surprised there are plenty of not-so-easy moments mixed in with the martinis and parties. It’s fun that you are highlighting so much of the good stuff!

    Meg: I decided when I started this blog that I would mostly treat it as a journal, describing things as I experienced them. I haven’t always been level-headed, but things are much easier for me now than they used to be.

  4. Jennifer Jayhawk on

    Thanks Emily,

    I just never dreamed that I would be explaining to my Mom that “Depends” is not a replacement for a colostomy bag!

    Focusing on the “good stuff” is my survival technique. You and your blog are also helpful.

  5. mirroredImages on

    Emily – i think i’m getting more of a picture of what it’s like for you to interact with your mom as she becomes less herself and more absorbed by this disease. only a small picture, i know, but i know there’s disequilibrium at not being known, at not understanding or being understood. you’re a good daughter — one of the good ones — and you’re faithful even when it’s hard. i appreciate the stance you take in these posts, so observant, wry at times, nostalgic at others. it seems just right to me. i hope the writing of these posts is somehow therapeutic for you.

  6. momsbrain on

    Julia: It’s the very hardest at the beginning, or at least it was for me. And that’s where you are. And it feels terrible. You are being a good daughter, too!

  7. Jeff on

    Em – I don’t find anything selfish about your wanting to spend some quality time alone with mom!! And I LOVE root beer – a funny family trend.

  8. momsbrain on

    Hi, Jeff – I just try to keep in mind that Mr. R is a good thing for Mom even if sometimes he’s not such a great thing for me.


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