A good day, a sad time

Well, sure enough, I worry that Mom is ready to discard me for good and a visit or two later, she is as funny and as warm as she has ever been. Maybe it was the hustle and bustle of the holidays that got to her and led her to seek solitude. I went over to the center last Monday morning, interested in seeing and maybe participating in the weekly worship service. One of my support group friends volunteers at the service and I thought some singing would be nice. I am not religious, but I do enjoy singing hymns. I have heard that Mom sits in on that event most weeks.

When I got there, the service was in progress but Mom was sitting in a chair by herself, and she was talking. To the air. She was pretty engaged. I greeted her and asked her if she’d like to join the group. An activities staff member said Mom had declined to participate that day. Which was fine. I did get Mom to stand up and we took a walk around. She was quite the chatterbox. We eventually sat together in another area. She talked and talked. “This is my nose,” she said, pointing to her nose. “I am Bonnie,” she also said. I had forgotten my phone. I wanted to shoot a little video because she was being so darling. When I sang along with the service’s closing song, “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” Mom occasionally hummed in response.

A few days later, I visited again after a care conference. Mom was sleepy, lying on a couch. I sat by her feet and rubbed her legs and just spoke calmly to her for a little while. I didn’t stay long. But she was pleasant and said a few funny things, at one point launching into a brief song and throwing her hands into the air. Her care conference yielded little new news – her weight is stable; she eats 75 to 100 percent of her meals and is still undergoing occupational therapy related to her distractedness during dinner; she doesn’t participate much in activities but still shows signs of enjoying music; she’s mostly independent now, not hanging around with boyfriends very much; she let the podiatrist cut her toenails; at the most recent dental check, her chart said, she “screamed a lot but was cooperative.” That made us all laugh. She resists hygiene care, but is otherwise a resident that the staff members seem to enjoy. “I just love your mom,” the activities director said.

I was drawn to the worship service for another reason. The previous day, on Sunday, I had been stunned to find in my local newspaper the obituary for Dr. Leopold Liss, the founder and medical director of the Columbus Alzheimer Care Center and the longtime leader of the weekly support group I had attended. He had died on New Year’s Day. He was 89, but despite his age, his death was unexpected. If he had had health problems, he kept that information private. I had last seen him at a support group meeting in early December. For a variety of reasons, I hadn’t returned. I felt some guilt about that, of course. But it’s not as if I would have had any opportunity to say goodbye. I was told he died in his sleep – such a lovely and peaceful end for him, but a shock for those left behind.

It is a personal loss, but much more significantly, the loss of a great mind in the Alzheimer’s community. He had seen so much in his career and had established some irreverent opinions as a result. Irreverent in the medical community, perhaps, but completely practical for many of us who are caregivers. I am grateful and proud that I knew him, and that he took an interest in me because I write about medical science. And I will forever consider him a genius for his design of the Alz center. From the day Mom walked into the facility 3 1/2 years ago, she has felt safe and comfortable and loved in that special environment. On the evening of Jan. 30, the center will hold a memorial service for him. I will be there, of course.

4 comments so far

  1. Barry Lough on

    I find it interesting how you mention your mom being needy of you and your “services” in the early stages of her disease and you began this particular entry stating your concern over feeling your mom may be discarding you for good; there’s a sense of the shoe being on the other foot – a sense that you find yourself needing her in a way. I think that’s clear evidence that in fact you have adapted to your participation in her care and that it is on some level a positive experience for you, which I see as a positive transformation of the whole experience. In addition, I can’t think of a more complimentary tribute you could make to Dr. Liss than your mentioning how your mom responded to that facility from the get-go.

  2. momsbrain on

    Hi, Barry-Yes, it’s totally a feeling of the shoe being on the other foot. She still has the capacity to hurt me, oddly – of course, I don’t take anything she does personally, but I can definitely be strongly affected by her behavior. And I do, I guess, miss being needed by her in a way that translates into me needing her affection and attention. I think that’s partly because she’s still my mom and partly because I feel responsible about her not being familiar with me because I don’t visit with enough frequency to be familiar to her (this is a theory; who really knows?). I think I have adapted and I truly do see this experience as an honor and a privilege. And I’m very glad that feeling replaced my hostility of many years ago. And I do feel grateful to Dr. Liss for his thoughtful design of this nursing home. Thanks for commenting!

  3. Earle Holland on

    I’m saddened as well to hear about the death of Dr. Liss. Earlier in his career — and much earlier in mine — he was also working on SIDS and gave me my first real comprehension of neuroscience. I have long benefited from his teaching. I’m glad his passing was peaceful.

  4. momsbrain on

    Hi, Earle. Yes, he was a special man – always teaching, really. There’s a memorial for him Wednesday. I still find it hard to believe he’s really gone. Thanks for commenting.

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