Archive for February, 2013|Monthly archive page

Sleepy valentine

I popped in on the Alz center on Valentine’s Day. Two weeks had passed since I had last seen Mom – partly because Patrick and I had been out of town. I realized as I pulled into the parking lot that I had never received a mailing about the annual Valentine’s Day lunch. The lot was pretty full, and I wondered if I had missed the event. The receptionist greeted me with an artificial rose and said, “Happy Valentine’s Day.” I thanked her and asked if there had been a lunch. Not this year, she said. There is new management – could that be why? I wasn’t really sad about it because Mom hasn’t seemed to enjoy these lunches all that much. Lots of extra noise and extra people don’t typically sit well with her anymore. If she doesn’t enjoy them, I don’t enjoy them. The receptionist said there was a monthly birthday party planned for the next day, with cake, so that residents would be getting a treat soon.

Mom was sound asleep on a couch in the program area. I sat on a chair next to her and watched her for a bit. She didn’t show signs of waking. She had on a cute assortment of clothes – her turquoise fleece pajama pants, a pink T-shirt and a brown button-down shirt. She looked good and, of course, relaxed. I stopped at the nurses’ desk and asked Mom’s nurse how Mom has been lately. All fine. No problems and no significant changes. Not surprising, since I had received no calls. But it was good to be reassured. “I heard some really loud singing recently and when I looked to see who it was, it was Bonnie,” she said. That sounded good to me. Loud singing is typically done by a happy person, I reasoned.

When I was visiting with Patrick’s family, my sister-in-law bought some small Valentine’s Day gifts for her daughter – some shower gel and a bracelet. I remember when Mom used to do the same kind of thing – just offer a little something to observe the day. And I recalled a card I got her when I lived in Athens years ago – it featured a black-and-white photo of a woman in a black dress with a long string of pearls that she was holding in a way that made the shape of a heart. I really liked that card, and sent it to Mom as a valentine. I probably thought I was being cool and unconventional. But really, I was just sending my mom a card. I probably didn’t say in it that I loved her, because we didn’t exchange those words much at all. But I hope it was obvious that I did love and cherish her.

Groundhog Day

Mom loved the movie “Groundhog Day.” I never knew exactly what it was that tickled her about it – the absurdity of the plot, the Sonny and Cher song that woke up Bill Murray each day, Bill Murray himself. She liked to laugh. And the day itself has significance within a circle of our friends – basically it’s a reason to have a weekend-long party each year, where we declare that it’s significant because of its insignificance.

Today offers a different kind of Groundhog Day familiarity. Patrick and I are in Michigan with his family, trying to offer a little respite for his mom and his oldest brother and his family, who all have been looking after Patrick’s dad through an extended hospitalization. But as is typical for caregivers, no one is really taking a break from it even though Patrick, his middle brother and I are all here.

Meanwhile, Mom remains about the same. I visited her in the evening on Wednesday and found her on a couch, reclining after dinner. I greeted her and she said, with enthusiasm, “I thought you were dead.” And then we both cracked up. I’d like to think that’s not a reflection on the week that passed between my visits, but I suppose one never knows for sure what leads her to say the things she says. I talked to an aide who said she had been having a good day, and that she is always easy to work with in the evenings. When she shows signs of getting sleepy, he can gently coax her to her room to be changed and put to bed. She was showing signs of being sleepy while I was there, curling up on the couch and closing her eyes. I rubbed her head and kissed her goodnight.

I was at the Alz center that evening to attend a memorial service for Dr. Liss. Several people who had known him and worked with him for years spoke about his dedication to patients and their families. When the facilitator opened the floor to others, I just made a quick comment. That very day, my colleague had put out a press release about research suggesting that promoting happiness among the elderly can help sustain their working memory and decision-making. And it reminded me of advice Dr. Liss would offer to caregivers who fretted about their loved ones’ agitation. Redirect, he would advise. And try a compliment. For women: “Your hair looks beautiful today.” For anyone: “How about some ice cream?” Keep it simple. In that way and in many others, Dr. Liss’s extended anecdotal experience was way ahead of the research. And that’s why so many of us will always hold him close in our hearts. He knew what we were going through. He really, really knew.

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