It could be worse

I didn’t consider Easter a special occasion that warranted a visit with Mom. I just thought it was about damn time I finally get back to see her. So I went to the Alz center on Easter. I’m not religious, and I don’t have children, so I don’t really observe the holiday in any way. But Patrick and I do associate the day with food, to some extent. In fact, the last time Mom was at my house was on an Easter Sunday when she lived in assisted living – probably 2008 or maybe 2009. I am sure we had ham and scalloped potatoes, and we had Mom over to eat. And shortly after finishing dinner, she was ready to go back to assisted living, to be with her friends. That stung at the time. Though it was also a great thing, that Mom had pals at that facility. I never had her over again, for a variety of reasons. Mostly because I didn’t think she would get any particular pleasure out of it. I still took her out to Bob Evans for lunches even after she moved to the Alz center. But I assumed being in a home environment might just be confusing to her.

So late yesterday morning, I found Mom lying on a couch, sleeping. I wedged myself onto the end of the couch near her head and started stroking her hair gently. She opened her eyes and smiled, but she didn’t get up. And then a nurse came over and sat Mom up and told her she should wake up for her daughter’s visit. I didn’t really think it was a big deal one way or the other. But this nurse said, “It’s Easter. We knew she’d be here today.” Mom sat quietly for a short while and then I suggested taking a walk to wake her up a little. It was almost time for lunch. We walked in a big circle around the program area, passing by Mr. R, who ignored my greeting. I finally got Mom seated at a table so she’d be ready for lunch. Her tray arrived quickly, and she began to eat right away.

Meanwhile, another woman I didn’t know was shuffling around aimlessly with her walker. I invited her to sit at our table. “I don’t know what the hell I’m supposed to be doing,” she said. She clutched her stomach. “It makes me sick to my stomach.” I said maybe she was hungry and that she should try to eat. She repeated her complaints. I coaxed her into a chair. “I don’t know where the hell I am,” she said. I tried to be comforting and encouraging. “That’s not a good feeling,” I said. “But you are safe and surrounded by people who will take care of you.” “I don’t know what the hell I’m supposed to be doing,” she replied. I asked her name and got her tray for her. But she didn’t eat. Another woman at our table, someone who has been there since Mom moved in, was dipping her knife into her water and then imagining that she was buttering her cooked carrots. It was quite sweet, really, and harmless. I recalled that at the Thanksgiving meal last fall, this same woman ate butter straight out of the containers on the table.

Throughout all of this, Mom just kept eating, taking bite after bite of her chicken, noodles, carrots and dinner roll. She did a great job, cleaning her plate. She picked up her spoon at one point and tried to use it for a few bites, to no avail. She is quite skilled at eating with her fingers, so I just moved her spoon out of the way. The unhappy woman stood up, refusing to eat. I helped her maneuver herself back to her walker, and she shuffled away, still very fretful. I wished I could say something that would ease her mind, but she was clearly inconsolable.

After Mom finished, I cleaned her hands and stood her up for another walk. We headed back to the couch she had been on before, and she immediately rested her head. I am always looking for signs of change, and I wondered if she might be a little more hunched when she walks. But mostly she is the same as she has been for quite some time: a cheerful storyteller who remains mobile and able to feed herself and who enjoys social companionship. Hearing the laments of her tortured table-mate was an important reminder of how much worse it could be – for Mom and for me.

6 comments so far

  1. Gemma McLuckie on

    One of the hardest thing when I was in rehab after knee surgery was listening to a longtime resident crying for her mother. As you say, it reminded me of how our connections do not end even as memory goes astray.

  2. momsbrain on

    Hi, Gemma. That would have been difficult. One wonders how much torture there really is, or if the cries are more habit than actual emotions. But still, they are troubling. If Mom seemed miserable all the time, it would just kill me.

  3. Gemma McLuckie on

    I’m having a hard time about my dad, who does seem to be unhappy. My brother assures me that all is okay, but I get another feeling when I see Daddy. He has the idea that other residents are going to harm him, and he thought he saw a woman drown. I understand that it is not uncommon for old people to be afraid and imagine terrible things, and he is on anti-psychotic meds to ease his fears. The facility is reluctant to increase the dose because of the danger of falls.

  4. momsbrain on

    I can see why that troubles you. It’s interesting that your brother thinks it’s OK. I wonder if your dad behaves differently with you, for whatever reason. Could definitely be the case. I am an advocate for drugs – I wonder if an antidepressant would be less risky re: falls. He should not have to suffer through hallucinations.

  5. Jenniferjayhawk on

    Emily, As always you are amazing to everyone having older parent issues.
    I do not know Gemma but her situation breaks my heart and I totally feel for where she is coming from. There is no good answer and you just hope you are doing the best thing for your parent.

    My Mom thinks she is in charge of the place where she is currently living and is overwhelmed with her responsibilities!!! My brother Jeff is repainting all of the walls and my other brother Greg is having an affair with one of the residents and living in one of the apartments. Just to be clear NONE of this is true!!! The four of us (siblings) try to carry on and keep a sense of humor. We actually tease each other about what the other is doing at Brighton Gardens.

    It is very sad and never where my Mom wanted to be.

    I agree with you Emily regarding medication.
    There is no reason to suffer. I am a longtime/decades migraine sufferer and there is no reason to lose days/weeks when medication is available.

    You are my ongoing hero Emily!!!

  6. momsbrain on

    Oh, Jennifer, I don’t think I am a hero. But thank you for the compliment! I’m sorry I was so slow to respond to your comment. Where has my head been lately???!! At work, I guess. Your mom’s imagination is certainly active – I hope it doesn’t stress her out. Approaching it with humor, when you can, is what I try to do, too. Some things are funny, even though they’re also sad… Take care.

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